There is an assumption in society that it’s best to avoid triggers. After all, they can lead to destruction at worst, or extreme discomfort at best. But there are good reasons why triggers, despite their discomfort, can be opportunities in disguise. When a prior traumatic experience is triggered, there is a window of opportunity to deal with it effectively. Often, until triggered, those traumatic and incompletely processed experiences remain so far “backstage” it isn’t possible to effectively process them. With the right tools, a trigger opportunity can bring about a lasting change in a person’s life. Sometimes, the right “tool” is a mental health professional, especially if the triggered experience is deemed to be overwhelming or induces an inclination to do harm to self or others. Often, triggers can be processed on your own, and there are tools available to help.
I will share a private, powerful aspect of my life: I was sexually abused and bullied as a child and sexually assaulted as an adult. Perhaps the worst and most pervasive feeling during these incidents was the feeling of being unable to control the situation. Consequently, as an adult, I have often been triggered by anything that even approximates control. For example, I have seldom been able to comfortably allow someone else to drive a car in which I was a passenger. In fact, I’ve even found flying in a commercial aircraft uncomfortable, not because I feared crashing, but because I was not the pilot! I’ve also found myself triggered when my wife would do anything that even smelled like control. She’s often described these experiences as, “walking on eggshells.” Obviously, this is not a condition that is good for relationships.
Living and working in China, where there is so much control held by government officials in every aspect of life, I have experienced triggers due to this issue of control. With so many trigger opportunities, I’ve been able to use CJEA (Creative Journal Expressive Arts) techniques to gain a better understanding and control of my own emotions during these triggering incidents.
CJEA is a brain-science-based
method of creative expression developed by Dr.Lucia Capacchione in the 1970’s when
she experienced some difficult health issues. It is currently the method of
choice for a growing community of certified practitioners working with
organizations within the military, schools, corrections departments, courts,
public safety departments, corporations, and with individuals, couples and
families. CJEA utilizes the power and unique characteristics of both sides of
the brain. This is done by expressing one’s self through movement, drawing,
sketching or sculpting combined with writing using both the dominant and
One day recently, after experiencing a “control issue” trigger that unleashed emotional and physical symptoms (irritability and sudden intestinal cramping), I seized the opportunity to explore more about my control issues using some simple CJEA techniques. Fortunately, I had my Beijing apartment to myself that day. I placed a blank piece of paper on the table and used my dominant hand (right hand, in my case) to write questions to myself, based on the CJEA training I had received. Then, with various colored pencils, I used my left hand to scribble the answers using either text or drawing.
By doing this, I was
able to tap into parts of my brain that seemed resistant to connect to my
brain’s speech centers, and therefore were not often utilized when trying to
talk over my concerns with my wife or anyone else. These parts of me had held
onto emotional content that had not been expressed since I was a child.
Metaphorically speaking, this abused child within me had been wandering around just
off-stage, making trouble. Now I was giving “him” unprecedented access to say
what was on his mind. And he did! He expressed terrible feelings and wanted
assurances from me (the adult me) that I would be more conscious of him and his
concerns. I offered some heartfelt promises, and immediately felt more
If this communication
with myself sounds bizarre to you, I assure you that you too have various parts
of you. Each part has its own energy level and each part experiences life a
little differently. During my extensive training with Dr. Capacchione, one of
the most intriguing revelations to me was that we all have specific parts
within us, doing specific functions. It isn’t mysterious; it’s simply the way
we were all built.
It wasn’t necessary, at least during this episode, to re-hash and remember all the abuse. If I had noticed the discussion going in that direction, I might have waited for my wife to be present, or at least in another room. No, I simply needed to communicate and negotiate with a childlike part of me about the feelings of being controlled.
From this experience and many like it, I have learned that I am an excellent therapeutic guide for my own mental health. I do not have a pathology and therefore do not need the help of a certified mental health professional. If that should ever become necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to make use of that additional resource.
There is no reason to
live a life full of misery and frustration. When the “Broadway play” that is
life seems to be more chaotic than it should be, there is hope.
Chuck and Laraine Chamberlain have been trained and certified in CJEA techniques. For more information about CJEA, click here. For information about Dr. Lucia Capacchione’s books, click here.
Laraine received a great deal of positive feedback from women who attended the Asia Women’s Conference in March in Hong Kong. She spoke about Forgiveness: the Pain, the Paralysis, and the Process.
One part of the presentation dealt with the idea that each of us has multiple, distinct, yet interrelated areas in which we can develop self-reliance including: Physical, financial, educational, social, spiritual and emotional. Because we do not have the necessary tools, we tend to deal with emotional issues as only a byproduct of strength in another area. For instance, we tend to believe that to strengthen ourselves emotionally, we must pursue spiritual strengths. We read scripture, attend church, and pray in order to help ourselves emotionally.
While it is true there are strong “spillover” benefits of a spiritual life, it is not true that we can rely solely on those benefits for emotional strength. For some reason it is obvious that attending church does not strengthen physical muscles, nor does it take the place of good nutrition. Likewise, it is obvious that going to the gym every day does not supplant religious observance. But when it comes to building emotional strength, we hear advice such as, “Just get out and do more social things.” Or we hear, “Pray more, and read more scriptures.”
There is good reason for this kind of advice–the world is largely unaware of specific exercises to boost emotional health. Laraine and Chuck have been certified in an approach called “CJEA” or Creative Journal Expressive Arts. Among other things, CJEA is a brain-science based method of enhancing emotional awareness and strength.
When confronted with the very spiritual need to forgive someone, it is helpful to understand that forgiveness is both a spiritual AND an emotional need. Consequently, there are specific emotional exercises that can be used to help someone going through a forgiveness process. In her presentation, Laraine recalled a fairly recent experience in which missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked her to join with them in a discussion with someone who was considering baptism. As the discussion progressed, the woman seemed to hit an emotional roadblock and could not consider baptism until she had forgiven her husband. Laraine guided the woman through some emotional exercises that left her sobbing, but noticeably relieved and ready to continue her spiritual life.
When we have the right tools, we are free to go where we’ve never been before. But, as Laraine pointed out, the tools are so simple–almost too simple–and because of the “simpleness of the way,” many people don’t bother to do them, even when they know about them. By using simple spiritual and emotional tools, we can more easily forgive and continue a healthier path in life.
Laraine presented at the Asia Women’s Conference in Hong Kong. Because Chuck is absolutely nuts about Hong Kong, he could not be left behind. Between sessions of the conference, Chuck and Laraine renewed friendships. It was a truly relaxing and enjoyable trip. Unfortunately, due to some technical issues, not all of their visits were captured in pictures.
March 27, 2019–Today it was announced that former All-Pro Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Michael Irvin, was in the hospital over the weekend, undergoing tests for throat cancer. His results are not yet in, but what he posted on Instagram is a raw, honest appraisal of his emotional state. Because so many of us believe certain emotions are “off limits” to us (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, etc.), it is refreshing to note the experience of a man whose core values include controlling fear.
His own Instagram post paints a frightening picture:
Michaelirvin88Spent Sun & Mon in LA at UCLA medical Health (Ronald Reagan Hospital) doing health test. I would not usually do this but this I need to share. Growing up in the ghetto of Ft Lauderdale the one thing you have to conquer to get out is FEAR. I did! As a football player the no fear gift served me well as a blessing and an asset on the field but sometimes off the field it’s been a curse and a liability. This past football season after the @dallascowboys beat the @Saints I was so elated and hyped I lost my voice and the problem persisted for almost 2months. After visiting some of the best throat Doctors they thought it to be wise to take a deeper look at the situation. So we schedule and performed a throat biopsy. To give background I share with you that I lost my father at the young age of 51. He had throat cancer. This daemon has chased and vexed me deep in my spirit all my life. So saying I am afraid this time is a big big understatement. I AM TERRIFIED! My Faith tells me whenever you face great fear you go to your greatness power. Mine is God. I am asking all who will. Could you please send up a prayer to help my family and I deal with whatever the results may be? Thanks for your thoughts and prayers in advance. I will continue to pray for your fam’s protection and prosperity as well. May God Bless us all.
When we deny or minimize our true feelings, we often create an undercurrent of emotions that seeks expression in harmful behaviors and illnesses. When we express those feelings in appropriate ways, even in a personal journal or, in this case, Instagram post, we can deal directly with the difficult emotion. In addition, we are more likely to have the support of loving friends and family when we need it.
So often, we hear disturbing news of NFL players who have allowed their emotions to get out of control, resulting in domestic violence or even unnecessary violence on the field. My hat is off to Michael Irvin. In this situation, he was in touch with himself enough to recognize extreme fear, and honest enough to express it to family, friends, and even the general public. Whatever you may think of Michael Irvin, his political views, reputation, or past behavior, at least in this situation he has shown a remarkable strength of character. May God bless you and your family, Mr. Irvin, as you face this difficult time.
“Trigger Warning” has become a common expression in
modern media. A trigger warning is simply a warning that what comes next might
cause someone who suffers from prior trauma to remember or relive their
experience. On the face of it, it is a sensitive and welcome acknowledgement
that painful conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are real
However, the use of such warnings and the thought
process behind it have become part of the country’s divisive political discussion.
The extreme elements of one faction seem bent on bludgeoning the other side
into submission by placing nearly every normal human behavior in the category
of a “trigger.” For this group of people, saying a pronoun, asking for a date, opening
the door for someone, wearing a certain hat, flying a flag, or singing a
Christmas song have all become triggers that any caring human being should
refrain from doing.
Meanwhile, extremists from the other political faction
are attempting to shame the “overly sensitive” victims of trauma and violence
by calling them names like “snowflake,” hinting at their extreme fragility.
Rhetoric from this group commonly minimizes and denies what may be real,
debilitating trauma felt by many innocent people.
Both sides have valid points, and both sides should work
to reign in their most extreme elements. Yes, it is true that
anything–literally anything can
become a trigger to someone who has experienced trauma. Society should be
sensitive to this. But it is not productive or sane to ban benign human
behavior in an attempt to guarantee no one will ever be triggered.
Some speech and behaviors, in and of themselves, are violent, degrading and inappropriate. Common sense and conscience tell us what is included in this category. Members of a civilized society have an obligation to avoid such expressions. But all other speech and behaviors, even those that can be triggering, should be processed internally by those who feel inclined to be offended or triggered. It is incumbent on the offended person to learn coping skills. Any other configuration of accountability could be destructive in our society.
Look for Part 3 in this series: “Triggers are Opportunities.” If you have experienced triggers in your life, learn how to take advantage of them to bring more growth and healing.
My wife and
I recently stood in line at an American-style fast-food burger shop in Beijing.
When it was finally our turn, we reached for the laminated menu card near the
cash register and started looking at the menu options. Out of nowhere, a young
man pushed forward, grabbed the menu out of our hands, and started giving his
order to the cashier. That’s when I reached over, quickly slipped the card out
of his hands and blocked his view of the cashier with my body while we
proceeded to order.
the first time we had encountered this kind of behavior during our stay in
China. In fact, over the 18 months since arriving in Beijing from America, we’ve
seen it nearly every day in various situations and venues–from train ticket queues
to subways to grocery stores to airplanes. Everywhere we’ve turned, we’ve noticed
locals who do not seem to accept or honor the concept of “wait your turn.”
talking about cultural differences with our Chinese friends. One friend, a medical
doctor, heard me lament about this encounter. He thought for a moment, then
proposed a possible explanation. Recent research into an emerging field called
“epigenetics” indicates that animals and human beings may pass along ancestral
memories via their genes. In short, our behaviors, attitudes and preferences
may be greatly influenced by environmental factors suffered by our ancestors.
He postulated that trauma from serious famine in China’s past may now be to
blame for an unreasonable feeling of urgency, pushing a person to skip ahead of
others in line to be the first served.
that whatever experiences we’ve had, or whatever traumas our progenitors may
have suffered, we do have the ability and responsibility to overcome our own
programming to act in ways socially acceptable in the current environment. We
cannot blame our genes for bad behavior. However, the doctor’s explanation has
caused me to re-think my own responses to these behaviors. Instead of reacting
with irritation, I am now more likely to feel compassion for those whose genes
might nudge them to move ahead of me in line. If echoes of China’s past whisper
to the person behind me that he is starving, I may see his behavior differently
and choose to respond accordingly.
triggers real? What do they mean and how do they work? Why are political
factions discussing triggers? How can I deal with my triggers?
Part One—The Power and Scope of Your
Picture a cruise ship.
If you successfully pictured a cruise ship just now,
ask yourself where that image came from. Where was that mental image 30 seconds
ago? If you’ve taken a cruise, then surely your own memories were involved when
you conjured up an image. If you have never taken a cruise, then you’ve likely seen
pictures of cruise ships, or recall seeing “Titanic” or “The Love Boat” or some
other program about a cruise ship.
If the ship you brought up in your mind was not in
your conscious thought immediately prior to reading this article, then you have
just experienced a powerful proof that you have a subconscious mind. How much
of your mental “storage” is taken up by your subconscious? Imagine a large
balance scale, with the weight of all your conscious thoughts on one side and
all your subconscious or unconscious content on the other side. Which way would
the scale lean?
Can you see that the amount of content in your
subconscious mind far outweighs that of your conscious thoughts? You have a
very comprehensive, emotion-filled subconscious “world” within you. Your entire
history of memories, experiences, perceptions and beliefs resides largely in
your subconscious, not in your conscious thoughts.
Your mental life is really divided into two different
realms—on-stage and off-stage. Living and thinking is like producing a Broadway
play. Most of the scenery, props and actors are off-stage waiting for their cues
to perform. At any given moment, only a small percentage of the staff is
on-stage reciting lines and interacting with the environment. Occasionally, an
actor on stage says or does something to prompt another actor to enter “stage
left.” The new actor might bring additional props or baggage from backstage
with him. The new actor then recites his lines and acts out his part.
Sometimes, an actor says or does something to prompt an entire change of
How do you access this hidden, powerful dimension
within? Or metaphorically speaking, how do you prompt someone or something to
emerge from backstage? In your conscious, everyday world there are certain
objects, words, thoughts, people, music, smells, feelings and sounds that act
as little cues or “triggers” to bring things forward from backstage. This might
sound mysterious, but it is the mechanism upon which the entire skill of
reading is based. We train young children to associate a visual, conscious
symbol (letters and words) with something in their subconscious mind. Because
you are trained in that skill, when I wrote the words, “Cruise Ship” above, you
opened a doorway to your subconscious. You could say that by simply writing the
words, “Cruise Ship,” I “triggered” you into bringing thoughts of a cruise ship
A trigger is simply a stimulus leading to a doorway or
portal into an internal dimension of subconscious content. When triggered,
long-lost thoughts and feelings emerge to interact with your current
environment. When summoned, portions of your subconscious world ideally come to
the forefront–on stage to offer up the lines you need in your daily story of
life. However, when those backstage characters represent trauma, shame, pain or
grief, something often prevents them from coming all the way on stage. Instead,
they can muck around behind the scenery, creating chaos just out of sight. The
audience might hear noises or see onstage props being knocked around from
behind. They might wonder what is happening to the play.
In our lives, triggered negative emotions and thoughts can cause chaos, taking over our lives as they sit just beneath the surface causing disease, anger, depression, or other problems. And because we are just as much a part of the audience as anyone else, and don’t understand what is happening, we feel blindsided by strong, chaotic feelings that seemingly come out of nowhere.
[Stay tuned on this blog for Parts two and three. You will have a better understanding of triggers and learn ways to turn triggers into opportunities for growth.]
The spirit of giving is a beautiful part of Christmas. But
when families have so many things gathering dust in their closets, the “wonder
and awe” that is such a big part of the Christmas spirit can suffer. In their yet-to-be-published
book, “Surviving by a Thread: Finding Joy, Abundance and Resilience in a Turbulent
World,” the Chamberlains identify a survival “thread” called “Give Up and Let
Learning to give up and let go is critical to the flow of
abundance in our lives. This is no more evident than at Christmastime. In the
book, Jeremy recalls an unusual discussion with a young mother:
“I remember coming across someone else
who seemed pretty conscious of this ‘letting go’ thing. It was the mother of a
family I met once. They were getting ready for Christmas. There were several
small children and their Christmas tree was surrounded by many wrapped gifts.
But at the same time, they still had a good number of toys and games left over
from the last Christmas in their children’s rooms. When I talked to the mother,
she said something I’ve never forgotten.”
“What did she say?” Laraine asked.
“She said, ‘We love this time of year because
it’s a perfect time to sort through the toys and games from years past and get
rid of those that are unusable or seldom used. Our children have learned to
give away or throw away their old toys at least one time every year.’ . . .
If we could help our
children shift their mindsets away from accumulation towards the
direction of abundance, which includes the concept of “flow,” we would
be teaching them a valuable lesson. They would appreciate their toys a little more,
learn to experience the joy of giving, and avoid the bad energy that comes with
too much clutter.
There is certainly nothing wrong with gift-giving at
Christmas. But by taking a few subtle steps in the direction of abundant
thinking, we can make the giving more positive and meaningful.