Triggers As Learning Tools For Life

As part of my work as an advocate for the Herpes community, I spend a lot of time on the Herpes Opportunity Forums. Our work there is to help the “H+” population and their loved ones to get reliable, accurate information about living with the virus, and to feel supported and less isolated in their journey.

Much of the talk is about what are known as “Triggers” … those things in life that cause or contribute to an outbreak. These things vary largely from one person to another, and even in each person some things that trigger an outbreak now will not bother them in the future.  Normal triggers are stress (the biggest trigger of them all), chocolate, nuts, foods that are high in Arginine, sex (especially in those who are going through their first few months post exposure), and sunshine (mostly in those with HSV1 oral). But lately there has been a number of new “triggers” that have become evident on the boards…..and they are

Emotional Triggers

I find it interesting in a community where we are a declared “Judgement Free Zone” how intolerant some of the members have been of people who are not saying what they want to hear or what they believe to be “right”. These are the same people who are in our space BECAUSE we have created this Safe Haven for the Herpes community. Some of the more recent “Triggers” that has set off an “Outbreak” of anger and intolerance have been:

  • A new member who came on declaring that she was unable to tell her BF of many years that she has had Herpes all this time.
  • A H- member who came on because someone he was dating disclosed and has since stayed on and contributed through giving a H- persons (very valid) point of view.
  • A member who joined to get advice about taking possible legal measures on someone who had sex with them while likely knowing their H+ status.

What is interesting is the parallel between the physical triggers that bring out Herpes and the emotional triggers that bring an outbreak of anger. Both can be over the slightest thing. Certain triggers will cause one person to have a complete physical or emotional “outbreak” while another person will be barely phased by it. And as with all triggers, it sometimes takes a lot of personal work and self study to figure out exactly WHAT is causing this hyper-reaction to the trigger.

Triggers As Our Teachers

When it comes to Herpes, outbreaks (at least once you have gotten past the initial outbreak or two) can be seen as our body trying to tell us something:

    • We need to slow down and evaluate what may be stressing us and, as much as possible, remove ourselves from that stress OR learn to cope with it differently. I call Herpes the “First Responder” to stress because many people find that they can control their outbreaks *most* of the time but when their job, relationships, or mental outlook puts a little too much pressure on them, up pops a lesion. So learning how to MANAGE stress … how to let go of anything that is negatively affecting your life or your attachment to how things “should” be, or whatever, becomes a large part of slowing and managing an outbreak.
    • We need to create a chemical balance within our body. One of the most discussed triggers here is the Lysine/Arginine balance. Many of the foods we eat are high in Arginine and for some, simply taking a Lysine and/or Zinc supplement helps to control their the virus. Another biggie is sugar, which creates an acidic state in the body which allows many illness and diseases to take hold. Learning to listen to the body and to figure out what foods set the body up for an outbreak has the potential to help us to have healthier bodies in general, and that’s not a bad thing!

When it comes to Emotional Triggers, we can also learn from each event so that we become more able to deal appropriately with the events that trigger us into Anger and Upsetment, which in the long run, will help us to create a healthier emotional AND physical body.

Learning from your Emotional Triggers takes some self awareness and a willingness to face some pretty ugly truths about ourselves, but in the end, the result is peace and serenity and a grounded-ness that is sooo worth the journey! So – lets look at the process of the “Emotional Trigger” in simple form first.

Something Happens which triggers an

Interpretation which triggers an

Emotion which triggers an 


Now, YOU have the ability to stop the whole trigger-happy response at any time in this process. The hard part is recognizing when you are being triggered and then taking measures to change the course of your response. So lets look at how this works out.

    1. Something Happens: In this case, someone writes something about a touchy subject. Honestly, it amazes me at some of the things that are “small stuff” to me can really fire up someone else, but really it’s akin to food triggers… what sets your outbreaks off may not bother me at all!
    2. Interpretation: You create a MEANING to what was written/what happened based on your personal beliefs and experiences. In spite of the fact that people talk all the time about how easily the written word can be misinterpreted, people STILL fall into that trap on every forum All.The.Time.
    3. Emotion: Once you have bought into YOUR interpretation of the meaning, or you have decided what is RIGHT, emotions come into play, and honey, it’s all downhill from there because the next reflex is
    4. Action: In the case of our forums, it’s often in the form of attacks, JUDGMENTAL remarks (remember we are a Judgement Free Zone!) and sometimes all out word-vomit. Not a pretty sight and CERTAINLY not supportive of the safe space that we are trying to create on the Forums.

So – how can we learn from our reactions to things that trigger us? The best thing is to work backwards from Action to Event…. and if you are a journaler, then this is a perfect place for you to get out your pen, Ipad, or whatever you prefer to record your thoughts as you work through this. If you are not a journaler, this is a perfect time to start. We will use the Forum example as our model, but this will work for ANY life situation where you find yourself “triggered” into an automatic way of reacting.


As soon as you find yourself starting to respond in ANYTHING but a supportive manner, STOP yourself. It’s funny because I hear from people all the time on the Forum that I am so level headed and patient. Honey, you ain’t seen what I have deleted some days! Walk away from the keyboard (aka, situation) if you need to. I often call on Adrial (Mr. H Opp, owner of the forums) and ask him to chime in if I think the situation needs immediate attention. Just in doing that I can often clear my own head. Don’t re-engage in the issue until you are calmer, or walk away all together if you can and let someone else deal with it.

By the way, other “Actions” to this process in other life situations may be to run away, to withdraw, to physically lash out, or to engage in unhealthy behaviors like addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex).


Once you have learned to stop the automatic “re-action” (because you have likely acted out in that way many times before in other life situations!) to the event, you will be able to start to look at what emotion triggered the response to go on the attack. Try to figure out what the emotion is…. odds are much of the time the basic emotion is anger, but some other (more accurate) words that may come to mind are: disrespected, humiliated, criticized, insulted, invalidated, labeled, lectured to, misunderstood, rejected, unsupported (BIG trigger on the forums!), accused, judged (another biggie!), and attacked. In this part of the exercise, just allow yourself to identify with and BE with the emotion. Rather than throwing the emotion BACK at the other person, just accept that you are experiencing it for now but you don’t have to do anything with or about it! If you must do *something*, this is where your journaling can come in real handy … put it all in there where noone gets harmed by it for now. Sorta like drunk texting, responding while you are re-acting to an emotional response is usually not a great idea!


This is the BIGGIE. When you have learned to recognize the emotion, you can start to look at the story that you have attached to the event that caused you upset. And yes, it’s a STORY … you have assigned a meaning to the event based on the events in your past. Human beings are Meaning-Making Machines. We LOOOOOOVE to attach an interpretation to things around us. If you are willing to REALLY work on this, your life will never be the same again. Promise.

So – lets look at the discussion where we had a new member who came on and basically admitted that she had been with a guy for some years knowing she was H+. She said something to the effect of “I just CAN’T tell him. I’m so afraid of his reaction, I know I should but I can’t”. Lets just say that this posting set off a whole bunch of stories and emotions for some of our members. Among those who were “triggered” by the post, the main theme was JUDGEMENT … that she was “wrong” to have done that and how could she even think it was ok to do that. The general “story” of the triggered readers of the wrong-ness of her actions was based on the experiences of many who got Herpes from someone who didn’t disclose (knowingly or otherwise).  This kept these people from being able to stop long enough to read (from the rest of her post) the abject FEAR she had around disclosing, or if they recognized it, they dismissed it as something that mattered less than the need to disclose.

In this space there was NO ROOM for compassion, support (which is what this woman was reaching out for … she really DID want to be helped with the disclosure process), or understanding. Her real story was much, MUCH deeper than that post initially indicated. Turns out her partner is abusive and potentially dangerous. She has stayed with him for her child’s sake and because she has lost her sense of self worth… she didn’t know how to extricate herself safely AND do what is right by disclosing to this guy. She was torn between the safety of herself and her child, and restoring her integrity. Pretty big pickle if you ask me!

When we jump to conclusions, when we buy into  our interpretations of what is “right”, or how some thing or someone “should be”, we are well on our way to allowing out emotions to take control which takes away all our power to create a better outcome. We are unable to see that the other person’s reality or their intentions are not at all what we have created them to be. Certainly in a Forum like ours, people don’t come there to get attacked, so it is the perfect place to practice recognizing compassionate observation of our own “Re-Actions” to things …. and then to create a better “Action”.

This isn’t something that belongs only in the space of a Forum or Support group … it belongs out in the real world. If more people were willing to look at their triggers and to address how they could change the automatic re-action to them into a healthier, more  positive response, this planet would be a much better place to live on!

Peace Out!

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