I'm Black and Triggered

Updated: Aug 5, 2020


“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” ~ James Baldwin

Again, thank you to all that have started this journey with me! The third entry is here!

In order to fully inform those reading on black mental wellness, I have made it my duty to learn more than what is offered within the psychology courses that my school offers. To give some backstory on my journey within higher education, I am a psychology major but I also take multiple classes concerning ethics and race. I like to think that I am a psychology major and an unofficial critical race minor (FYI my school does not offer a race minor other than Chicano/a studies). My sole issue with psychology courses within academia is the lack of representation of black mental well-being due to the curriculum being heavily eurocentric based. Therefore, I have to do my own research outside of school that will better benefit myself regarding my own health. Thankfully, I was able to partake in an online workshop focused on triggers and its effect on people of color. (Hey Alexa, play Triggered by Jhené Aiko)

This workshop focused on breaking down the essence of triggers and its ties to identity while using the material of Kathy Obear, a well-known author. We have all had our fair share of nerves and anxiety. Whether it is as small as initiating a conversation to public speaking in front of a crowd, we have all experienced butterflies in our stomach and sweating palms. Yet, have you ever thought of the specific things that cause extreme discomfort to your spirit as a person? Or the things that have made you completely shut down and no longer be able to process? Made you feel like you need to run and find the closest hiding spot? These things are triggers. A trigger can be defined as a specific object/concept that causes extreme emotional discomfort. This emotional discomfort can range from sadness and panic to actual physical symptoms. These physical symptoms can be extreme sweating, handshaking, loss of appetite, and more. Lastly, triggers are often based upon an identity you hold. 

Identity within itself can be either complementary or contradictory. Thanks to intersectionality*, each individual has multiple identities that overlap each other that can either empower or oppress them as a person. Now in terms of identity and triggers, these triggers can essentially expose you and others to things that you may have not come to terms with yet. Obear provided Seven Steps of the Trigger Cycle: 

  1. Stimulus occur

  2. The stimulus “triggers” an intrapersonal* “root”

  3. These intrapersonal issues form a lens through which a person creates a “story” about what is happening

  4. The story a person creates shapes the cognitive, emotional, and physiological reactions they experience

  5. The intention of a person’s response is influenced by the story they recreate

  6. The person reacts to the stimulus

  7. The person’s reaction may be a trigger for another person in the space

To give y’all an example, I have this recurring trigger when being in spaces with people I used to have a relationship with (both romantic and platonic). My heart beats so fast and hard that I can hear it in my ears, my body begins to sweat, and I can no longer control my breathing. I feel as if I am the smallest thing within the room at that very moment and on the verge of completely breaking down. Yet, the trigger was not just because I was in that space but actually rooted within the fact that I am not as confident with myself as a complete person. I have struggled with self-esteem issues for as long as I remember, but it is based on a “story” that I created. This story goes like: this person is here, they no longer like me, I wish we ended on better terms (if they ended badly), and I am sure they prefer if I would just not be here or simply disappear. Now I feel as if I am no longer welcome or wanted within this space due to overthinking in my head while creating this “story”. This stimulus triggered my intrapersonal root of “not being good enough” due to how I perceived my childhood. This causes me to get caught up in my head of how I could’ve fixed things, avoid the person, and essentially enter a slightly catatonic state. 

I say all this to say, please notice your triggers and how they relate to you as a person. Which is why I chose the quote from James Baldwin earlier, these triggers will not be changed (or in our case, understood) until they are faced. These triggers can be right in our face causing extreme spiritual unsettlement. Triggers need to be identified and accounted for in their relationship with your identity in order to unpack the next steps of coping. 

*Intrapersonal: something that exists within one person

*Intersectionality: coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the concept of multiple social identities of one’s person that can overlap each other to either empower or oppress the person of interest


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