To Trigger or not to Trigger, that is the Question

(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands.)

There are certain classic NVC terms and phrases that are used commonly in nonviolent communication. Giraffes and jackals. Empathy and reflective listening. What’s alive in you right now. The gift of no. Language that serves life and fulfills needs. Language that alienates. Labels, evaluations and judgments. And, of course, triggers.

One term that I question is the use of “trigger,” as in “Your comment just triggered my hurt and anger.” Or, “You really triggered me with that look you gave her, just now.”

The intent behind this word, trigger, is to avoid blaming someone for causing your hurt or anger. It is intended to support us in accepting full responsibility for our own angry responses based on old wounds that are sometimes easily irritated. It is a nonviolent substitute for blame-based speech such as “Your comment just made me really angry and hurt,” or “You just looked at her in a way that infuriates me.”

Sometimes, when people use the word “trigger,” it still sounds to me as if they are assigning blame to the person who triggered them. It sounds to me like a transitive verb. “You triggered me” seems so similar to “you angered me.”

To meet needs for self-understanding and clarity with others, I prefer to call it like it is. “Hearing you say that, I just triggered myself into remembering some old anger that still seethes under the surface for me sometimes.” Or, “When you look at her like that, I tend to trigger myself with a story about something that happened long ago with someone else, which has nothing to do with you.”

Who is really triggering whom? That is the larger question I am still pondering. I am curious to hear any comments or insights you might want to share here. Thank you.

About swpollack

I’m an independent mediator and collaborative communication coach who can help you to co-create greater ease, connection and mutual understanding in your personal and professional relationships. As a non-traditional specialist, my aim is to get concrete results for my clients in a fraction of the time usually required by traditional therapy and counseling. Please visit my business website: . The emotion-based coaching work I do is deeply therapeutic, yet I am neither a psychologist nor a psychotherapist. Instead I work with a holistic, empathic process called compassionate, nonviolent communication. I also facilitate ongoing support groups for people who want to learn this organic process of nonjudgmental communication to help build bridges of connection, harmony, collaboration and understanding. For more about my Build Compassionate Relationships meetup group, visit: . I’ve been offering these services to the public since 2000 in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as well as by phone and through Skype conferencing. . Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s based on a very pure, nonjudgmental language of feelings, needs and requests. I’ve found this to be a powerful tool in my mediation work which involves bringing two or more people together despite a painful history of conflict.
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