Trigger Warning: I Get It

We’re at the end of June and I needed long sleeves this weekend. I love when summer feels cool. We visited Middle Sister’s house to celebrate her birthday and her daughter’s birthday. Gorgeous Niece is now officially a teen. I found a bottle of Middle Sister wine for my sister. The label says that it’s ‘sweet and sassy’ which is just like Middle Sister. Well, she is at leastΒ oneΒ of those things.

We went to the grocery at an ungodly hour yesterday morning. Because that is what we do on Sunday mornings. Randy, a rat bastard morning person, is more persistent than I am sleepy. I always threaten to not go with him, but then I figure, I’m awake anyway.

I had an epiphany yesterday, you guys.

I love the winding and hilly drive to the grocery where we shop. We always have good conversations during our trips to the store. Well, in between me bitching about his driving and him bitching about me bitching about his driving.

Randy put a CD in the player just as Aerosmith’s cover of Come Together started on the radio. I asked him to hold on for a minute so I could listen to the song.

As I listened, I thought, “this reminds me of something” and I felt anxiety begin chittering away inside.

I attended a Catholic grade school. We had to go to mass every morning before school. Every fucking morning. I hated going to mass every morning. Mass is boring and starts the same every time.

In that regard, my anxiety feels like a Catholic mass. The anxiety starts the same every time.

A tightness grows in my chest followed by these thoughts: Am I forgetting something? I feel like I’m forgetting something. Am I forgetting something bad? Something bad is going to happen, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure something bad is going to happen.Β 

From there, my anxiety can travel anywhere. But the opening prayer never changes.

In that moment, listening to Aerosmith cover The Beatles, I understood a psychological trigger.

I assumed, if a person had a trigger flip, they have a full blown panic attack or a major depressive episode descend on them. I thought a trigger meant crying and curling up in a fetal position.

I realized that all those times I heard or saw or smelled something that made me think “Hey, this reminds me of something” that I was identifying a trigger.

I am late to the party on so many things.

During the seventies, I listened to a lot of different music. I listened to The Jackson Five and David Bowie and Elton John. I listened to Jim Croce and Led Zeppelin and Jim Stafford.

Aerosmith came out on top, though. I fucking loved Aerosmith. I loved Stephen Tyler. I owned a five foot tall poster of Stephen Tyler when I was a freshman. I listened to Rocks and Toys In The Attic a million times and fantasized about Stephen Tyler kissing me with those glorious puffy lips of his.

My dad did not like Aerosmith.

Maybe, just because I liked them. Maybe, he really hated them. Hard to say.

If you’ve been affected by a narcissist, whether a parent or a partner or someone you work with, you will recognize what I’m about to say.

It’s not enough for a narcissist to disagree with a person over a song, opinion, or whether key lime pie tastes good. If presented with a difference, a narcissist can not only sneer at the difference, they can get pissed off.

The narcissist is so terribly broken. They have to protect that feeling that they are perfect and can do no wrong with any means available. They don’t start small, either. If they feel threatened (and they do, all the motherfucking time) then they attack with everything in their arsenal. You pay for not loving the things they love and you pay for not hating the things they hate. It’s not enough for them to merely sneer at your tastes, they question your character, intelligence, and entire existence if you do not agree with them.

My dad could sneer all he wanted. He could curl his lip and spit his contempt at me when it came to my deep and abiding love for Stephen Tyler. I would not waver. I would be true.

We were at my great aunt’s house. My Aunt Marg. I loved her so very much. She and her brother, Uncle Vince, are the safety net that I’ve clung to for years. They represented stability. They represented acceptance.

But I digress.

We were at my aunt and uncle’s house when my dad started pontificating about Aerosmith and how Aerosmith’s cover of Come Together was superior to The Beatles. Β He spoke with such conviction. He spoke of Aerosmith with an understanding that could only come from being a fan of their music. Or perhaps, he spoke from an understanding he derived entirely from his daughter.

Excuse the fuck out of me?

I didn’t question my father on the spot. Which is a good thing or this blog post might be a little darker. I had learned long before age 14 to never question my father in front of other people. That would end with such vitriol that it would leave another permanent scar on my psyche.

I did question him, though.

“Why? Why did you say that about Aerosmith? You hate Aerosmith.”

He didn’t get mad, which is surprising. He didn’t even get a little defensive that I called him out on a lie. He just shrugged and said that he liked winding my mother’s family up. My mother’s family were a bunch of Beatles fanatics.

As I listened to that song yesterday morning, I felt anxiety come in from nowhere. Then, I remembered that incident with my dad. I was quite proud that I figured out ‘triggers’.

There is the other side of the contempt and anger a narcissist feels when they are faced with a differing opinion. While they have to protect their belief in their absolute perfection, the people on the receiving end are left with the absolute belief that they are ‘less’ if they admire a song or food or person that another person doesn’t like.

The other side of the contempt and anger is where I have lived for years.

Worrying about what other people think has affected all my decisions. I lived in terror of opinions that differed from my own. I think that is one reason I spent so many years living inside my own head.

I won’t say it has been easy, but I’m learning to be my authentic self. I have to stop worrying about what other people think.

With that in mind, I’m thinking about adding pink streaks over my gray hair.

When I first considered this change, I thought “No, I can’t do that. I’m too old. People will think it’s dumb or pathetic. My time for pink hair has passed.”

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve never had pink hair. I think I’d like to see how I feel about pink hair.

I’m going to dye my hair again. And get another tattoo.

Fuck narcissism in the face.

How do you deal with your triggers?





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  • Ouch, I really relate to this, albeit my dad isn’t a full scale narc, (that title belongs to my ex), the total derision of anything I liked that he didn’t and the scorn poured on everything and anyone that didn’t meet with his approval has left me constantly questioning my own judgement.

    Yep, music is a real trigger for me too, thankfully most music I connect with good things and events but some tracks take me to a very dark place. I’m learning to avoid those.

  • I have dealt with BPD for as long as I can remember and never knew that every day I was encountering triggers that were deeply affecting me. Now, there’s therapy but also opposite action. When something begins to trigger me, I do the opposite thing or something as close to opposite as I can get!


    • I LOVE the pink!!! Thanks for sending me that link!

      I agree, no contact is best if possible. I’m lucky, my dad is brain damaged now and is mostly quiet.

  • It’s fascinating how you’ve come to an understanding of how a trigger works by examining it in slow motion. Give yourself a break for being late to the party. By the time a trigger takes effect it’s pretty hard to step back and examine it.

    How do I deal with my triggers? Badly. Even the question starts a chain reaction that I have to step on before it gets out of control. But I can recognize where it’s headed and step on it before it goes too far. Sometimes. That’s a start.

  • I am one of those extremely rare people that had a great childhood. I was truly blessed or lucky I guess. But my hubby has bipolar and when he is manic, narcissistic traits do come out so I can relate there. It is really hard and totally messes with how you feel about yourself. I am so glad that you are doing things just for you. You deserve it! And pink on Gray sounds awesome!

  • Just when you think you understand the rules, they change the rules. I was just thinking about this yesterday.

  • I love your awareness….and, as a result, I am having an ah-ha.

    Back at the end of 2010, right before my mother was to send me her “I’m concerned about who you are becoming” email (which included other barbs) we visited her and her husband and one evening went out to dinner with them and her boss (a 30-something lawyer) and his new wife. As she proceeded to get drunk, she kept fawning all over me and was raving to her boss and his wife about my blog. As you said, “excuse the fuck out of me?”

    (Because later…a couple of years later, there she was telling me that I should be ashamed of myself and my blog, and I already knew she felt that way even though she hadn’t said it)

    I didn’t see it as narcissism at the time. But that’s exactly what it is. And yes, anything I liked, loved, or had, she either wanted to take as her own (one time it was a boyfriend) or she derided, scorned, and criticized it.

    Anyway, triggers. I’ve noticed for years that when I sit down at the dinner table, I tend to want to gobble up my food…I’m anxious because dinner time when I was a child was fraught with just-under-the-surface tension and anger, which sometimes erupted into verbal assaults or even physical ones. I’ve been aware of this for a long time but haven’t really taken steps to address it.

    I’ve been able to work on other triggers, though, and I deal with them by questioning the thoughts I am having as I start to feel the anxiety, or whatever icky feeling comes up.

  • This is why when ever I hear music from Elvis I get nausea and change the radio station. My mom is a huge Elvis fan, it reminds me of her too much.

  • Extremely powerful share here. Thank you for opening up and bringing us into your experience. I haven’t had this first-hand experience when it comes to narcissistic people, but I know many of them and have managed my relationships with them as best I could. This is so different and so much heavier. I’m glad you’re on the other side of it now.

  • I am finding my triggers late in life – like yourself I am late to the game here. I don’t go into melt down mode or panic attacks but I get really angry and want to go away somewhere. I guess that is running for the problem. I am trying to suck it up and move along without letting it affect me too much but i find it ruins my day and I am angry till I go to bed and start over. I was on some medication but decided what life would be like without it… 14 months later I am thinking about starting that medicine again. The mind is a strange place and I don’t particularly like the dark corners.

  • I have seen narcissists defined so many ways that all I can say is “I know one when I see one.” The most important part of this post is how self-aware you are. Kudos to you for that. It ain’t easy.

  • My trigger – forever and always – is when people tell me I need to get more exercise (duh). My father hounded me until the day he died about “getting in shape.” He was a body builder and looked amazing all his life. To this day, when someone says “have your tried getting more exercise to help your insomnia/stress/anxiety/fitness/depression/younameit I will get angry and have to walk away from the conversation. I loved my father but he ruined me that way.

    • My dad was a health magazine editor. Two of his issues had my brothers on the front cover. I laughingly pointed out that I was never on the cover and he said if they did an issue about obesity he would be sure to call. I was 5’2″ and weighed 130. Not quite obese but I have obsessed all my life.

  • Hi M,

    The only thing that time has passed for is you being you.

    Hell yes die your streaks pink.

    Thanks for this post. I deal with triggers everyday bc of my fucked up childhood, and badly at that. I am learning to speak up for myself and say how I feel.

    Let’s keep working on this ladies, shall we?



  • Triggers are everywhere! But – being able to identify them is a HUGE first step. I usually just get angry – often at myself – and wonder why did I just get SO mad???? OH!!! Thanks, Dad…..
    The having to like the same things one is a big problem for me. Somehow I feel defective that I don’t like rhubarb – WTF is up with that sh!%???
    I’m glad that you’re figuring it all out. It’s a sh!%ton of work, but I am hoping that it will be worth it. And hopefully I’ll be “fixed” enough to enjoy the second half of my life. πŸ˜›

  • Time is the trigger for me I must be on time
    His breakfast his dinner his fucking everything must be to his time I much call him , be home on time as you know if it’s not all fucking hell would break out its only been 7 months since I left my narc husband but got a job in Russia couldn’t get much further away thank God . Have to work really hard at doing fuck all in my time but getting there slowly. I even stop and have a coffee not giving a dam when I get in and I threw away my watch actually I stood on it smashed it to pieces.
    It’s my time now you fucked up narcissistic fuckers , thanks great post xxxxxxxxxxx would love you to post a pic of the pink hair when it’s done !!!!

  • This is the only place I can write this… gulp. I didn’t realize that I was raised by your father until today. Seriously, mirror image. Sunday at dinner all the grown sibs were talking about Orange is the New Black. My dad said he hadn’t seen it. He asked me to tell him what it was about and why he should watch it. He didn’t have an opinion on the show so he wanted to be able to argue with me over why he WOULDN’T watch it if he had the chance.

    I’m in my fifties. I told him no. He wouldn’t like it. The family sat in stunned silence.

  • Holy crap. I clearly remember the feeling of being engulfed in terribly uncomfortable surges when I was just a kid. Was that anxiety? Smells especially. It still happens. Whoa! Hazy memories. A photo. A certain fabric pattern. It can be anything. Let the yuckiness begin! Mass? Holy fk. We didn’t have to attend mass every morning (I would be heavily medicated by now) but often we’d have to tramp down the street to the church or the priest would do his “public service announcement” in the library of my elementary school. I never knew what the fuck was going on. Couldn’t follow. Sweating. Squirming out of my skin. Talk about late to the party, huh? Some songs that take me back to a summer in the 70s. I sink, you know? Not sure why & don’t wanna figure it out, but I think some triggers just take me back into the depth of something that was already triggered. Does that make sense? I can’t describe it, except to say it’s like one long chain, and each link is a culmination of all the previous links. I’m too busy squashing it down (like that second dessert you know will make you wanna puke) and running in the opposite direction. Always left with the icky mental residue though. I just wait it out. And my ex is a narcissist – didn’t even realize that until I started reading your blog. He changed jobs. A LOT. Apparently, there was always someone in his office who had it in for him. Another guy who just wouldn’t see things his way (the only way). I remember him coming home so pissed off with his co-worker. He’d blame him for everything. He’d criticize this guy’s voice, appearance, car – you name it. Stuff that had nothing to do with the actual work. I couldn’t understand why he was so affected by this. And how it happened at EVERY new job. Duh! He also blames anyone and everything for his failures -even the entire country of Canada! I shit you not- because he’s such a fucking genius and the rest of us are ignorant. He lives in the U.S. and is still unsuccessful, but remarried to an older, well-off widow. Ya, he’s a total deadbeat dad. Surprise!
    I think you should definitely try the pink … I see it often and it’s pretty. I also like mauve if it’s done well. Keep writing M! If you don’t make me laugh, you make me introspective. And we all should keep striving for inner peace, you know?

    • Thank you for this! It’s hard, coming to grips with this shit. It really is. And thank you for your kind words. I am going to keep writing. It makes me feel better.

  • Right there with you. Music is probably my #1 trigger.
    A key trigger for me is Michael Jackson “Rock With You”. It triggers memories of a very young Randy sitting in the waiting area of a nice restaurant while my pair (yes both) of narcissistic parents danced the night away in the bar.
    To this day, my mom refuses to accept responsibility for those and other actions.
    I am just learning how their narcissism has impacted my life. I am still pissed, but I am learning how to say “Fuck it!”

  • How do I deal with my triggers?
    Not well.
    Not well at all.
    But, like you, I am just starting to recognize them as such – so that is a start right?

    But really?
    I just want to be alone, or not be accountable to anyone, or just want the world to go away.

    But it doesn’t.
    So I deal with it.
    Not well,
    But I keep going.

  • So I’m reading along and discover that this is the relationship I had with my in-laws. Thanks – now I have to think about this. πŸ™‚
    Also explains some of my husbands struggles. I’ll probably be forced to write about it.

    And go for the pink hair. It will be great on you.

    • Ohh..good luck to you and your husband. It’s not an easy thing to work through..but I think understanding goes a long way.

      I’ll get around to the pink hair sooner or later. πŸ™‚

  • Oh my dear, I love that you’re able to see triggers (and hopefully avoid them, or at least flip them off when they appear).

    I never thought about it, so I’m not sure if I have triggers that remind me of my dad. I know I do hate any kind of conflict, and I dread that feeling that someone is going to have a screaming-kicking things-cursing fit if I don’t get something done (like my chores when I was a kid).

    I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m a grownup, dammit, and if I didn’t get something done on some unspoken to-do list, NO ONE can do anything about it.

    P.S.– do the hair pink. I bet you would, in fact, rock it like a hurricane. πŸ˜€

  • Wow, I’ve known some narcissists and they’re tough. Its like you’re invisible.

    Having said that, if you want to put pink in your hair, go for it. One of the perks of getting older is we care less and less about what people think. Life is short. Do what makes you happy.

  • Didn’t Elvis Costello write a song about “Little Triggers”? I know that I have a tendency toward connecting the music I’m currently listening to to the events currently unfolding in my life, so much so that I once made a vow to not let a horrible room mate ruin some of my favorite music, which I had the foresight to realize I would still be enjoying long after I was gone from the horrible room mate…
    Every time I see or hear “trigger warning” it makes me think of my father’s advice about triggers and missing things: he would say “Squeeze, don’t jerk.”

    • Yeah, I hate it when songs I liked or like cause anxiety. Funny thing about that Aerosmith song. We heard it yesterday morning. I worked on this post, we went out and heard it again. I haven’t heard that song in a million years and then I heard it twice yesterday. I don’t think it will stress me out anymore.

      • Good. Music is there to be enjoyed, even if sometimes it can evoke the past more than just about anything else. You just reminded me that I used to listen to quite a bit of Aerosmith myself… I had Toys in the Attic on an 8-track tape fergawdsakes. Funny how the music itself doesn’t make me feel old, but the format really does.

  • How do I deal with my triggers? Stop. Drop. And Roll. It gets me some funny looks in the check out line but it certainly smooths things out a little.

  • My step mother was just like your father. I remember once as a teenager thinking that as long as I never made any mistakes I’d be okay. That was the trick for dealing with her. Just never make a mistake! And I remember how pleased I was with myself for coming up with what I thought was such a simple, common sense solution. Just be perfect!
    And I would actually do okay with it for a little while until she’d get offended by me succeeding at being what she demanded and she’d change the rules again.

    It took me a long time to realize that the game wasn’t “only perfect people are lovable” but “I hate you for being in my husband’s life and I’m going to make you suffer until you leave.” I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of triggers, but thinking about it now, for me, for a long time, mistakes were the trigger, even if they weren’t my mistakes. My biggest breakthrough was learning not to turn every error into a referendum on my self worth. I repeat it like a damn mantra: “This is a stain on my shirt, not a referendum on my self worth.” “This is a messy house, not a . . .” You get the idea.

    Adding pink streaks to gray hair sounds like a great idea!

    • I am sorry you lived with that….what a horrible person she is. I am glad I didn’t get caught up in the whole perfection thing. I do hate mistakes, though. I get stressed out by them

      • Thank you. She could be horrible but I know now it was a side effect of how very, very damaged she was. And at least I knew she wasn’t my mother, no matter what the adoption certificate said. She could never mess with me to the degree she could with her own kids.

  • Couldn’t agree more…fuck all narcissists who live. Coming up on my 1 yr anniversary of my X Narcissist leaving..I’m still dealing with the triggers. The best thing I am doing is recognizing the trigger and once through the anxiety do the best that I can to analyze and work the way through the trigger the best way I know how. I have to admit that triggers will continue to happen and are getting easier to manage and live through.

  • My triggers? Hmz. I’ve only recently buckled down on learning how to deal with those, and am reaping great rewards from the mindfulness crash course I took. I’m kind of impressed with that, and wish there were a better way for me to explain it to other people than just being all like “well, you kind of just accept…” :p

    I know all about trying to change yourself to appease other people though. About a year ago I had so utterly and completely lost myself doing this I had no idea who I was anymore. I’m finally getting back to myself now, and it is wonderful. I had this tiny moment at work the other day where I was looking at someone’s new kitchen and was suddenly dumbstruck by the thought: “How could I ever think I wanted this for myself? That has never ever been me! I’ve always wanted to travel and do weird things, not make my life about mortgage payments!” Yet somehow trying so desperately to fit in had erased all self knowledge I had. It’s good to be getting that back, finally.

    Anyway, tl:dr – I get it πŸ˜‰

    • I went through all that as well. Our youngest will be a senior soon. As soon as he graduates, we’re selling our house and downsizing (not that we have a big house now..we’re going really small) and focusing on what we want to do…because we don’t care about having things.

  • Gorgeous niece says I’m neither sassy nor sweet – just blunt. And, I agree with everyone else – add the pink. When I’m old like you I’m going to cut my hair short, get a perm and dye it pale lavender so that my head looks like a dandelion in it’s fluffy stage.

  • Wow. This post hit home. I am in the process of moving out of “his” house. My S.O. has borderline personality disorder. It’s a fun little mental illness that has all the chaos of bipolar, heavy on anxiety and occasional breaks with reality bundled together with all of the fun, hope-crushing aspects of narcissism. It’s been awesome but I’ve given all I have to give. The sad irony is that my leaving was the kick in the balls he needed to snap out of his most recent two-year wallow in depression and suicide threats to realize that he, in fact, has a problem. He actually being introspective and has discovered Buddhism and addiction counseling. I’m not naive enough to think that will reverse a lifetime of learned negative coping, but I hope he can find his wellness. I love him. I always will. I promise to support his self-improvement efforts, but I have to protect my own sanity and walk away from the daily interactions.

    Thank you for sharing your story. It helps others who are trying to make sense of the all consuming chaos.

    • Oh no…I wish you peace..I hope you find it soon.

      And you’re welcome..there are so many of us out there dealing with this in one way or another.

  • I’m reading this post and found myself getting upset and angry on your behalf. Then I got to the part about the pink hair and it just….went away. Do it. Have the pink hair! You will ROCK the pink hair!

    You are so fucking awesome!

    • Thank you, Sandy…trust me, I’ve been angry and upset for most of my life. It’s just so goddamn exhausting. I am ready to not be mad. And I AM going to get the pink. Not a lot..just a little. I don’t have a lot of gray. Yet. maybe 20%

  • I think when I recognize them I try to deal with them the way that you have said you do here. A big fat f u. lol Great post. I feel the same about morning people.

  • My biggest trigger is when someone blames me for something I didn’t do. My narcissist, my mother, did that to me all the time. And to this day it is the only thing that is certain to make me furious …..uncharacteristically so. Thankfully I learned not to react while angry so I can think it thru before I respond. And now she lives 1700 miles away!

By Michelle


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