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Posts Tagged ‘getting triggered’

On my blog entry entitled Noticing the Progress I Have Made, a reader posted the following comment:

Today I got very very triggered and despite my conscious knowledge to the contrary, my subconscious mi d was convinced that my life was in danger, obviously it was not but I couldn’t rationalise this to myself at all. All my normal coping strategies were gone and I had to stay in this situation for nearly an hour. It’s been a long time since I have felt so stressed and afraid, I can’t even talk about it without feeling sick and anxious. I HAVE to be in fairly frequent contact with the person who triggered me (unintentionally) and I am very nervous about this as my brain has made a strong connection between them and danger. I’m really worried about how I’ll cope, and that experience of getting triggered was so much stronger than previous times it frightened me a lot! Hard to know what to do to “fix” this as usuals don’t seem to be working. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! ~ Sophie

This is an old comment but one that is relevant to many people. It sounds like Sophie was triggered by a person who wasn’t intending to trigger her but, nevertheless, caused a severe reaction in her. I have had this happen myself.

I was at the grocery store a few years ago, and a woman was pushing a young (maybe two years old) child in a shopping cart. The second I saw the child, I became triggered and feared I would vomit in the store. I had to get away from that child IMMEDIATELY to avoid a panic attack so severe that I couldn’t hide it in public.

A couple of years later, I ran into the same child at the public library and had the same reaction. (I have no idea why.) This time, I was with a friend, and I asked her if she noticed anything strange or different about the child. She looked surprised by my question and said he just looked a normal child to her. To this day, I have no idea why I reacted so strongly to this child, but I hope he moved away so I don’t run into him again!

The first step is to acknowledge that for some reason, this person triggers you. Don’t beat yourself up for this – it is what it is. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to interact with this person (just as I don’t have to interact with that child). When you have a choice, choose not to interact with someone who triggers you like this.

If contact is inevitable, don’t just assume that there is something “wrong” with you. Consider the possibility that you are getting triggered for a reason. I got triggered by an eye doctor and assumed it was just me since I was new to therapy. I saw him again a couple of years later (when I was emotionally stronger), and I went in prepared and with an open mind. I got the same triggered feeling. He was inappropriate but subtle, doing things holding his cheek against mine when he examined my eye. (I have seen numerous eye doctors, and none of them physically touched me during an eye examination.) I wasn’t overreacting – I was picking up on vibes from that doctor. I switched doctors after that visit.

If you are certain that you are not picking up on any “vibes” and that you are being triggered but are safe around this person, take steps to mitigate your reactions. Another option is to remove yourself from this person, such as by switching jobs or moving. There is not one person on the planet that you MUST interact with. You do have options.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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This blog entry continues from here.

I truly do not understand this dynamic. If something is bothering me in a relationship, I don’t lie and pretend that I am not bothered by it, let it fester, and then explode all over the other person weeks, months, or years later. That only happens after I have said something repeatedly and been ignored, which is another issue entirely. And I am not someone who enjoys confrontations – I really hate them because I half-expect the other person to decide I am too much trouble and walk out.

I generally let it slide the first time (unless it really bothers me) in case it is just a one-time thing. If it happens a second time, I evaluate whether I can accept the behavior and let go or work around it. If the answer is no, then I very tactfully say something, typically blaming it on myself, such as, “I am not saying that there is anything wrong with you doing X.” I give the other person an out – “I understand where you are coming from,” etc. “The problem is that I get triggered by this because…” Because I present the issue as something that is a challenge for me rather than a character flaw in the other person, that conversation is typically very well received. Problem solved.

Also, I only have this conversation when it really is a deal-breaker for me. I do a cost-benefit analysis, ask myself if this is really worth getting into, and then only say something if it is really going to bother me if I don’t. If I choose to let it go, then I let it go. I don’t secretly harbor a grudge and get pissed off on a regular basis that my friend is doing X. If it is not important enough to talk about, then it is not important enough to let fester and potentially ruin a friendship later.

Am I really so unique in this? I am having a very difficult time understanding the alternative. How can I be “too fragile” to handle a gentle redirection today but, at the same time, be so arrogant and unyielding that I need to be cut off at the knees two years later for the same behavior?

When people do this to me, it causes me to doubt myself and my ability to read people, which is extremely triggering and makes me feel very, very unsafe. Regardless of intentions, it feels like a lie – the other person has been lying to me for months or years that I was safe around him or her and then blindsides me by, out of nowhere, becoming very unsafe. I was so shaken by the one-two punch (one family member and one friend) that I was barely functional for 24 hours this weekend. I self-injured for the first time in a very, very long time. That’s why I have a therapy appointment today.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have had a very rough weekend, and I am still reeling from it … so much so that I have another therapy appointment tomorrow. I ended therapy years ago, and now this is my second therapy appointment this summer. That tells you what a challenging summer this has been.

Without going into the specifics of the blindsiding because the pain is still too raw, I’ll share an example of what I am talking about so we can discuss it. I can’t be the only one this happens to, and I would love to hear your insights on how you deal with this.

Let’s say that I am routinely 10 minutes late wherever I go. (I have chosen this example because I am a stickler for punctuality and have, therefore, been on the other side of this issue.) I don’t intentionally mean to be rude or keep my friends waiting. I simply have trouble managing my time effectively. It is nothing personal to the other person, and I am not intentionally trying to upset the other person. I truly have the best of intentions – this is just a part of my personality that could use some refining.

I show up 10 minutes late the first time I meet a friend for lunch. She says nothing about being annoyed with me. I even apologize for running late, and she says don’t worry about it. I show up late a second time a week later, and I get the same reaction … and the next week and the next. Because my friend has given me no indication that my tardiness is an issue, I take that off my list of things to worry about. I assume that my friend knows that being tardy is a part of who I am and loves me anyhow, so I let down my guard and just be me which, in this example, is running late.

Then, one day three years later, I am 10 minutes late, just as I always have been, and my friend “attacks” me for it, telling me that she has held her tongue long enough, this has been bothering her for years, and that it needs to change immediately. I am completely blindsided by this reaction because my friend has communicated for years that she is OK with my tardiness and loves me for who I am, and now she has hit me over the head with a sledgehammer for something that I never knew was a problem.

Again, I am a very punctual person, so please don’t provide me with time management tips. I am actually on the other side of this dynamic in a few friendships. I accept that this is a part of who they are and that they don’t mean to be rude by keeping me waiting. I determine that all of the wonderful qualities they bring to the table outweigh my having to wait on them when we meet. I change our meeting times from 3:00 to “3:00ish” and take my own time getting there when a meeting time really doesn’t matter. If punctuality really does matter (such as going to a movie), I suggest we meet at 2:45 so we have time to get popcorn. That builds in tardy time … problem solved.

So, why is it that I am not returned the same courtesy? Why is it that people think it is being “unkind” to tell me up front the first or second time that they are bothered by something I do or don’t do but then think it is reasonable to explode with no warning after lying to me that everything has been okay for a long period of time?

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Continued from here.

On Saturday, I spent the day hanging out with a friend, which was great. She advised me (again) not to read any letters or cards from my mother/abuser. In fact, she said I should not even take the letters into my car or house because I don’t need to take the negative energy there with me. Her advice was to burn the letter in an outdoor trashcan and not to read anything else she sends.

I was “off” on Saturday night and took a sleeping pill to make sure I would actually sleep. It worked, but it was a restless sleep. I was very tense on Easter Sunday morning with a bad headache. I felt like I was walking in my sleep – not really present and no energy.

I took a nap (something I rarely do), hoping for a restful and dreamless sleep, which is how naps usually are for me. In fact, when I go through a period of intense nightmares, I try to build nap time into my schedule so my body can rest while I nap since it is not resting at night when I sleep. I fell into such a deep sleep that I kept “waking up into another dream.” I was raped again in the dream. A disembodied hand was after me. It was simply awful. I was so shaken that I had to take more Xanax to get through the afternoon.

I keep telling myself that I just need to get through the evening. Tomorrow, hub will go back to work and my son will go back to school. (Last week was Spring Break, so I have had precious little “alone time.”) I can go to the gym in the morning and work off some of this adrenaline. I can also read my book as I work out, and I can sit back and watch a favorite TV show during lunch. I am in desperate need of “me time.” I still have a ton of work to do for my job, but I have got to nurture myself tomorrow, or I am going to lose my mind!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am writing this blog entry on Easter Sunday, so hopefully this awful weekend will be a distant memory by the time you read this. Three days before Easter, my mother/abuser sent me a card. For those of you who have been following my saga, you will remember that she sent me a card in February telling me that **she** was letting **me** go. You can read about that here. I had a feeling it wouldn’t last, and it hasn’t.

My sister had given me a heads up that my mother planned to send my son something for Easter. Whatever. I have been too insanely busy with my new job to deal with mother drama. So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to get the card. It basically said that she loves me too much to let me go … can’t do it … blah, blah, blah. She said she would respect my wish for her not to contact me, but she wanted to send holiday, birthday, and Christmas cards/presents to my family. I set the card aside and didn’t really process it.

The next day (Earth Day), I saw the African Cats movie that stressed the protection and sacrifice that “all” mothers provide for their children as shown by these wildcats. This apparently triggered me, but I didn’t realize it.

After the movie, I went back to my friend’s house for a while, and I out of the blue told her about my mother’s card from the day before. I also mentioned how much I hate Easter because all of my friends “go away,” etc. (I also experienced a severe trauma on Easter Sunday when I was two years old that affects me to varying degrees from year to year.) I noticed that I was feeling and acting “off” – talking fast and louder than normal, feeling detached and lightheaded, etc. I didn’t know why.

Then, I found another card from my mother in the mailbox when I got home — this time to my son. It was just an Easter card with no money or present in it. She signed the card, “Love, Nana” with little hearts drawn on it, and that really did bother me. I got more and more triggered but didn’t really realize it until it was really bad. I emailed my friend and said that I was very triggered but didn’t know why. I took a Xanax, but even that didn’t calm me down much.

My friend is the one who connected the dots – that my reaction had to do with this unwanted and unexpected contact from my mother over a holiday weekend that is triggering for me anyhow. As soon as she said this, I started crying and just wanted to rock myself. I wound up binge eating (I’ll write about that) and having a bad headache on Saturday.

This is getting too long. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Last weekend, I was in a very dark place. However, I managed to pull myself out on Monday by putting all of my tools into practice. I am no longer concerned about being “abandoned” over the Christmas holiday. Whenever the thought even crosses my mind, I know how to fight it.

I was OK on Monday and Tuesday, but then I started getting jittery on Wednesday and then feeling anxious on Thursday. My sister also had a panic attack on Thursday night. I thought this was perhaps another “disturbance in the force” outside of myself, which is frustrating because I do not yet know how to fight that. When the problem is not within me, it is much more challenging to know how to fight back within myself.

I stayed anxious all weekend. I used Xanax to sleep at night, and I found myself compulsively overeating for several days. I couldn’t tell you why – only that I felt “off” and anxious, and eating soothed that feeling.

On Saturday, my sister mentioned in passing that her university’s graduation was that day, and she was reminiscing with her children that it was exactly one year ago that she was the one graduating with her Bachelor’s degree. I did not think much of the comment at the time – no dots were connected.

Then, on Saturday night, I had a flashback dream that told me exactly what my problem is – It has been one year since I forced myself to see my mother/abuser again after a six-year hiatus. I only did this because my love for my sister outweighed my aversion to seeing my mother, and my sister invited us both to the graduation.

In the dream, I relived the moment of my mother hugging me. It wasn’t a complete repeat of the place, but it was a repeat of the emotions. I was having to spend time with my mother, even though I did not want to. I was making a real effort to be polite even though I wanted to run screaming from being anywhere near her. Then, she wanted a hug. I did not want to give her one, but I believed I had no choice, and my friend (who came with me last year to the graduation to be my “buffer”) stood next to me watching and letting me make the call. She had no way of knowing that there was no choice – only compliance because I never feel like I have a choice in my mother/abuser’s presence.

She hugged me thoroughly as I tried not to touch any part of her. A part of me wrestled with whether it would be easier just to let go and embrace her hug, but the larger part of myself had flashes of all of the ways I had been hurt in childhood by her body touching mine. The hug seemed to go on forever. As soon as it ended, I forced myself awake. My heart was racing, and I was very shaky.

It took me a couple of hours after being awake to tie it all together – Seeing her again was traumatizing, and her hugging me added to the trauma. I know all of you are thinking, “Duh!,” but I guess I never really made that connection. I saw it as facing past trauma, not as adding more trauma that needed to be processed.

I had so much drama trying to get home (our flight was canceled due to weather), and then I faced a breast cancer scare as soon as I returned, so I never took any time to work through my feelings and reactions to the trauma of seeing her again. I just wanted to put it all behind me…and now it is back on the anniversary of that newer trauma. Oh, joy!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I got triggered at a Halloween party over the week. As I have shared before, I do not go to parties very often because I inadvertently commit some sort of faux pas that makes me look like an idiot. So, to the extent I am even invited to parties (intense people are hardly party material!), I am very careful about which ones I will even attend.

This weekend, one of my closest friends had a Halloween party. I knew most of the people there, which is always a plus. Things went very well for most of the night. I was not even triggered by the children running around in black capes, which can be a trigger for me. However, the hostess’ husband said something that triggered me, and I am happy to report that I was able to shake it off after a couple of hours.

Background – my friend offered to make four lasagnas for a different party but only owned two 9 x 13 Pyrex dishes. I loaned her my good one. When I found out that she needed a fourth, I offered my old one but warned her that it was not in good shape. Her husband made it his personal challenge to restore the dish to its original state, and he came close – I truly did not know that dish could look so go.

So, at the party he said that he wanted to “shame me” for having a dish in that condition and that I need to be more like an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) mutual friend who had already left the party for the evening. (She is OCD about germs and cleaning.) One of my best friends was sitting next to me and jumped right in with, “Oh, no she doesn’t. I don’t need to calm her down about that kind of stuff, too. She has enough to deal with,” or something to that effect. The conversation rapidly moved elsewhere, but the damage was done.

I tried reminding myself that this guy is far from perfect and that it was an @$$hole thing to say to someone who was nice enough to loan his wife two dishes. I also tried reminding myself that it did not stop his wife from borrowing my crock pot, which was sitting in the next room heating part of the dinner as he said this. However, none of that mattered in the moment. I was flooded with shame because I was triggered, so no amount of rationalization was going to make a difference.

I could have gone a number of directions, but I chose the healthy route. The party was wrapping up by this point, so I made my exit as soon as I could without drawing notice to being triggered. I went home and did some work for my job while listening to positive music. After doing that for about an hour, I noticed that I really was okay again. Yeah, me! :0)

I had an intense dream that night. My friend and her husband were making veiled comments about me being fat (something my friend would never do). I ducked out quickly, but my friend caught me and insisted that we talk it through. She was apologetic as I battled my shame, and we talked it all out until I felt better.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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After I am severely triggered, it generally takes me a while (maybe a day or two) to get back to feeling like myself. I feel like I have been run over by an emotional mack truck, and it takes me a while to pull myself back together.

For some reason, I generally deal with severe triggers at night, although this is not always the case. Sometimes I am severely triggered during the day, but I have to hold myself together to get through my day-to-day life, so my reaction to the severe triggering might not hit full-force until the evening.

While I am severely triggered, I don’t give a d@#$ about long-term consequences, such as weight gain from the binge eating or having a hangover in the morning. My sole focus is to deaden the emotional pain in the moment.

I pay for this the next morning. I wake up feeling sluggish (unusual for me) and sad. I want to curl up into a ball and sleep the day away. However, my life is not conducive to doing this, so I have to muster the little energy I have and find a way to get through the day. If I can manage not to get triggered again, I try to do something loving and compassionate for myself, such as watch a favorite TV show in the evening and then go to bed early. If I can do this, then I am generally back to my old self the next day.

It really bothers me that my environment continues to have this kind of power over me. I don’t want something as simple as seeing dog poop to derail my life for a day or two. I want to be able to make choices about what or how much to eat or whether to drink. However, when I am severely triggered, it feels as if I have no choice. Everything goes into autopilot, and I am just along for the ride.

Related Topic:

PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of my biggest challenges is dealing with severe triggers after child abuse. I can be having a good day but then have everything derailed by experiencing severe triggers. These are the triggers that can take me from feeling relaxed to feeling like the world is coming to an end in less than a second.

Severe triggers are those that remind child abuse survivors of their deepest unhealed traumas. In my case, it ties into my memory of seeing my dog slaughtered in front of me, all the while being told that this was my “choice.” I cannot handle seeing or smelling, much less handling, dog feces.

Dog feces is extremely triggering to me because it triggers the memories of that horrible night that I am not yet ready to face. Unfortunately, one of my dogs is very old, so he is prone to having accidents around the house. I do not take this well.

I would have already euthanized the dog if not for hub’s insistence upon giving him a little bit longer. The dog is 16-1/2 years old, so he has definitely lived a full life. He has trouble standing up and walking, so I think it is cruel to make the dog continue on with this low quality of life. But I digress…

I am also severely triggered by Russian nesting dolls, thanks to several traumatizing experiences. I have a full-fledged phobia of Russian nesting dolls, so I can definitely see the severe triggering coming. Fortunately, I do not bump into too many of the dolls in my day-to-day life, so that is more manageable for me than the dog feces trigger.

When I am severely triggered, I cannot seem to control my reaction. I run to my negativce coping strategies with a vengeance (typically the binge eating), and there seems to be nothing that I can do to stop this reaction until I begin to calm down.

I hate that I still do not have control of this aspect of my life. I hate that my environment continues to have the power to derail me and that I seemingly have no way of controlling my reaction.

I know that the answer lies in facing those traumas and processing the pain once and for all, and yet I continue to proscratinate doing it. Why? Because it hurts so d@#$ much. Until I choose to heal the underlying pain, I will stay susceptible to being rocked by these severe triggers. I know that I am making this choice and that it is not a good one, and yet I persist. Why is that?

Related Topic:

PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of my biggest frustrations in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is getting triggered but not knowing the cause. I have been dealing with this for my entire life, and it really bothers me sometimes.

For example, I was having a pretty good day. My son got difficult, and I felt triggered but could not exactly explain why. I felt a strong urge to go off alone and cry, but I didn’t. Later that evening, after he had gone to bed, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to binge eat that I could not fight. I could not tell you why – just that I had to get as much food into my body as quickly as possible. By the next morning, I was completely fine.

I have reached the point of generally being able to tell that I have been triggered. That is a step in the right direction because I used to not be able to tell. I would feel a strong emotion and then look for a cause. Once I identified a “cause,” I would fixate on that reason, even though it really had nothing to do with why I was triggered.

These days, I can generally tell that I have been triggered. If I can identify why, then I know what to do to calm myself. For example, if a trigger reminded me of a fearful time, I remind myself that I am an adult and have the power to protect myself. If something triggered anger, I will give myself permission to release my anger about a particular situation. If something triggered sadness, I will comfort myself and find ways to meet those unmet needs.

However, all too often, I have absolutely no idea what triggered me or why. All I know is that I was fine one minute and then I found myself free-falling the next. When I cannot identify the cause, it makes it really hard for me to “fix” the problem. That is when I wind up leaning upon old standbys like binge eating, even though I do not want to go there anymore.

I wish I had a way to know each time I was triggered what the problem is and why. It is so frustrating to continue having my environment drive my emotions while I am left in the dark wondering why I am completely freaking out.

Related Topic:

PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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