Gaslighting, Love Bombing & 5 Other Triggers To Call Out In Your Relationships

Love & Relationships

Question. Do you know what your triggers are? Before getting into that, do you know what a trigger is? I'm not trying to patronize you. I get that you understand what the basic concept of one is (something that is prone to irritate you at best, make you pop off at worst). What I mean is do you know where triggers stem from?

If you were to ask a psychologist to break it down for you, they'd probably tell that a trigger is something that is tied to past trauma. When you see, smell, or experience something in real time, it can lead to feelings like sadness, anxiety, or even anger because, whether consciously or subconsciously, it causes you to have flashbacks to when something or one, hurt or offended you.


For the past several months, something that I've been intentional about is deactivating my triggers. And you know what? It has been a total game-changer! Now that I'm able to pinpoint certain actions that totally piss me off (gaslighting, passive aggressiveness, and deflecting are some of my biggest triggers), not only has it helped me to be so much calmer in my day-to-day life, it's also helped me to know how to better handle people in both my personal and professional life. Because once you know where your triggers stem from and you recognize what certain common triggers are, you can stop giving your power away by reacting—or worse, overreacting—to things.

And just how do you train yourself to emotionally detonate certain triggers in your life? The first step is becoming aware of what certain triggers are (such as the list of really popular ones below). The next move is to heal the trauma (i.e., backstory) associated with your triggers. Finally, set firm boundaries with the people in your life who try to trigger—retraumatize—you. Even if that means leaving them completely alone.

What are some of the most common relationship triggers around? Let's name some:

7 Common Emotional Triggers In Relationships

1. Gaslighting


Just about all of us have had someone in our world who was so manipulative that we couldn't help but ask ourselves, "Wait a minute. Am I the one who is crazy here?" They are called gaslighters and they would have it no other way. Their objective is to get you to question your own sanity as it relates to them, even if you have proof and facts to back up your perspective on just how toxic they actually are.

How gaslighters do this is by lying and/or telling you that they didn't say something that you know that they did and/or saying one thing and doing something else (in other words, their words and actions don't add up) and/or insulting you and then complimenting you (they build you up to tear you down) and/or accusing you of things that you know you didn't do.

Basically, they make it their mission to keep you in a state of confusion and uneasiness so that you appear emotionally unstable. The more you question yourself, the more they can take advantage of you. Therein lies their power.

2. Love Bombing


Whew, chile. The love language of a true narcissist is love bombing. At first, they pour it on thick—compliments, gifts, dates, anything that will make you feel totally adored. Although it would be nice if they did that simply because you deserve it (and you do), their ultimate objective is to get you to feel like you need them as a source of love and affection. Then, once your guard is down, the puppet strings begin to come out.

Once you start to show signs of interest in anything or one more than them, they stop complimenting you and start berating you. Now you're the one who is selfish and not worthy of all of the love they are offering, so they pull away, hoping you will feel abandoned and alone.

What the heck does a narcissist (or any other kind of love bomber) get out of doing this? It's a form of "training" you. When you act the way they want you to act, you get rewarded. When you don't, you get criticized; perhaps even ghosted. Ugh. Just ugh.

3. Passive Aggressiveness

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The silent treatment. Making excuses. Having a selective memory. Making you feel guilty for what they know is their fault. Not keeping their word. Stubbornness. Making simple things complicated. Playing the victim (when they are actually "the offender"). Living by the phrase "hurt people hurt people". These are all telltale signs of a passive aggressive individual. I personally don't know if I detest any trigger more.

A passive aggressive person doesn't like accountability nor do they want to accept responsibility for their own actions. Just recently, I confronted someone about something they did that was dead wrong. Their response was how much stress they were under at the time. We all have things to feel stressed about. It doesn't take away from us needing to follow through on what we said we would do (and at the very least, apologize when we don't).

If you've got folks in your life where you find yourself apologizing for what they did wrong (it happens more than you think), you've got a passive aggressive individual on your hands. No doubt about it.

4. Perspecticide


A healthy relationship—whether it's a romantic, platonic, or even a professional one—is going to celebrate the authenticity of who you are. They are not going to try and change you or get you to question your self-worth and value.

That said, if you're involved with anyone who doesn't make you feel very good about yourself (this includes them avoiding slick statements and backhanded compliments), if they create "rules" for how you are to be in your relationship with them (although you don't get to have any expectations from them at all) and/or if you somehow feel micromanaged all of the time—these are all indications that you are a victim of perspecticide.

It's not that what you are or aren't doing is wrong. It's that you've allowed someone to have so much power over your life that their perspective of you trumps your very own. (Scary, isn't?)

5. Trauma Bonding


One of my all-time favorite quotes is, "We're all looking for someone whose demons play well with our own." Creepy I know, but basically, it means that sometimes we're in toxic relationships and don't even know it. It's because what we have in common with certain individuals is our weaknesses, not our strengths.

Although this isn't the exact definition of trauma bonding, I personally believe it is a cryptic form of it. So, make sure that you're not connecting with someone simply because you can relate to one another's crap. If that's all you have going on, all you're doing is—as my mother puts it—emotionally throwing-up on each other. And making each other sick in the process.

As far as the clinical definition of trauma bonding, it's when you're caught up in the cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discarding with someone. They build you up, then they make you question your value, and then they discard you like you were nothing without rhyme, reason, or warning. But since the good times were so good, you sometimes let them do this to you on multiple occasions before finally breaking things off.

Why would someone put up with trauma bonding? Because they don't realize that's what's happening to them. But if someone in your life is always making promises they don't keep, if they give you the silent treatment when you displease them, if your friends are constantly telling you that you could do better than the foolishness you're tolerating with an individual and/or if you keep saying you know that you should leave BUT YOU DON'T—these are all signs that point to being in a trauma bond.

The bad times outweigh the good, but you stick around for the next cycle of good times anyway. That is trauma bonding at its finest. And ugliest.

6. Dismissiveness


A dismissive person is a disrespectful individual—point blank and period. If I were to think of someone who immediately falls into this category, ghosters would have to be one of them. Other examples include people who don't deal with confrontation well, folks who don't like to express emotion, individuals who choose to multi-task while you are trying to have a serious conversation with them, people who are vague when you ask direct questions—oh and commitment-phobes. Some trigger statements that dismissive people tend to make is "Are you still on that?", "When are you gonna get over it?" or "Just move on."

Personally, I think the most frustrating thing about dismissive people is they treat you and your emotions like they are disposable. Or like you are a human ACT test. I say that because some of you might recall how some preppers told us to take it—Scan, Select, Discard, Move On.

You are not a high school proficiency exam. Don't tolerate anyone treating you as such.

7. Deflecting


Next to passive aggressiveness, deflecting is one of my other biggest triggers. I used to have a lot of deflectors in my personal space (I nipped that) and I see it quite a bit in marriage life coaching sessions too. It's basically when someone is wrong—dead wrong—but they try and find a way to get your mind off of it, oftentimes by changing the subject, pointing out that you do the same thing, or bringing up what they think is worse.

Example. You might say, "I really hate that you waste my time by always showing up late." A non-deflector would say something like, "I'm sorry. I'll work to get better at that." A deflector? They're gonna say something immature like (cue the nah-nah-nah-nah-nah voice), "You're late sometimes too" or worse, "Well, I hate that you cut me off when I'm talking."

OK. But if you hated whatever it is that I'm doing so much, why are you waiting until I bring up something that irritates me in order to discuss it? A deflector doesn't want to deal with their stuff. And it's really hard to be in a healthy relationship with anyone who refuses to face things head on.

8. LWS: Last Word Syndrome

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I used to be this girl and I realize it was because, while growing up, I didn't feel like my voice was heard or respected very much. So, as an adult, I made sure that it would be—no matter how annoying this approach might've been.

About 9.5 times out of 10, a person who suffers from last word syndrome isn't even one-eighth as interested in what you have to say as what they've already said or what they plan on saying next. It's feeling like your insights and perspectives aren't respected or even appreciated that tends to be the source of your frustration while interacting with them. I get it but take it from someone who has gotten fully free from this—people who need to have the last word are insecure; they are still working through how to embrace the internal power that they have, both with and without a sounding board.

One of my favorite proverbs is, "Don't speak unless you can improve upon the silence." It's one of the best ways to handle someone with this particular syndrome. And once you call out all of these triggers—and trigger-ers—it's also one of the best ways to internally detonate how you react in the future to these kinds of people too.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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