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May 31, 2021

Everyone has a trigger

We all can be triggered into experience an involuntary emotion. This is not about particularly fragile or very traumatized people. If you do not have a trigger, you have not lived a life. We all carry treasures and trauma, some much more than others, no doubt. Growing up is as often painful as it is delightful. The self is nothing but an intricate ornament of psychic scars. The trick is to wear it with dignity. Some stimuli will elicit an emotional response you are unable to do anything about.

I lived in the Russia until the age of 29. That is half of my life. It shaped me in all sorts of ways, both good and bad. The emotional bank of childhood memories comes from there. Sometimes a random smell will take me straight to Kulunda Steppe, and my grandfather’s home. The rich, pungent aroma of drying grass at night, the smell of dirt with a tinge of mushrooms, dung and tomato plants. All of it blended with insects chirping, the horse’s soft stomping and a long cow sigh from the barn. Sometimes I can see the ancient floor rug in our apartment on the fourth floor of a white brick building, with a weird number 4/1. I looked for caterpillars in the inner yard’s bushes. Or a mesmerizing yellow light of my first-grade classroom and a hypnotic, calm voice of my first teacher Anna Ivanovna. Those triggers are welcome, for they let me time travel. They allow the soul to be rinsed through with a warm and lazy summer rain.

My Russian life also built up anxieties, over which I have very little control. For example, when someone tells me we must achieve more ideological unity, my gut reacts before my mind does. It feels like violence, even if it was not intended as such. I had enough unity. When I am unable to discuss an idea and am expected to accept it as is, my whole being rebels. When I expected to be silent, and only listen – no matter how worthy the speaker is, no matter how compelling their story is - I tense up. I want to come out and meet that story with my story, so we can find common experiences. When someone expects me to say something I do not believe in, I literally become mute. Those who lived in totalitarian societies can relate to these feelings, and perhaps others can as well.

Like anyone else, I cannot change who I am. We are not in full control of our triggers. The very notion of a trigger implies reaction that is hard to overrule. Most people eventually learn to manage their behaviors, but not all emotional reactions. It is best if we learn to accept that everyone has a stock of those automatic reactions and be tolerant to each other’s quirks and foibles. A human soul is a weird and spooky place; some of its corners are far from tamed.

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