Triggers (Part 2)

We learned last week that Carol was “triggering” an old place of injury inside Michael’s soul.  A trigger is a present day behavior that somehow taps into a place of pain from the past.  Done innocently enough, Carol’s mere questioning of Michael in an irritated tone was enough to take Michael back into his frozen childhood state when his mother would interrogate him.  Carol was just trying to connect with her husband.  Instead, an emotional eight year old showed up.  Nobody likes a “bate and switch” and Carol was no exception.  Both husband and wife were clueless to the fact that the past was somehow tied to the present.

Now, let’s resume our conversation between Michael and Carol and we will soon discover Carol’s triggers and how this became the emotional weather system that developed into The Perfect Storm.

Michael:  “So what bugs you the most about me?”

Carol: “You are unaware of me and unavailable to me.  It more than “bugs” me …it infuriates me.”

Becoming nervous at the Carole’s intensity, Michael flashed a panicky look at me and I said, “Just ask any one of the questions on the Listener help sheet (found on pages 256 – 258 of How We Love).

Michael:  He scanned the questions, looked at Carol, took a deep breath, gulped audibly and said, “Tell me more.”

Carol:   “When I talk with you, no matter what the topic, you slowly begin to distance yourself from me.  I can see you looking at me but your bank stare tells me you are miles away.  I don’t feel seen by you.”

Michael: (Following another prompt by me to ask another question from the list) “How often do you feel this way.”

Carol: “After 25 years, ALL of the time.  You never see me, you never hear me, and you’re just a ‘deer in the headlights’.  I want a partner.”

Michael: (Eyes glued to the Listener help sheet) “What are the feelings that you experience when I’m not present with you in a conversation?”

Even though Carol had just asked the same question of Michael thirty minutes ago, she looked surprised and taken off guard.  She looked at Michael, then to me and then to her soul word list (found on page 291 in How We Love).   She was quiet for about 60 seconds.  The silence was deafening… no one in the audience moved a muscle.

Carol: (With a softened voice and tears in her eyes) “I’m hurt, lost, alone, abandoned and terrified.”

Michael’s eyes widened as he looked more intently at Carol and actually leaned closer to her. Accustomed to anger and irritation, he looked surprised as softer more vulnerable words poured out of her mouth.  The words seemed to sink in and register at new levels and his eyes welled up with tears in response. He spontaneously reached out and touched her hand.

Michael: (Now independently looking down at the newly found listener road map on his lap.) “Have you ever felt these feelings before?”

Neither one of them was anxiously glancing at me anymore, they were flying solo and their wings were level.

Carol: “My dad never talked with me, he was busy with his business, my brother’s little league and had no interest in me.  I felt invisible (big tears rolling down her cheeks).”

Michael:  “I’ve always seen your dad as selfish jerk and that has been the focus of our discussions for twenty five years.  I’ve never before thought of the little girl who had to grow up in his home.  No wonder my distancing and freezing feels so bad to you.”

Had Carol just won the California Lotto for a million dollars, I’m not sure if the look on her face could have been anymore surprised, delighted, and peaceful, as in that moment when for the first time in her life, her emotional childhood pain had been fully acknowledged and validated.

Michael was listening to her and seeing her.

Carol and Michael were now communicating in an intimate manner that was satisfying.

The Perfect Storm or “core pattern” is easy to see.  Carol gets hurt, resentful and mad at being neglected.  Her old childhood wounds of neglect become triggered and she gets angry at Michael.  He in turn, is triggered by her intensity and tone which is a childhood trigger of his mother’s endless interrogations.  He further avoids and distances which in turn further fuels Carol’s anger.

On and on is goes.

One year, five years, seventeen and now twenty five years have gone by.

Triggers colliding and Carol and Michael are oblivious to the powerful forces animating their emotions and behavior.

Tragic and sad?  Yes!

Common?  All too common!

As I said last week, “Every couple that comes into my office is getting triggered by the other spouse.  Almost always, core fights are trigger vs. trigger, agitation vs. agitation and child vs. child.”

Psalm l39: 23-24
“Search me O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me (NASB marginal reading ‘way of pain’);
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

So rooting out the ways of pain is God’s idea?   Yes it is.

Thanks and blessings,


Milan & Kay

Next week: We will talk more about core patterns and how we can begin to heal these present day conflicts as well as begin the healing process for the old wounds that form the triggers.