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Posts Tagged ‘triggered’

The word, “triggered” has become a popular part of today’s vernacular, and is generally applied to anything that might cause one to become upset. But for the purposes of this discourse, I will use it in a very specific context, which is when in the midst of an experience that is happening in real time (i.e. right now) we make an emotional/intellectual/spiritual connection to an experience that has happened in the past. In such moments, the magnitude of our response can quickly escalate well beyond what seems reasonable for the current circumstance.

 

One of the clearest examples I can give of being “triggered” is something I witnessed while I was in the Navy. During those years, guys routinely messed with each other and rough-housed. One day, a big guy (John) snuck up on a smaller guy (Jim), and grabbed him from behind. Jim let out a blood curdling scream, and rammed John into a piece of machinery, causing him to let go. When John released him, Jim turned and furiously began to pummel John with his fists. Eventually, it took five guys to restrain Jim and keep him from killing John.

 

At the time, Jim’s reaction didn’t make any sense to us. But we later learned that his step-father had molested him for years, and that what he was experiencing at that moment wasn’t his friend playing a practical joke on him, he was reliving the terror of a little boy being raped by his step-father.

 

Though it is an extreme example, it drives home the seriousness of this phenomena. Our responses often seem inappropriate because we’re emotionally/spiritually connected to some other moment.

 

For those who consider themselves to be spiritual, and believe that there are actual forces of darkness at work against our souls, you can be sure that making these connections is a valuable tool of the enemy. By linking the two moments, the illusion that Jim was about to be ravaged eclipsed the reality that he wasn’t in any real danger. The enemy of our soul loves it when he can get us to react to an unreality, and if we choose to hold on to those emotions, it opens the door for that painful moment to turn into an altered perception of reality going forward.

 

An example of this would be a woman whose first husband was unfaithful to her. Years later, after marrying a more honest and loyal man, she still experiences feelings of hurt and anxiety whenever she sees him talking to another woman. On an intellectual level she can say that her second husband is nothing like the first. But emotionally, she continues to reconnect her past hurts with her present fears. The voice of the enemy tells her that all men will eventually cheat, and on some level, she believes it. Every time she hears of a man being unfaithful, the enemy reinforces the stronghold, “See, that’s just how men are”. Without healing, she might actually be the one to drive her second marriage to destruction.

 

The enemy’s ultimate prize is our identity, and as we accept that the hurts of the past are who we are as opposed to what happened to us, he gains a valuable stronghold that he can revisit again and again. When this happens, it doesn’t take a traumatic event to trigger strong emotions. It simply takes a mirror.

Our Creator stands at the ready to show us who we really are, but that type of healing requires a willingness to surrender our old identities.

 

Once in this “triggered” state, several common patterns emerge. Accompanying the magnified sense of current and past events is the tendency to vigorously defend the legitimacy of this heightened emotional state, to lash out at anyone who attempts to provide a more balanced perspective, to speak in definitives (e.g. they always do this, they never do that, nothing works, no one ever has…), and to project the characteristics/actions of an individual (or a few individuals) onto the entire group (e.g. men do this, women think that, that generation believes…).

 

Remaining in this condition for any appreciable amount of time can be like putting on a pair of sunglasses, as it begins to color every other thing we look at. If we feel disrespected, we begin to perceive disrespect in everything that goes on around us, even from people who don’t know us, and in situations that don’t involve us. All it takes is a spark in the right spot, and soon the whole forest can be ablaze.

 

We live in a culture that is filled with stimuli which are meant to provoke a reaction. Every day we are bombarded with images and words that are intended to incite some type of a response. If we don’t recognize the danger, and guard our hearts, we too will be tossed about on the waves of emotional / spiritual turmoil.

 

The enemy loves to exploit these moments, as heavy and lasting damage to relationships is often the outcome. Like Jim in the previous story, we can feel as though our very existence is threatened, and therefore act / speak in a way that is completely out of our normal character. Unfortunately, when the moment is over, and the emotions subside, the damage often remains. In the end, both Jim and John felt like they’d been attacked, and their friendship never recovered.

 

Being a gifted and genuine believer does not exempt a person from falling into this trap. Elijah had been ministering in the miraculous power of God for some time before Jezebel’s threat sent him running for the hills (1 Kings 19). Fresh off a spectacular showdown with the prophets of Baal, and even after the Lord literally shook the earth with His power, Elijah was convinced that he was the “only one” left, and wanted to die. The veil of his fear blinded him to the reality of seven thousand other believers who had not bowed to the god of the age.

 

The scriptures warn us not to focus on what is seen, because it is perishing (i.e. temporary). It exhorts us to take every thought captive, making it subject to Christ, and to fix our hearts on things above (i.e. eternal). It is vital that we discern the spirit which lurks behind the things that trigger our emotions and provoke us to wrath. We must learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. If not, we risk becoming enslaved by a hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

 

The enemy of our souls has a story he’d like to share today.  It’s a tale of frustration, failure, and pain.  It’s a narrative filled with “if only’s” (e.g. if only this would happen, if only that hadn’t happened) which will always leave us one step away from wherever we want to be.  The Creator of our souls also has a story He’d like to share today.  It’s a plan of provision, strength and hope.  It’s a narrative filled with “even if’s” (e.g. even if that happened, even if this never happens), which will free us from the constraints of our circumstance.  Ultimately, the reality of our day will boil down to whose report we believe.

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The scripture teaches that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds”, or maybe more clearly, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds”. But I wonder to what degree we really understand what a “stronghold” is, or how to identify them in our lives.

 

The definition of a stronghold is a place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack, a place where a particular cause, attitude or belief is strongly defended. In the context in which Paul was speaking it would be a cause, attitude or belief that is not from, or may even be counter to God, which we have accepted as truth.  Once established, it can become a conduit for the enemy of our souls to speak and work in our lives.

 

Though distorted mindsets can develop through faulty teaching (e.g. racism) or even just a bad example, strongholds are more often cultivated through first-hand experience; and generally speaking, the more traumatic the experience, the more powerful the potential for it to result in a stronghold.

 

While these experiences are a key element, it is actually the conclusions we draw from them that form the basis of the stronghold. For instance, a man abandons his wife and children with no warning or explanation.  The wife concludes that he must have been unhappy because she wasn’t as physically attractive as she’d been when they first married, and thus develops an obsession with losing weight, which ultimately leads to an eating disorder.  The enemy tells her that if she were just younger, or thinner, or prettier, then she’d be worthy of love.

 

Their daughter, who felt like she was daddy’s little princess, concludes that everyone who says they love you will eventually leave you, resulting in a jealous insecurity that poisons all of her future relationships, and compels her to be promiscuous. For her, the enemy becomes a type of translator, encouraging her to interpret every little action as the beginning of an inevitable abandonment or betrayal.

 

Their son, who deeply admired his father, concludes that men were never meant to be tied down to one person, and struggles to commit to anything. Whenever he starts to feel close to someone, the enemy reminds him not to fall into the trap his father did.

 

In truth, none of those conclusions are accurate, but through this deeply painful experience an emotional and spiritual stronghold is formed, which then becomes a channel for further damage. No doubt the Lord wants to tell the mother that she is the apple of His eye, and that physical beauty is a fleeting thing; and to assure the daughter that He will never leave her, nor forsake her; and to remind the son that a woman was created in response to what He saw missing in a man, and that there is a wholeness that can only be experienced through that union.  But if the stronghold is powerful enough, they may not have ears to hear any of those words.

 

Because these things are generally held in the most remote and protected regions of our being, we can be completely oblivious to their existence. Intellectually, the wife can vehemently defend that her former husband’s action was in no way her fault, but in the deepest part of her heart she doesn’t believe that’s true. Like her, we can all develop a blind spot, which allows the enemy unencumbered access to that area of our life.

 

While identifying the specific nature of a stronghold isn’t always easy, there are some readily identifiable patterns that seem to accompany their presence. Recognizing these patterns in our lives can become the first step toward our recovery.

 

One such pattern is the tendency to personalize situations and to perceive them as personal attacks, even when they are seemingly innocuous and involve total strangers. The person who cut you off on the highway didn’t just fail to see you, they did it purposely because they thought they were better than you, or because of the car you drive, or because of the bumper sticker you have, or…  Like little ones on the playground, you’ll swear that “they did that on purpose” even if there is no logical reason to believe they did.

 

Closely related to that pattern is the penchant for being easily “triggered”, which causes your reactions to be completely off base in relation to what is actually happened. The clearest example I can give of being “triggered” is something I witnessed while I was in the Navy.

 

During those years, guys routinely messed with each other and rough housed. One day, a big guy (John) snuck up on a smaller guy (Jim), and grabbed him from behind.  Jim let out a blood curdling scream, and rammed John into a piece of machinery, causing him to let go.  When John released him, Jim turned and furiously began to pummel John with his fists.  Eventually, it took five guys to restrain Jim, and keep him from killing John.

 

At the time, Jim’s reaction didn’t make any sense to us, but we later learned that his step-father had molested him for years, and that what he was experiencing at that moment wasn’t his friend playing a practical joke on him, he was reliving the terror of a 5 year old being raped by his step-father. Sadly, this episode cost Jim his career.  Though it is an extreme example, it drives home the seriousness of this issue.  Our responses are often inappropriate because we’re emotionally reliving some other moment.

 

Not all patterns are that dramatic, it could be something as simple as the tendency to make the same mistake over and over again. Like a pothole in a street you travel on a daily basis, you promise yourself that you’re going to avoid it this time, and somehow you still manage to drive right into it.  You can rationalize that the city ought to fix the road, but you might also wonder at your own propensity for repeatedly finding that hole.

 

I knew a lady who married a man named Jim, who turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk and was often abusive toward her. Eventually she divorced him and married a man named Jeff, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, and who was also frequently abusive toward her.  Eventually she divorced him as well, only to marry a man named John, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, who…  Ultimately, she concluded that she just didn’t have any luck with men.  I would submit that “luck” had little to do with it, and that there was something deeply rooted within her which caused her to find this same type of man over and over again.

 

Another, more subtle pattern is a propensity for being “out of season”. Given that life unfolds in seasons, it is important to discern the season that you’re in, and to embrace it.  Thus, when the enemy of our souls has found a foot hold, he delights in having us show up to the pool party in a parka, or to the snow ball fight in a tank top.  We consistently find ourselves being “at the wrong place, at the wrong time”.  In fact, if you watch someone whose life is unraveling, one of the first signs of trouble is that they’re asleep when everyone else is awake, and they’re awake when everyone else is asleep.  I’ve often seen parents who want to be their kid’s “friends” when they’re young, and then try to parent them when they become adults.

 

As difficult as it may be to break out of these life patterns, our God offers us “divine power to demolish strongholds”. Tearing them down takes away places for our adversary to hide, and limits his ability to speak into our lives.  Like the psalmist beseeched, we need to ask the Lord to “search me”, to “know my anxious thoughts” and ultimately to “lead me in the way everlasting”.

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