Teen Emotions

#triggered? How about #regulated.

If you have recently spent time with a teenager, you have likely heard them talk about how “triggered” they are at some point.  In fact, you may have even heard them say “hashtag triggered” in reference to an event, a noise, a person, a color, a thing, etc.  It has become a part of common teenage slang and it is something that I struggle with as a therapist-BIG TIME.


Here is the deal.  The term “triggered” is supposed to refer to an activating event or thing that is the catalyst for emotional dysregulation.  Meaning, a thing happens, and it creates and emotion.  In therapy, we talk A LOT about triggers, and we do it for a reason.  It is SUPER important to recognize the things that trigger strong emotions so that you can be prepared for them.  We spend time talking about the times in our lives where there was emotional dysregulation and act like investigative reporters to determine what the thing was that created that emotion.  Once we know, we can plan about how the best address the trigger so that we can regulate our emotions.   We can pay attention to the physical symptoms of the emotional dysregulation and be prepared to self soothe.  We can pay attention to the things we need when we are emotionally dysregulated and be prepared to ask for them.  We can pay attention to the environment that we most need to be in when we are emotional dysregulated and be prepared to try and create it.


Well, that all seems pretty good, Jessica, why do you have so much beef with people saying that they are triggered?


Here is why, I find it super important to understand the things in our lives that trigger strong emotions.  What seems to be happening around this concept, though, is that people are recognizing the things that trigger them but don’t choose to do the things that help regulate their emotions as a result of that awareness.  Instead, I notice that the word is being used as a justification for the way we behave when our emotions are dysregulated.  I yelled at you for no apparent reason?  Well, it is was because I was #triggered.   I didn’t do that thing I needed to do?  It was because I was #triggered.  I totally isolated myself from other people?  It was because I was #triggered.  I haven’t participated in my self-care routine for the last week?  It was because I was #triggered.


When there are events or other humans in our lives that trigger strong emotions, that is a real thing.  It is a real struggle.  It is something to address.  It is not a justification to step outside of your values and behave differently or treat people in a manner that is not appropriate.  The purpose to identifying your triggers is to determine what you need to do to regulate that emotion that comes screaming into your life after the trigger has occurred.  And then to regulate your emotion.


Jessica, I hear you, but why is it so important to understand how to regulate my emotions when I have been triggered?  Can’t I just try really hard to avoid being triggered?


The truth is that we are never going to be able to successfully avoid all of the things that trigger us.  We can try and sometimes it is possible to keep our distance for a period of time but avoiding everything that elicits strong emotions all of the time is near impossibility.  Knowing what does, however, allows us to make sure that we are taking the steps to take care of ourselves so that the emotion does not have to take over.  It helps us behave in a more appropriate way.  It helps us to make choices about what to do and say from a clearer mind.


So, I guess the moral of this story is #triggered may be the first step, but don’t forget about the next ones so that you can keep yourself #regulated.


With Gratitude, Jessica Brubaker

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