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Potholes, Triggers, and Adult Children of Divorce

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

It’s pothole season in Michigan. For those of you in other areas of the country, this is the time of year when the temperature sinks below freezing at night and warms up during the day. The thawing and freezing action creates potholes in our roads.

At best, trying to drive around them can make you look like a drunk behind the wheel. At worst, hitting one of these craters can shake the whole car, ruin your alignment, bend a wheel rim, or flatten a tire—any one of which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Triggers and Adults with Divorced Parents This bit of asphalt trivia is important because triggers can act like potholes for adult children of divorce. If you’re not paying attention, hitting one can jar you severely, ruin your mood, bend a relationship, or flatten a marriage.

A trigger is something that occurs now, but reminds us of something that happened in our past. For example, if you were in a house fire as a child, the smell of smoke is a trigger for you. A song, which reminds us of a special night long ago, is another example of a trigger.

Triggers are neither good nor bad, however, for adults with divorced parents, triggers can cause us to react when no danger exists.

For example, should our spouse, friend, or boss look at us sternly, we may tense up. The problem is their look is not the issue though our mind thinks it is. In reality, our brain flashed back to a scene where our parents looked at each other sternly before they divorced.  

Unfortunately, before we know it, we’re responding now the same way we did as a child—with fear. This is often the sequence of events:

We see their look

It, unknowingly, triggers a childhood memory of our parents

We become fearful that we may be abandoned

Our fear triggers anger (We didn’t deserve a look like that!)We respond in anger

Our wife, kids, or boss, are blindsided by our overreaction

The relationship is damaged.

Moving around Triggers You can see why identifying our triggers is very important. So how do we deal with triggers?

1. Identify them – The best tool I’ve found for adult children of divorce to identify their triggers is the book “The Long Way Home” by Gary Neuman. Read my review of this book here.

2. Analyze them – The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The next time you sense yourself overreacting, (or you are accused of overreacting) stop. Ask yourself, “what am I thinking? What am I feeling right now?” And, “when in my childhood did I feel this way?” Many times you’ll realize that you’re not responding to the present circumstance. You’re reacting the same way you did when you felt threatened as a kid.

3. Pray through them – pray that God will help you to know when you are being triggered and to respond based on the present circumstance and not the past.

4. Overcome them – Triggers don’t go away, but, by learning specifically how they are affecting you, you can change your response to them.

We can rarely avoid triggers, but we can very effectively manage them. This is a vital part of strengthening our relationships and breaking the cycle of divorce.

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