For people with an eating disorder, emotional eating or food addiction, the holidays can be like a minefield of "triggers" – situations or foods that bring heightened anxiety and awaken the compulsion to use unhealthy eating behaviors.
Earlier in my career, I had been trained from the perspective that we shouldn't mention triggers or specific foods in therapy, in case someone would leave their session and binge, purge or restrict themselves right into relapse. Today things are different. It's not that we would ever purposefully provoke someone, but we know that triggers happen out in the world we live in.
Now, if someone is triggered, we know that she or he can come back and discusses that in a future session with the therapist or group. That way we can equip the person with valuable tools for handling similar situations in the future.
By trying to protect my clients from their triggers, I was actually denying them that chance to grow beyond them. Research, as well as my own clinical experience, has taught me that it doesn't help to avoid the triggers in therapy – and it's certainly not therapeutic.
My approach has changed and grown, just as my clients have. It's okay to be triggered in group or in therapy, as long as you process it, like we do here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center. Whether that happens immediately, or whether you need to think about it and come back, it's important to look at what is happening.
I would even say that today we welcome triggers, and that's because there are certainly going to be triggers out there, especially during the holidays – in the grocery store checkout line, at the gas station and in conversations with friends, family and co-workers. The goal is to not only tolerate these triggers but to embrace them with no thoughts or feelings of hurting yourself.