Yesterday, I addressed the topic of whether a child abuse survivor can get triggered without having any memories of flashback associated with the triggering. On that blog entry, a reader posted the following comment:
I had always thought my triggering was me just being unbalanced and messed up. I was verrry hard on myself and also thought I was wrong and “over-the-top,” emotionally unstable, etc. I relate with Brynn in that at first, I didn’t have memories or flashbacks attached. I would just be having some kind of “irrational” reaction, with nothing associated with it and then would come the hailstorm of self-abusive thoughts- “What’s wrong with you?? Why can’t you function like a normal person! You’re feeling like you want to die because you saw a child crying from dropping his ice cream cone?? Don’t you think that’s a little RIDICULOUS? You’re a complete messed up loser case.” ~ Jackie
Jackie did a great job of describing how it feels to be triggered without knowing why (or even knowing that what you are experiencing is being triggered). I would like to build on what Jackie shared with my own experiences as additional examples.
Throughout my life (before awakening to the realities of the child abuse), I would feel a sudden onset or sway in my emotional state without knowing why. That’s just the way I always was, so I guess I didn’t realize that it wasn’t “normal.” I sometimes worried that I was mentally ill (especially since my mother was clearly mentally ill, although undiagnosed), so I never talked to anyone else about it or asked if they had this experience, too.
A good 5 or 6 years before recovering my first flashback, I remember sitting in my cubicle at work trying to understand why I was having such a severe reaction to something so “stupid.” I shared a cluster of cubicles with two other women who invited me to go to lunch. I declined because I had brought my lunch, and I didn’t want to disappoint my husband by spending money by eating out. (I now marvel that I used to think like that!)
The women returned from lunch laughing, and they finished a conversation in one of their cubicles that apparently had carried over from lunch. I was bombarded with deep feelings of shame, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Strange thoughts were racing around my head – “They are laughing at me. They hate me. They think I am so stupid for not going to lunch with them. I will never fit in anywhere. Nobody will ever like me. I am a stupid, stupid person who is completely unlovable. Why would anyone ever like a stupid person like me?”
Keep in mind that I had already earned a graduate degree from a Top Ten university, so I am clearly not a “stupid” person. Yet, the word “stupid” used to rattle around my brain and undermine my confidence, even though I knew objectively that I was smart. These women had invited me to join them for lunch, so they clearly did not dislike me. They probably did not think a thing about my declining their invitation other than that perhaps I didn’t have much spending money. (I later became close friends with one and got along well with the other, so I wasn’t picking up on any unspoken vibes.)
I wanted to react to this flood of emotions that came from seemingly nowhere, but I also knew objectively that I could not trust them. So, I had a lot of inner thoughts about recognizing that I cannot trust myself. I cannot trust these weird floods of emotions because they are not grounded in the reality around me. I made a conscious choice never to act on these floods of emotions and, instead, use only the logical part of my brain to decipher how I should logically act in a situation. Because I logically had no reason to be upset, I would disregard these feelings and try very hard to act like I don’t feel them. I certainly could not “trust” anything that I felt because it was so “off” from reality. It was exhausting to live this way, and it also prevented me from listening to my intuition.
Photo credit: Hekatekris