Triggered? Dysregulated? Activated?

photo of coffee cup, paper clips and pencil on white paper with the word triggered written on it

Do you say you are “triggered?” That’s a word I have been using for a long time. I notice that my therapist is more likely to say “activated/” or, less commonly, “reactive.”

What word do you choose to describe that moment when, suddenly, the floor drops out from beneath you? When the your center falls away, and you are spinning in confusion and pain? When you are no longer living and breathing in the present moment but rather cast back into a moment of pain and fear?

What about “dysregulated?” Do you consider that to be the same thing, or something else?

I ask for a specific reason.

As I wrote in my post yesterday, I became triggered in a sex therapy session yesterday. I’m still quite shaken up, in a way I haven’t been for a very long time.

But I haven’t reached out to E (well, at least not so far). I’m working on supporting myself. So far that has included 1) giving myself permission to watch TV last night instead of accomplishing the things I had planned, 2) adding garden time into my morning plan, because working in the garden tends to calm me down, and 3) texting two friends about the situation (only one in any detail).

And just now I sat down to go through the stack of affirmation cards I have made myself in the past. I can see I have made a lot telling myself that it’s okay to feel stuck and uncertain, or soothing myself about attachment pain. But by the time I started using affirmation cards on a regular basis, I had already done a lot of the processing of sexual abuse experiences. That doesn’t mean oh, finished; those experiences will never bother me again. It just means my focus in therapy had shifted and I didn’t have a lot of reason to create and use affirmation cards.

But today I do, so I’m working on that now. And I had this sudden thought, which is maybe a crazy idea. I thought after I made them, I would also put them up on the site for others to download, if they wanted (free, of course). Maybe that’s silly, because maybe they won’t work the same way if you haven’t worded them to address your precise situation. But maybe they would be useful to others. I’m not sure. It could be interesting to see. For me, affirmation cards have been a useful way of reinforcing messages of hope, strength, patience and compassion to myself. I need that reinforcement, since I am working against decades of self-blame and derogatory self-talk.

So to get back to my initial question, as I started making the cards, I began to wonder what terms other used to describe the emotional state that I tend to think of as “triggered.”

What do you think? Would you even want to download affirmation cards someone else had made? What word would you use?

Thank you for your feedback. And also for helping to give me something to think about other than the darkness entering my body at the base of my rib cage and traveling up to choke off my breath at my throat.


  1. I use the word “triggered,” but sometimes I also say “stirred up,” or “splattered,” or “trapped in a misery spiral of shame” or…well, I guess I have a lot of terms I use! But “triggered” is a good catchall term that would apply to most people, I think.

    Personally, I would absolutely download affirmation cards someone else made if they resonated with me, and from reading your blog, I feel sure that yours would. And in order to address the terminology issue, maybe a few of the cards could be fill-in-the-blank, like you could have a template for the main idea of the affirmation, but each person can personalize it in some way? If this is a dumb suggestion, please disregard! I really love your idea, and I think your affirmation cards would be an amazing gift to anyone who may find them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback and suggestions! I will definitely include some kind of black card or template for people to add something personal. It makes sense, since for me what’s worked best has been to create messages that I need to reinforce for myself.

      As to “the spiral of shame,” alas, it’s an experience I know well. However, I should make two points: 1) it happens much less often than it used to and 2) it happened on Thursday, today is Saturday, and I already feel a lot better. It used to take me literally weeks to pull myself back together. So, things improve. There’s hope. It’s so important to know that!


  2. I would love to download this. Due to a recent setback (nearly 4 years into processing it), this is something I desperately need. I also call it being triggered, activated, and refer to the horrible place as ‘the shame spiral.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry about your recent setback. It feels horrible, that shame spiral, no matter what. But it can be really discouraging to find yourself there again after a period of doing better and thinking you are past it. As I noted in my comment to Empress (above), I’ve just recently had the same kind of thing happen to me but found that I am able to recover (regain my center, i.e. get out of bed and actually do something) a lot faster than I used to. Maybe I will always have to deal with being triggered, but it will happen less often and won’t derail me quite the way it used to. I hope that’s the case for you as well.

      Thanks for expressing interest in the affirmation cards. I’ll be working on them this coming week.


  3. Yes, absolutely! I’m just catching up on the last couple of months of your blog. I would also love the cards you and E use in sessions. Can you give me a few examples besides “stay in my body”. Also I believe it is all part of the process. Texting issue or something else. The bear presents herself as a stepping stone. A lesson or a way to heal. I’m at the same place with my T. So angry yet still so needing her and loving her. It’s crazy. She is moving her office over 75 minutes away. That’s only 15 extra minutes from where she is currently but it feels huge. It changes everything because logically I know I don’t her as much as I feel I do.


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