It took me a few days to notice. I was experiencing a daily headache, having trouble sleeping through the night, an increase in anxious thoughts and I just wanted to hibernate. I ‘comforted’ myself with bowls of potato chips, chocolates and glasses of red wine. There was nothing in my current reality that was particularly stressful, upsetting or arduous happening. What was going on?
Sally discovered her much younger co-workers at her executive firm were meeting for drinks together after work every Thursday without including her. At work, Sally retreats to the washroom to cry often and suffers insomnia. On top of that, she berates herself for acting in a way she feels is irrational in relation to her age and station.
While in a session with me, Sally uncovered a memory of a rejection that happened in grade school that had deeply affected her. I realized that writing about my #metoo experiencewas related to my current behaviour. Sally’s and my current experiences had triggered a past traumatic-response feeling.
What is a Trigger?
In psychology, a trigger is a response to a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that invokes feelings of trauma.
Signs You May Be Triggered
- Increased mind chatter
- General feeling of unease and or stress not related to your current situation.
- Increase in physical ailments – headaches, body aches/pains, digestion problems, insomnia, etc.
- Increase in ‘addictive’ tendencies; shopping, drinking, gambling, etc.
- Cocooning or hibernating behaviour – blocking social engagement.
- Disassociating; not being present/aware of the events/experiences that are happening in current time, zoning out, returning to find you’ve missed something that’s just happened.
- Inappropriate or emotionally intense response to a ‘normal’ current situation.
The Brain: Working Hard for You
Our brain is a vast, partially explored frontier. It develops all kinds of connections or shortcuts in the reasoning process for the purpose of keeping us out of danger and alive. We don’t have time to ponder what are the most strategic moves guaranteeing the best outcomes when confronted by a charging rhino. The brain sends out fight, flight, freeze signals and then maps our choice for future reference, if we survive, that is. Every time we ‘survive,’ the mapped information is available for any future, similar event.
Because we are no longer fighting daily for our physical survival, but are exposed to massive amounts of stimuli known as information, our brains are mapping connections like crazy. One of these maps is developed by connecting any trauma event—these could be physical, emotional or psychological—with sensory memory. What this means is a traumatic event forms a memory in our brains and then anything that reminds us of that same ‘feeling state’ forever afterward will trigger that stored fight, flight or freeze response and it will flood our bodies. But…
The Bad News
BUT, it—the brain—will protect us from the memory of the specific event!
Our priority is to survive. Pain of any kind, even if it isn’t physical, registers in our brain as a threat and orders us to protect ourselves any way possible. Unfortunately, resolving trauma feels painful and our minds do a great job of protecting us by filing memories away from our awareness until we get into a place where we feel safe enough to look at those memories and do something about them. That is why it is confusing for people to discover that dropping into meditation, quiet or alone time will flood them with unwanted, somewhat baffling feeling states! When the mind is feeling safe, it wants to ‘help’ us integrate the traumas by bringing them forward. And, like I said, any experience that triggers the trauma memory will cause us to feel threatened. Our learned behaviour is to shove that pain memory back in its place by distracting ourselves. So, you see, it is a cycle. Something needs to change in order to break the cycle.
The Good (but hard) News – Breaking the Trigger Cycle
The cycle can be broken and the buried trauma can be integrated. And it may have to be repeated on the same trauma.
The process for recovering the memory of the trauma, working through it and integrating the experience can be a difficult one. It is best to be walked through the process, the first time, with trained Coaches or practitioners. People trained in TRE or EFT, psychology therapist, etc. I will not outline the steps here to prevent any mis-information, mis-interpretation or mishandling causing suffering.
Sally and I walked through her trauma experience and she was able to come to a resolution and use what she discovered from the past trauma to troubleshoot ways to resolve her current conflict. I have done the process often enough, that retrieving my memory and revisiting the trauma was not easy, but it was not as scary as it used to be and I had the knowing that on the other side was my freedom.
Getting to the other side of trauma is work, but it is so worth the effort. The butterfly emerging from the chrysalis is the metaphor that comes to mind. The work of getting out of the cocoon—the trauma that has you trapped/memories working to keep you "safe"—is the struggle necessaryto strengthen the wings that will enable the butterfly to fly. Stay in the cocoon and the butterfly disintegrates. Short circuit the emerging and the wings won’t fly.