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Posts Tagged ‘dismantling triggers’

One area of healing that has been a balancing act for me is allowing myself to be protected versus taking responsibility for finding ways to heal and/or adapt in areas of my life that the abuse has affected. As an example, I developed a phobia of Russian nesting dolls because of their use during my abuse. In the early stages of healing, a friend and I took our children to the library for story time. The story was about Russia, so the librarian brought in a Russian nesting doll set for the children to see. I was triggered by seeing the doll while she read the book, but I was able to hold it together. However, when she started to open the doll (which was a trigger of a specific threat to my sister’s life as a child), I had to leave the room and had a full-fledged panic attack in the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend knew about my phobia and watched my son until I composed myself.

Clearly, I needed to be protected from my trigger in the early stages of healing. I had little experience with working through triggers and managing my anxiety when faced with such a severe trigger for me. However, I cannot spend the rest of my life having to go have a panic attack in the bathroom every time I see a Russian nesting doll. While (thankfully) Russian nesting dolls aren’t on every street corner, I do bump into them in unexpected places, such as on display at a friend’s house (who received them as a gift when adopting from Russia) or for sale at a consignment shop that sells antiques. Part of healing for me has been learning how to manage my triggers. Another way of wording this is taking responsibility for managing my own triggers so that my friends and family don’t have to spend the rest of my life ridding the world of Russian nesting dolls so that I can function.

Of course, my life would be much easier if I could just wave a magic wand and make all Russian nesting dolls disappear, but that isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to spend my life being protected from my triggers, so I have worked hard to dismantle as many triggers as I can. It is a work in progress, but making the choice to take responsibility for managing my triggers has been empowering. Having to rely on other people to protect me from my triggers makes me feel helpless and weak even though I know I am a strong person. Conversely, each baby step that moves me toward being able to manage my own triggers makes me feel empowered.

In fact, just recently I bumped into an open set of Russian nesting dolls at a consignment store, and I was OK. I noticed them and felt a twinge of triggering, but I knew what tools I needed to employ to bring myself back down. My friend wouldn’t have even noticed I was triggered if I hadn’t pointed out the dolls to her. That’s a huge change from the friend who had to watch my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom several years ago. It felt really good to see my growth in this area of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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In my last blog entry, I wrote about how the lies we have bought into from childhood continue to plague us in adulthood. Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God is helping me to understand that the key to dismantling a trigger is mindfulness or learning how to stay present. This blog entry continues a summary of Roth’s theory on how staying present can transform your life.

I stated in my last blog entry that our minds deceive us. They have bought into our abusers’ lies, and they direct us through triggers to act and react as we did as children. That was fine in childhood, but we are now adults, and we are no longer in the same environment that we lived in as children.

Roth states that the key to dismantling triggering (although she uses different words for “triggering”) is staying present (or “mindfulness” as a reader called it). Roth’s advice is to learn how to inhabit your body again. She says that we are a society of people walking around who live in our heads or “near” our bodies but not in them. This is why people who compulsively overeat have such a hard time stopping – they are not living in their bodies, so they are unable to sense their bodies’ cues about hunger and fullness. I have personally experienced great success in overcoming compulsive overeating and losing weight when I made an effort to stay present, but I “forgot” this skill after being triggered mightily.

When we are triggered, we dissociate (or “bolt,” as Roth calls it). We leave our bodies and try to distance ourselves from all that we are feeling. This is our minds continuing to torture us with our childhood pain. We cannot trust what our minds are telling us, and that causes us to second guess all of our instincts and intuition.

Roth says that the antidote is to live in your body. Her recommendation is to practice meditation so you can learn the difference between your mind and “you.” She also recommends a breathing technique that I was unfamiliar with. Breathe in and out, focusing on your belly. Your belly is the center of your body, so noticing the way your belly moves when you breathe and focusing on your breath at the center of your body helps to bring you back into your body.

When you return to your body, you return to the present. You are able to recognize that you are completely safe in the present moment. As you learn to focus on what is around you right now – the sights, sounds, smells, etc. – you distance yourself from the pain of the past. You can learn to observe the pain and see that it is separate from you. As you approach the pain with kindness (acceptance) rather than flight (avoidance), you dismantle the pain.

This ties into my experience with integrating alter parts and memories – inviting them out, treating them with kindness, and accepting them as “me.” This method has worked very well for me with integrating alter parts, so I can see how it could work equally as well with past pain.

I still have about a third of the book to read, so I am sure I will be reporting more. Right now, I am trying to digest all of this and practice staying present.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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