Posts Tagged ‘triggers’

On my blog entry entitled Living in the Present to Dismantle Triggers, a reader posted the following question:

I have a question about triggers. I have only recently begun to uncover memories as vague pictures in my head, so there are not many of them. Whenever I read or hear about people being triggered by something they usually refer to memories or flashbacks that come with them. I feel triggered by things all the time since I was young—objects, specific words, actions, etc.—but I have no memories or flashbacks that come as a result. Instead, I feel a strange sense of panic, shame, and arousal. Are these technically still triggers? If not, what are they? ~ Brynn

What Brynn describes is very common for child abuse survivors who have not begun or are early into the healing process. Child abuse survivors react to different triggers without knowing why. They only know that they are phobic of different triggers or have unexplained reactions to them. Child abuse survivors might even find that they suddenly feel a negative shift in their mood without having any idea why. It might take them years to connect the dots to a particular trigger.

A trigger is anything that connects the dots in a child abuse survivor’s head between a present day reminder of a past trauma. For example, I have always had a phobia of Russian nesting dolls but never knew why. Whenever I saw Russian nesting dolls, particularly if they were “opened,” I would feel shaky and lightheaded. Even writing the words now causes a panic reaction in me. My blood pressure rises, my breathing becomes shallow, and I feel a tightening in my private areas. This is a common reaction to a severe trauma, and you don’t have to remember the “why” to have this reaction.

I used to get triggered by being around my mother/abuser (Go figure!) even though I had no conscious memories of her abuse. Whenever I visited with her, I felt very lightheaded and dizzy. This was being triggered, but I didn’t know it. I had trouble staying focused around her. It was like looking at her through the wrong end of a telescope or trying to communicate through a fog.

Whenever I was with her, I would feel very strong emotions (including anger – something I rarely felt otherwise), and I would make mental notes about things I wanted to tell my friends about the visit later (all things to mock her). However, when I left her presence, I had trouble remembering the visit. I would go straight home with the intention of making fun of my mother to my husband, but I couldn’t access those memories. I simply couldn’t remember much about the visit, even though it had just happened.

The triggers are already in place because the trauma has already happened. Whether or not you understand the connection does not factor into your reaction – you will still get triggered whether your have accessed the memory or not. The difference is that, through healing, you can dismantle the trigger as you understand the origin. That is where therapy comes in as well as other alternative methods such as EMDR.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Faith Allen’s Story – God’s Intervention in My Healing, a reader posted the following comment:

Faith, Thank you so much for your website and the wonderful writing. I am a survivor too and still recovering. Your site is a great help. I am getting ready to get back to therapy. I wonder if we ever get over this and over therapy as well. Thank you much. God Bless ~ Paulette

My answer is both yes and no. When I first entered into therapy, my therapist told me that my goal to be a “normal person” and “over” the child abuse was unrealistic. (This was not what I wanted to hear!) He said that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not something that is “cured” but is, instead, “managed.” When I walked in his door, a trigger could last for weeks. He assured me that, some day in the future, I would work through being triggered in days and then, eventually, hours. He was right.

I have come to accept that there is no “normal” and that “normal” is overrated. I am who I am in part because of my life experiences. Because my life experiences are different from anyone else’s experiences, it is unrealistic to expect for me to act and react like some “norm” in society since the “norm” did not experience what I did.

My experience in therapy was that I went weekly for six months, every other week for 18 months, and then monthly for a while until we both felt I was ready to stop. Since ending therapy, I have seen my therapist a handful of times when I felt I needed it, the last visit being in December 2008.

Most of the healing work is done outside of the therapist’s office. You just need the therapist to guide you in the right direction and provide you with healing tools. Once you have mastered those tools, you really don’t need therapy any longer.

For example, let’s say I am very triggered. I used to feel like I was free-falling and would do a number of self-destructive things to survive the feeling. Today, I can generally tell that I am triggered within a few hours (if not sooner). Once I know that I am triggered, I can start using my tools. I don’t need to pay my therapist $150 an hour to tell me what to do because I already know how to do it. In fact, the last few times I called him when I was triggered, I had already managed the trigger myself effectively before stepping foot in his office.

Healing is a relative term. As long as you are breathing, you can evolve into a healthier you. In that sense, I will never be “done.” However, I never dreamed when I started therapy in 2003 that I would be doing as well as I am today, and I am only in my early 40’s. I have the whole rest of my life to continue growing and healing.

The same can be true for you. Do the hard work of healing now. Under your therapist’s supervision, do lots of healing work between the sessions. Work toward becoming an independent healer by developing the wonderful tools that your therapist gives you. Then, you will eventually “outgrow” therapy (but will always have that avenue available to you should you feel the need).

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am currently in training for a new job. It is a part-time position that I can do from home on my computer. It is very flexible, which works out nicely with my schedule. So far, training is going well.

However (and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?), the training requires me to use my real name. That is unbelievably difficult for me. I have been active online for years, and I have always gone by “Faith.” That name feels like the “online me.” I have to remember not to refer to myself as Faith in this online training.

And here is the kicker about why I am having such a hard time in using my real name – It is the same name as my mother/abuser. That really stinks, doesn’t it?

My mother’s name is “Faye,” and she named me “Faye Anne.” My parents called me “Annie” until I was seven years old. Annie is who I identify with as the original child. When I was seven, Annie went to sleep. I woke up one morning and did not know who I was. Everyone kept calling me Annie, but that name did not fit. I hated Annie.

So, I insisted upon being called by my first name, which happens to be the same name as my mother/abuser. I don’t think I knew this when I made that decision, or at least that part of myself (my host personality) did not.

So, now I have the instructor and my fellow students-in-training calling me by my mother’s name. That has been triggering. But I really don’t know how to tell them to call me Faith when that is not any part of my legal name.

I guess I will figure out a way to ride this out. It just really stinks. At least my sister was not named after our mother-abuser.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry Ritual Abuse and Programming, Simon posted the following question:

Theres a question ive always wanted to ask you but ive forgotten. If you have time id really appreciate a response! Here it is :-

***Could be triggering***

I trigger massively when i get water on my face. So basically i trigger when ive had a face wash or shower, or even when i go out and theres rain on my face. I can even be playing sports and ill sweat and it will run onto my face and its a MASSIVE trigger. This is less-so now ive worked through alot of memories, but ive always wondered why it is.Someone has said that maybe its because the abusers washed me after they abused me but i keep thinking it something else.

Was just wondering if you had any idea?

I had a similar question for my therapist a few years ago. I knew that I had always had a phobia of Russian nesting dolls, but I did not know why. My therapist said it might have to do with feeling constricted, but I intuitively knew that wasn’t it. I did not get my answer for at least another year, when I recovered one of my most traumatizing memories.

My short answer is that (1) I do not know the origin; and (2) you will know the origin when you are ready to process it. Our deepest triggers are a result of our deepest traumas. It only makes sense that we heal the less severe stuff first and then, once we have the confidence that we can handle the heavier trauma, we turn our attention there.

I would caution you against going out and seeking the answer. Instead, trust your own intuition to reveal the origin when you are ready to face it. Once you recover the memory, you will be wigged out but, at the same time, have a major “aha” moment. It really does feel good to put the pieces of the puzzle together and understand yourself.

If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone in having this issue with water. Check out the Incest Survivor’s After Effects Checklist. Number two on the list is…

Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; repugnance to water on one’s face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings)

I had an issue with eating cereal because I would come unglued if any milk trickled down my chin. I have my suspicions about the origin of this for me, but this has been low on my list of concerns. It is easy enough simply not to eat cereal.

I hope this helped.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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White flower (c) Lynda BernhardtI have found using mantras to be a powerful way to help myself heal from child abuse. Using mantras is super easy and very effective. However, you first have to push through your resistance to the positive messages.

What is a mantra? A mantra is any message that you say to yourself repeatedly. I thought about the three messages that I most needed to hear as a child to come up with mine: “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry.” I would say these words to myself multiple times a day.

At the beginning, it was difficult because I did not believe the words. I did not love myself, and I certainly did not feel safe. However, I pushed through my unease and “forced” myself to say these messages to myself over and over again. Whenever I had a quiet moment, such as driving my car or doing housework, I would say these mantras in my head repeatedly. In time, I started to believe the messages.

Using this mantra is now one of the most effective ways to bring myself back to the present whenever I get triggered. If I feel triggered, I take deep breaths and repeat this mantra in my head. Within seconds, I can feel my body releasing the tension, and I return to the present.

You are welcome to use my mantra, or you can make one up for yourself. Think about a message (up to three) that you most need to hear. It might be “I am good enough just the way I am” or “I accept myself exactly the way I am.” What message would make the biggest difference in how you feel about yourself if you really believed it? That is the message you need to use for your mantra.

Why does it work? I think it works the same way that the negative messages do. The first time you are told that you are worthless, you fight back. However, after hearing the message that you are worthless (whether through words or actions) a thousand times, you eventually believe the statement. So, we can reverse this by implanting positive messages into our heads. Also, loving ourselves is our natural state, so it will always ultimately win.

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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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Microscopic View (c) Lynda Bernhardt January has been a rough month for me. I have been feeling overwhelmed. As I posted last week, I even struggled with self-injury one day for the first time in well over a year. I have been feeling such an intensity inside of myself, but I have not been able to identify why.

Yes, I do have a lot going on in my life right now. However, even having too much going on does not explain the level of intensity that I have been facing.

I finally figured out what the problem is. My son turned seven years old recently. I was seven years old when the worst of the abuse happened. Turning seven years old heralded in severe ritual abuse, including the first of many gang rapes and the murder of my beloved dog.

My internal dialogue has been centered around my inability to protect my son. We recently started him on medication for his Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The medication is working well, but it does have side effects that are now starting to balance out. However, when he had issues the first day, I felt such an overwhelming sense of despair that I started to wonder if I was losing my mind.

Realizing that my son’s birthday is what triggered this reaction in me has been immensely helpful because at least I know that I am sane. I have been overreacting to everything in my life for over a week, and at least I know why. I could even see that I was overreacting but was unable to stop it.

Of course, the next question was what to do about it. I have been trying to nurture the frightened seven-year-old child inside of myself. I also keep telling myself that my son is not me. I had nobody to protect me, but my son has me. I will not let another person harm him in the way I was harmed.

I have actually been able to sleep for the last two nights, which has been a relief. So, I hope I am moving past this part of my healing journey. Even after we heal, we always have residue that will bubble up. This was one of those times.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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