This post carries a trigger warning, for its difficult subject matter, which mentions abuse, bullying, strong emotions traumatic events and suicide, it also contains strong language.
Being “triggered’ is a term that can and has been used and even abused by meme creators online for sometime, just a quick web search will show you some examples.
That said, a genuine emotional trigger is usually caused by past trauma which hasn’t been integrated, but can often be misconstrued as a simple disagreement or a dislike experienced from a situation or an interaction with someone.
This can be where you seek to “point the finger” or blame someone for how you are feeling, however, I’m learning that in fact it is us that has full control of how we feel, then how we choose to respond, because when you point the finger, there are in fact three pointing back at you, suggesting a threefold opportunity, for growth, reflection and introspection.
A true emotional trigger is an automatic response which either will consciously or unconsciously take you back to a painful experience from your past, leading to a fight, flight, or freeze response and a raw, tender, or vulnerable feeling. I often feel in the stomach, this sensation then rises up to the front of my head.
When this sensation arises, I’ve learned that it is important for me to pause and take time to breathe for at least 10 seconds and ask “what is really going on here, what am I feeling and where is it coming from?” This will allow for the primal “fight, flight or freeze” instinctive reaction to subside and allow for time for the logical brain to kick back into action, to consider the next course of action and how to respond.
These strong reactions are often triggered by fear, as are brains are hardwired from hunter gatherer times to keep us alive, warning us of inherent danger to threat from predators. However, applying this to interactions with people in our lives is often too much.
That said, nobody has a right to mistreat you and dealing with relationships with toxic people is a topic for another blog post.
When we are feeling triggered, it is important that we sit with the emotion and try to identify where it is coming from. It is an opportunity to be curious and learn to understand oneself more and develop greater self awareness, leading to more balanced relationships in your life.
This curiosity has lead to me to exploring my triggers more, heres what I have come up with so far and where in my past I can trace it back to:
a) someone pulling out in front of me, causing me to break hard,
b) not driving fast enough to the speed limit or,
c) driving too fast and pulling off a ridiculous overtaking manoeuvre.
Having gone within, I realise that this stems from numerous past experiences, where I was:
a) knocked off my bike as a kid by a car.
b) also being late for work when I was in my late teens during my apprenticeship and getting grilled my bully of a manager, who used to call me “FNuB” “fucking new boy.”
c) Where I was nearly killed numerous times on a motorbike by the crazy drivers on the highways of Cambodia, when I was travelling in South East Asia.
I have numerous themes for this;
I was pulled away from my father around the age of 5. It was not until my adulthood, that I learned the reason behind this; that he was an abuser and I was the resultant child, and it was to protect me from the risk of being abused. This was understandably difficult for me to deal with, as I actually learned he was a good father to me. It was just hard for my mother to deal with, so was sent away as a kid to live with foster parents twice and lived with my grandmother.
I used to believe that it was because I was a “naughty kid” but since learning the truth about my father back in 2014, following the sudden death of my aunt (which I’ve already spoken about during this campaign, was a turning point for me and a catalyst for change in my life). I was told it was to allow time to integrate the trauma she had experienced with the abuse. I was brought back from my grandmothers at the age of 10 or 11 though and lived at home until I left to embark on moving to London in 2010.
I distinctly remember, at every school disco, I never had a girlfriend to dance with, so was alone. I was in the closet had no inclination that I might be gay, I just thought I was ugly and nobody fancied me, which leads on to my next one.
I never grew up with a father figure, chats about girls, or having a kick about with a football in the garden, or in the park was never a thing for me, I don’t really recall ever having a football, this meant P.E. was time of great pain for me too, as I couldn’t kick a ball straight and was always picked last for teams, much to the amusement of my class and the bullying teacher I had at middle school.
My physical appearance.
I didn’t have a good time looking in the mirror most of my life and probably had an undiagnosed case of body dysmorphia. It’s improved as I have got older, particularly since since coming out in 2018, I’ve grown more far accepting of myself and any perceived “flaws” or body confidence issues I may have had earlier in life.
Prior to that, I was bullied a lot as a kid; I have a larger than average head, which was far more noticeable as a child. I don’t know why, I remember obsessing over it and doing research into hydrocephalus (causes fluid on the brain and cranial expansion) but I actually embrace it now and am actually thankful for it. I have a pretty thick and very hard skull, evident due to the amount of head injuries I have sustained; I should be either paralysed or dead by now. The only downside I really see now is, it just can make hat shopping tricky and I like wearing hats!
I also used to have a large hairy birthmark on my shoulder, which I had lasered off at a skin clinic in Bangkok, Thailand whilst I was travelling back in 2016. This was shortly before the motorbike crash I had and mental breakdown that followed. This used to bring me great self confidence issues.
Consequently, I didn’t learn how to swim and used to try and avoid P.E. lessons at school, by “forgetting my kit” as if I wasn’t being bullied for my hairy birthmark – being called names like “shit-back,” “freak,” or “Furby” (pointing out its furriness, usually followed by physical harassment with the kids bullying me trying to touch it), it was being bullied for my inability to play football, which I covered in my “rejection” trigger.
Money can be a triggering subject for me, this feel stems back to childhood and us not having much of it growing up. We were forever having to move house, due to landlords serving us notice. I also couldn’t always wear designer brands, so the kids at school used to belittle me and laugh at me. In particular, there was one incident, I remember vividly; I was over the moon when I was bought some Adidas trainers from a factory outlet discount store, I was overjoyed, that I had something with a brand on and maybe the kids wouldn’t laugh at me in P.E.
However, little did I know they turned out to be tennis trainers, and I turned up to a lesson when we were to be playing football (again). Of course the “sporty kids” (dickheads) immediately picked up on this and mocked me and my football abilities, much to my despair.
The perception of being spoken down to, or being belittled, or told off.
This is a tricky one to pinpoint; but it probably centres from the bullying I experienced as a kid. It developed into anger eventually, where I have been known to blow a gasket, lose my temper and attack the bully, who usually came off worse. I was bemused that I was in the wrong, when I was just standing up for myself , I chastised by teachers and told to sit outside the head masters office on my breaks, which confirmed my belief I was just a “naughty kid” not just a misunderstood kid, who experienced mental issues and was bullied a lot.
I also remember one of my mothers partners was a bully, he always used to talk down to me a lot, if I fell asleep with the TV on he’d cut the plug off. I used to hate wearing a bike helmet, as kids at school used to bully me and call me “safety boy” if he caught me out on my bike without it I’d be told off told, I was “clumsy” and I should do as I’m fucking told. If I stood up to him, he’d have me up against the wall, or use his large frame to lurch over me and intimidate me.
He would also say that “I have no frontal lobe,” I didn’t think much of this as a kid, I just thought it was another name I was being called by another bully in my life. However, this topic came up in an interview I was listening to recently, which piqued my interest. I’ve since learned that this frontal lobe region of the brain is responsible for attention, decision making etc. It also contains the motor cortex, which is involved in planning and coordination of movement and is also linked to controlling our behaviour and emotions.
Incidentally, I also learned that research studies have suggested that someone with bipolar disorder, has decreased grey matter density in left part of this region of the brain, the area which processes emotions. This could be why I have always struggled to express my emotions or to talk about them; a little “AHA” moment for me there for sure, but perhaps a topic for further research and another blog post, which brings me on to my next trigger.
Talking about emotions
I guess being the oldest child and being pulled away from a father figure at an early age, I had no masculine figure in my early life to confide in, or share how I was feeling, so emotions just got bottled up until I inevitably couldn’t cope and flew off the handle in bouts of rage.
This was obviously concerning and lead to me having appointments with psychologists and psychiatrists etc. But I found these people scary, as they were “strangers” and kids are always taught never to talk to strangers, so I was largely a mute during these appointments, so was discharged without diagnosis or treatment.
Since having a diagnosis of bipolar in 2017, and learning about the frontal lobe and emotions, perhaps this could be a cause for my struggle with emotions too.
The perception of being threatened, or at imminent risk of danger.
I witnessed a murder back in 2012, someone was stabbed in the neck outside a pub I was at in Fulham, following a row over football (further adding to my trauma surrounding football, my old friends, who don’t really speak with me since 2018, the year I came out and the last time I experience a proper full blown episode of rage. Regardless, they still used to mock me for not liking it. Two weeks later, I was summoned to jury service at the Old Bailey for a murder trail, we had to pass the weapon that delivered the fatal blow around. Subsequently the trail was found to be manslaughter, largely because of the circumstances surrounding the incident and me concluding that the person, was outnumbered and acted in self defence, so I fought hard for this during the nine hours worth of deliberation with the other jurors.
This caused me to experience a lot of fear, I decided the only way to overcome it was to learn to defend myself. Following doing some research I found Krav Maga; a form of hand to hand combat, taught to the military and as self-defence to civilians. We were taught to presume that anyone we’re in conflict with could be armed and try to kill you, so you have to be ready to act with maximum force to incapacitate the potential armed assailant, good for the street, not so good when in a heated argument with a loved one…
In 2018, I was also held up a knifepoint in Bristol by 5 people, 2 with knives. I had a laptop, phone, wallet, keys to the van and cash on me, I utilised verbal de-escalation techniques I learned in Krav Maga, to diffuse the situation and gave away some cash and held on to the rest of my possessions and didn’t sustain injury. Regardless it was still a scary situation, that I probably haven’t fully overcome yet.
Intrusive thoughts around sex
When I in the closet, I struggled sexually with women, my last “longterm” girlfriend (of 8 months) in 2014 was very harsh with me when I couldn’t “perform”, which was incredibly painful, the internal trauma, I’m probably still carrying to this day, even though I’m now living life true to myself.
I was also sexually assaulted in my sleep at a gay bath-house in 2018, I woke up and went ballistic and scared the attacker off and got them barred from the venue. I didn’t bother involving the police, as I have an innate mistrust of them following witnessing riot police batter people who were dancing at a free party I was at in 2008. I’m also well aware there are homophobic police officers out there, after-all Pride started as a riot (Stonewall riots) which was essentially queer people fighting back against police oppression, probably a topic for another blog post though…
I’d like to end on a much more brighter and more optimistic note. While I was bullied a lot by various people in my life, this even cropped up in my first job in finance in London a little too. However, when I overcame my fear of heights and did a bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam in Switzerlandand (the one James Bond jumped off in Goldeneye) and the big cockney guys at work didn’t, they soon piped down and showed respect for me. If you’re interested, you can watch the video footage here, where you’ll even hear the cockneys cheering me on! You’ll also hear I was called a “pussy,” by someone in the queue, by I soon proved him wrong too, when I let out an almighty roar and hurled myself off.
This was a big turning point for me in my life; facing my fears.
This helped me begin growing in confidence and self-esteem, facing and overcoming fear is a theme I am continuing to this day and beyond, I have come to realise that it is the greatest opportunity for growth I have encountered and inspired me to delve deeper into my past and “come out” about my struggles more. Hopefully, now that I have, I have set the wheels in motion to heal and integrate this trauma, which will make me less volatile and susceptible to outbursts of aggression, or anger, when I’m subjected to too much stress.
While I have experienced quite a lot of trauma in my 34 years, I do not seek pity or sympathy. Empathy is appreciated though. Having a complex life, with traumatic experiences, makes me complex. I’m trying my best, but sometimes I make mistakes and lash out. I’m pleased to say, I have found writing this post rather cathartic, as it has helped me unravel thoughts in my head and get them down into this blog.
The intention of course, as always, is that it may offer hope and inspiration to others to share their story, which will lead to overcoming shame, or guilt they may be experiencing.
Trust me, as someone who had a terrible time talking about emotions, a problem shared is a problem halved. This repeats until you’ve diminished your trauma to but a speck on this great ongoing tapestry of life. I’m getting better, but still have work to do in this area of communication though.
Please, always remember, our negative experiences and trauma can also be turned into a positive, a catalyst for growth, development, improved self-esteem, career changes, leading to more happiness and fulfilment in life, as it has done so for me.
If this post resonates with you, or you are struggling with similar experiences, I can offer help in a peer to peer support way, or better still refer you towards Beau from Be Luminous, who will be able to discuss what options are available to you to help you integrate this trauma, as I am learning to.
So please don’t hesitate to send me a message, or contact Beau directly on the dedicated page of this site here.
If you feel inspired to share your story and would like to discuss participating in an interview, which could form a Vlog, or a podcast episode, please drop me a message.
I look forward to hearing from you.
May peace, love and positive vibes be with you, have an empowering day!
Categories: mental health awareness