Adoption triggers. Many of us have to deal with them. Some of us know how to handle them with ease, while others don’t know how to cope with the sudden onset of emotion. These triggers can be set off by the ill-intended, a seemingly unrelated comment, a picture, or even our own wandering mind. No matter who, what, when, where, why, or how you were triggered, it’s good to have several different outlets to handle them with grace.
I have been hit with triggers many times over the course of my adoption journey. In my case, I tend to get furious, or I cry. A lot. And of course, these triggers mostly happen for me at work. Thankfully, most of them have been manageable, and those that I really struggled with are defused with one of several strategies. We don’t get to choose when we get triggered or how they are going to affect us, but we can choose how we react–yes, react. Action should be taken as a release. I would not recommend burying these strong feelings, as it is unhealthy and can do more damage. There is a time and a place for these actions, but leaving them unaddressed is not the answer.
One way that I handle adoption triggers is to let out my emotion and cry. I’ve talked about this in another article about How To Deal With The Bad Days. This can be a bit awkward if you’re in a public or professional setting, so here are some ways to get around that. First, you can confide in a manager, supervisor, boss, or another connection about your situation. That way, when you have a triggering event, they will know to give you space or work with you to get calm. You can also quietly go to a restroom or break area, and take some time to gain composure. Take your time and recognize that your feelings are valid. Just try not to wallow.
Another way I try to handle adoption triggers is to exercise. Again, most of my triggering events happen at work, so I told my boss that occasionally, I may need to take a walk. When something upsets me to the point that I can’t focus, I excuse myself, and speed walk to the end of the street and back. The fresh air will help your mind to focus and the exertion of energy will get out some pent-up emotion. If you have the time and need a release, go for a jog, meditate for 20 minutes, dance, hike–anything to expend the energy.
For some people (like myself) this is easier said than done. When someone’s words or actions set off one of our triggers, respectfully confront the person. Kindly explain to them why you would appreciate them using different wording or not talking about certain things around you. People are often more understanding than we give them credit for, and say or do things out of ignorance or good intentions. I know I’ve been triggered by people saying things that weren’t meant to trigger me, but they did nonetheless. If it was an accident, they’ll know to keep that in mind next time. If they were trying to hurt your feelings, and you’ve express yourself to them, then you’ll know better than to spend your time in their presence.
If you’ve ever been to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, you’d know that they use a sort of confidant system to help each other stay clean. At my first meeting, I stayed quiet, tried to learn the routine, and just listened. After everything was over, I had several people approach me giving me their numbers or business cards. They told me that if I ever felt tempted to drink, I should call them and they’ll keep my mind off alcohol. The same thing can work for adoption triggers. When you feel you are being triggered, confide in someone who knows your situation, who can be readily available at any time, who can listen, and who can talk you through it if needs be. You should never feel the need to go through these struggles alone.
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The most helpful thing that I do is write. I find that I can not only express myself better, but I can dissect and understand my feelings and the triggers better. As I write, I can usually learn where the feelings are valid, and where they were blown out of proportion. Sometimes, I’m in a bad mood to begin with, and the slightest thing will trigger me. Writing can help me know when my feels are justified and how I can learn from the experience, or when I’m overreacting and need to identify a different problem. However, writing isn’t helpful to everyone. I would suggest another form of expression using words like singing, talking to a friend or family member, or even recording yourself talking. Anything that can allow you to say what you’re thinking, while also introducing a voice of reason.
Lastly, I feel the need to mention some things you probably shouldn’t do to handle adoption triggers. The first would be to avoid placing blame. These are your triggers, and no one else’s. If someone has triggered you, it’s up to you to find way to cope with the of emotions. Second, if you feel too overwhelmed by your feelings and think you may harm yourself or someone else, get help. This may be more than just an adoption trigger and needs to be addressed immediately. Third, don’t bring any negative emotions onto the adopted child. The adoptive parents or birth mother may have been the one to cause the triggering event, but in the end, it isn’t your child’s job to bear that burden. The last thing I would say is don’t walk away from triggering events without trying to learn something. There is something positive to be gained from each event. You can learn what works and what doesn’t. Who is helpful and who isn’t. When triggers happen most often. When it’s not just a trigger and there’s a bigger issue, etc. Just because you are prone to have adoption triggers doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them and end up stronger.