What is it like to be emotionally ‘triggered’?
One minute you are relaxed, calm, maybe even feeling a sense of peace and centeredness that has been absent for a long time, the next minute your heart is racing – you feel as if you are foaming at the mouth and ready to attack with a fierceness that you didn’t even know existed within you. You snap, you overreact to the situation, you feel unable to grab your emotions by the reigns so as to feel grounded. Later, much later, after the emotions subside you are in shock and disbelief of your own reaction, which feeds into fear and ruminating thoughts and questions like: What is wrong with me? Am I the toxic person? I’m going crazy. Who have I become?
Or maybe – you are calm, happy and at peace one minute – and the next minute you are somehow disconnected from your body. You see yourself, a dazed expression on your face, eyes wide and vacant, your mouth is moving – you hear the sound of your own voice, but it’s as if you are watching a movie. You are separated, shut down, dissociated. You bang on the walls of your soul, desperately trying to re-enter your body so as to handle the situation as ‘you’ and not this vacant, detached, shut down, deer in headlights version of you – but you can’t – there’s an invisible, impenetrable wall keeping you separate from – of all people – you, yourself.
Do either of those situations resonate with you?
I know what it’s like to be flung outside of my window of tolerance into either hyperarousal and fight or flight, or hypo-arousal, freeze/fawn, and neither is easier to handle than the other. It’s a frightening experience to feel as if you don’t know when, where or why that switch is going to flip causing you to react from your trauma response as opposed to reacting with your logical mind. The fear of having that switch flip unexpectedly can cause a person to live in a constant state of anxiety, attempting to control their external environment in hopes that it does not ‘trigger’ their internal trauma.
It’s understandable to want to avoid pain, avoid feeling or doing anything that could bring about either of the above-mentioned circumstances. But is that the answer? Do we just need to learn to avoid what triggers us? Is that even possible? Will trauma eventually fade, after all doesn’t time heal all wounds?
Unfortunately, unlike emotional pain that does subside with time – trauma does not go away, or fade with time. It’s as if the brain takes a snapshot, freezes the trauma, and builds a compartmentalized room for that trauma to stay alive. A trauma that happened 20 years ago can still remain hidden in the subconscious mind, replaying as if it were still happening. The problem with that room is that, while the trauma may seem hidden, sometimes even dormant – the brain’s security system, it’s limbic network, is scanning the environment for anything and everything that is similar to what caused that trauma and sending danger signals regarding things that you should feel safe about.
For example, if in your childhood you were yelled at, insulted or punished for having a different opinion than your parent – that is traumatic for a child, and so the brain develops the coping skill of repressing any thought, action or feeling that would consist of not being exactly what your parents wanted from you. The truth is, at that time in your life – you WERE NOT safe!! It was not safe to be you, to be authentic, to see things differently. As you began modifying the real you to comply – the trauma was stored in your subconscious mind.
Fast forward a few decades and now you are an adult, married and with children. Yet any time you want to have a different opinion than your spouse, or any time you want to be authentic – you either shut down and cave into whatever the other person wanted, much in the same way you did with your parents. Or – any time your spouse has a different opinion – you lash out, get angry, feel the need to attack and defend.
All of those feelings and actions are due to being triggered. You are currently safe to be you, you are no longer that child dependent on an abusive caregiver for survival. You can easily take care of yourself, stand up for yourself, and logically you know that everyone is allowed to be their authentic self. The problem is – at the moment you are in a situation to show this – a switch flips and you are flung into fight, flight, freeze or fawn – you have been emotionally triggered.
In order to change this dynamic – the worst thing you can do is attempt to avoid all triggers, as enticing as it might seem to be. What we resist persists. The triggers grow stronger, your anxiety around them increases – then you get anxiety about the anxiety ….. and before you know it your whole life is revolving around avoiding anything and everything that causes you anxiety. And even living like that – only creates more anxiety.
True healing is about learning how to feel safe inside your own body. It’s about breaking unhealthy conditioned responses and behaviors, it’s about re-conditioning the mind and body. And it’s about healing (not avoiding) the trauma that is trapped in that compartmentalized room in the depths of the subconscious mind.
I like to view that trauma as if it’s a piece of my younger self that is still hurting, as opposed to just viewing it as an abstract ‘problem.’ When we can reach that piece of ourselves and re-frame the past via self-parenting – we release those pieces from that dark room so they can integrate with our authentic persona. The more integrated we are…. the healthier we feel and the easier it is to heal and move forward.
I encourage everyone to find the tools needed to help them to release past pain due to trauma so that it does not control your present life and sabotage your future!!
For free video coaching, make sure to check out my Youtube Channel, Michele Lee Nieves Coaching where I try to provide as much free information as possible, that can help others shift forward. However if you feel more is needed than the videos, and you are tired of feeling like you are always healing alone – make sure to check out my 3 Month Breakthrough Cptsd Workshop – the next one begins Nov. 2020!!
Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.