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Archive for April 16th, 2008

Fish by reef (c) Lynda BernhardtSurvivors of child abuse often get “triggered” by things that remind them of the abuse. A trigger can be pretty much anything. For example, I get triggered if someone opens my bedroom door when I am trying to sleep. I was awakened too many times to be abused, and those episodes always began by somebody opening my bedroom door while I was sleeping. So, to this day, I equate hearing the bedroom door open to experiencing abuse.

When people are triggered, they get a rush of adrenaline. They feel panicky and react in different ways. I would dissociate, which means that I would feel “floaty” in my head. The world would seem like I was looking at it through the wrong end of a telescope. I would feel disconnected from what was going on around me. It was like I was “there” but “not there” at the same time.

I used to struggle to “stay present” during therapy sessions. I would hold onto my chair to help me stay present instead of distant in my head. I wanted to remember the therapy sessions afterward, and that was hard to do if I stayed triggered or dissociated the entire time. It took me a long time to learn how to stop dissociating. To this day, dissociation comes naturally, so I have to choose not to do it when something triggers me.

I used to be triggered by many things. Today, I am only triggered by a few things, thank goodness. When I am triggered (such as when I have to clean up dog poop), I get a really bad headache. I feel very angry, which is an improvement over feeling helpless. At least anger propels me forward instead of running away. Getting triggered sets off the “fight or flight” response. Now I feel the need to fight instead of flee, which I guess is progress.

I hope that I will reach a point in my life in which I no longer get triggered. That might be an unrealistic goal. However, as long as I am moving toward it, then I know I am making progress.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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