Triggers. Is there anything more tricky and disorienting? They affect a lot of people who have experienced a lot of abuse and distress. They even affect a lot of people who live by social media. It can be hard to notice on oneself because trauma and emotional triggers are all very personal and the effects differ with each person. Mine have left me mentally incapacitated for a number of years. Much of it was a vicious cycle of being stuck in depression, which lead to despair. The triggers (which i had experienced almost daily) would cause vivid flashbacks to a time of fear, which would fuel anxiety. It was a pattern of thoughts that became a boring machine, paving a oneway for me to fall into the darkest of ruts.
-- what are some of your triggers?--
Coming from a place of intense violence, verbal abuse and dishonesty, I would get triggered by Y speaking down on my mother. Even though I now live in my own place, I know this particular trigger has been conditioned so deeply with me that I will always struggle with this. I get triggered by anything that resembles a moment in time that I have experienced in my childhood home. It could be someone being rude to another for no obvious reason (domineering behaviour), hearing about someone getting attacked due to racism (injustice+violence), to being around people who'd rather tell white lies, to avoid arguments with their partners (deceit).
--what happens for you when you get triggered?--
On one side of the spectrum I feel irritation. In this state I tend to recall some traumatic memories from my childhood and teenage years. I superimpose them on top of each other like I'm looking at an overhead projector of several images. I would start thinking about all the times I was misunderstood, spoken poorly to and even humiliated. I think about all the things I should have done and said to put the other in their place. I think about how if I had done that, and it got around to my parents, they would never had had my back anyways. Then I would become stuck in a loop of what life would have been like with better support.
In the middle of the spectrum, I implode (a byproduct of being conditioned to keep family matters to myself). I recall defining traumatic moments from my childhood, teenage and young adult years. These are usually made up of the most intense violent memories. These memories when lingered upon long enough, will cause me to experience acute ptsd. During this state, I live through each of the memories, one by one. In day time, while I am working, I have surges of memories which transports me back to the event. As I relive it, my emotions are raw, I feel a heightened sense of danger and I live in fight or flight mode. I often drown myself into work and must avoid social media during these times, to keep my energy and focus on creation. When I get to sleep, I will have vivid dreams that are very dark. Some recurring dream themes involve me trying to get away from someone (can't make out a face) to get away or kill someone I am in a struggle with, to be safe.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am explosive. I am easily angered because rage or sadness is my resting state. All memories are alive, and I move through one after another. Some days my muscles are sore from being in a mental state of "fight or flight". It is during this state that I think about what my essentials are and what my strategy is in packing up and getting away, if things regress even further. I feel the most alone as I have difficulties communicating in a way that isn't offensive, and so I do not speak up or share. The hardest part about being in this state is my relationship with despair. For me, despair to rage is akin emotions evoked by old song or memories triggered by smelling and tasting something from childhood. I can easily find myself spiralling in a state of crisis and must decelerate.
--what's changed now--
It has come to my knowledge recently, that there is another option to dealing with our triggers. I thought that when we get triggered, we had to "ride it out" (some advice that never worked for me). Sometimes triggers are really stubborn and have some deep roots within. When you find that you're in a place where you can't just think about "good things" or "count your blessings".
A tool that has helped me is having a crisis plan (sometimes called a safety plan). A crisis plan is a personalized guide that walks you through listing some causes and supports. To start off, it may ask you to distinguish what difficult situations feel like to you on a good day or in a time a crisis (on a bad day). Then it might ask you to list what kinds of supports you sought after when you were feeling any kind of negative emotion and how it helped you. After filling out the guide, you will have also made some lists which asks you to expand further. Such as what the most difficult feelings are for you to feel ( ie, anger, despair, rage, grief, sadness, etc) and identifying how you know whether to seek support or if you simply need to change something in your routine. It even gives you an opportunity to distinguish what your needs/wants are when you are having difficulties communicating or feeling misunderstood.
After making one for myself, I felt like not only have I developed an understanding in what is going on in my mind body and spirit, but I'm also better equipped to understanding how to re circuit certain patterns of thought, for relief. The benefits of this has also been evident in the improvement of communication with my partner. It seems like a simple thing to fill this out, but when you are writing out all of the things that keeps you and makes you feel relief, you are essentially creating way finding signs and roadmaps to feeling better. No matter what our experiences are in life, all difficult situations are difficult. We should all be striving to understand ourselves on a fundamental level, in what drives our behaviour and thoughts.
Additional message: **During this time of COVID-19, there has been a significant rise in domestic violence and abuse. Where isolation is an effective strategy for everyone's safety, it is not the case for several victims. Please call 9-1-1 if you are feeling unsafe and please find a local shelter by any means necessary. It is important to look after your health and well being. I encourage all victims to be gentle and tender with yourselves in everything that you do, during this incredibly difficult time. You are more precious and worth far greater than you've been treated otherwise.
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