Traditions & Triggers: Take Back the Power

BY IN Strategies 5 COMMENTS , , , , , ,


“TRADITION” Can’t you hear Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof belting out that song? All cultures love tradition. We celebrate birth, death and holidays in traditional ways passing them down from generation to generation. This season is particularly steeped in tradition. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanuka, Kwanzaa or no holiday at all you are surrounded by  sights, sounds and smells of this special time of year.

Most of us love traditions. My children are adults now and they still look for certain decorations, cookies and of course stockings hung with care! We all have our favorites. If you don’t celebrate a holiday you still can’t escape. From the Salvation Army bell ringers, to the music piped in every store, to the decorations that don our streets, restaurants and even banks; you are surrounded. Tis the season to be jolly.

But what happens when a sight, smell or sound doesn’t make you jolly? For anyone who has experienced abuse, trauma or loss some traditions can evoke a different response. We call them triggers, triggers because  they trigger a negative feeling from our past–fear, sadness, loathing, emotional pain. A trigger can ruin a wonderful time of year or rob us of enjoying family and friends during the holidays.

What can you do to prevent triggers? Probably nothing. They happen, sometimes without even knowing what’s causing the negative feelings. It is what we do with the triggers that matters. My advise is don’t ignore them. If you try to they will gain power and momentum. If you acknowledge and address the trigger you will most likely be able to move past the feelings.

Here are two strategies that I use when a holiday tradition triggers a negative feeling: My abuser’s favorite Christmas song was Little Drummer Boy. For years when that song came on the radio I would change the channel or mute the volume. Hearing it triggered a feeling of disgust, gnawing at my insides. Unfortunately if I’m at someone’s house, in a store or at a concert I can’t mute the sound. I needed to find a way to hear the song and not let it have a negative affect.  The first step was to acknowledge, Say It Out Loud, that it was Rune’s favorite Christmas song. I faced the fact that it had a bad connection to my past but nothing to do with the present, and I choose to live in the present! The second step was to decide that one song would not have power over me. Its a song, actually a very nice song, with no connection to Rune unless I give it a connection. I have the choice and the power to hear it and not let it bother me. Once I made that decision I felt free.

Saying It Out Loud and taking back the power. It works every time. But it takes some work. It may not happen immediately. It may take some visualization; putting your feelings in a box. But it is worth doing. You can enjoy the holidays and traditions even if some of the sights, sounds and smells trigger negative feelings. Be in the present, acknowledge what’s causing the pain and take back the power! You can do it! I know.

My best to all of you this holiday season. Enjoy the traditions, be jolly, and most of all be kind to yourself. you deserve it! Roberta


  1. cls |

    Some of my best Christmas memories involve you.
    Thank you for the gifts you are giving others at this time, and throughout the year.

  2. Susie |

    I think I am SO thankful at this moment because I found your blog! How can I ever thank you? I’ve been living with these painful memories for so long and at last I know I can and will be “free”. Thank you for showing me that I am not alone and these painful triggers happen to other people too.

    • Roberta Dolan |

      Susie, I’m sorry you experience these feelings as well. Always keep in mind–the abuse happened in the past and is not happening now. These are just bumps in the road. I hope you have an opportunity to read my book Say It Out Loud: Revealing and Healing the Scars of Sexual Abuse. or Barnes & Noble. I think you would relate and find it helpful.

  3. Susie |

    Roberta, Thank you for your kind reply. ! I have ordered your book and can’t wait to read it!