When I’m triggered, it’s usually because I’m already exhausted and my boundaries are overstretched. And then BOOM — there’s a trigger! It can be almost anything like someone raised their voice at me, or I watched a movie with a disturbing scene, and then I spin out, over and under, and into a messy crash landing, wondering what just happened to me.
Triggers provoke former traumatic or hurtful memories. Triggers can also be a warning sign to alert you when your boundaries feel crossed.
According to PsychCentral, an online mental health publication:
“Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. A combination of the senses is identified especially in situations that strongly resemble the original trauma.”
Triggers are like a taproot into the center of traumatic memories. We store memories not only in our minds but also somatically. Therefore, our bodies will react. We might feel sweaty, can’t breathe, get a wicked headache, stomachache, or any number of physical symptoms.
How can we cope?
When triggers happen, give yourself time to reorient, regroup, and reconnect. Calming yourself may take time because a trigger can send a person into a dissociative state.
A dissociative state is where you may feel disoriented. Nothing feels real. You might also feel overly distraught, teary, angry, withdrawn, overwhelmed, paranoid, or panicked. Allow yourself space to regroup and to feel safe.
There’s a side of me that loves to be creative. Let’s call her Ms. Creative. She’s passionate about writing, poetry, and music. A passion that dips, slips, and feels into the smallest canary-lined tunnels seeking creative air to breathe.
On the other hand, there’s a side of me that’s extremely practical. Let’s call her the obvious. Ms. Practical.
She has a clipboard (old school) with a schedule and lists. There’s a list for work, home, groceries and even a writing list of ideas that she somehow starts, then stops, and pushes those ideas aside.
When Ms. Creative and Ms. Practical meet up, it’s not always pretty. Ms. Creative is flowy. However, Ms. Practical must have order. The only flow, for Ms. Practical, is in her Excel charts.
“Pies are not for eating but for graphing!”
Ms. Practical is also demanding.
“Ms. Creativity, what is your end point?”
Depression is a hairy beast lurking in the catacombs of heart, mind and body. It can also be a masked smile that laughs and nods politely at appropriate and inappropriate times.
For some it is as if walking with 18 tons of sludge and still wearing perky purple sunglasses while performing all those normal activities — and yet rarely anyone notices the sadness that lies just beneath the dark blue horizon.
Depression can consume like the densest fog and thoughts can trail off midsentence.
Depression can also distract and be a masterful comedian to downplay the anguish battering around inside of a colossal dungeon of internalize criticism.
Depression isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Depression is very real. On a macro view just look at our world and how wealth is unevenly distributed while homelessness is begging on the street. People are marginalized because of their skin color, gender choices, and religious beliefs. That’s depressing.
I’ve been thinking about what is it that I do as a licensed mental health counselor. How can I describe what I offer?
And so, in my truest heart-space, I looked to nature for guidance and started to daydream.
Within minutes, two hummingbirds followed by two wild bunnies appeared. I watched and observed. All were playing and zipping in and around the bushes and trees and vying for the feeder.
Hopping, darting and exploring.
And I said to myself, “Oh my! That’s it!”
I am a sensitive creature and quick to notice as I follow the process of my counseling clients. I’m intrigued with what isn’t said as well as what is said.
I listen carefully as if I have two large rabbit ears twitching and sniffing the winds and I believe in their pain and stories that too often haven’t been.
I notice the tone of my clients as they walk, smile, laugh or shed tears.
I hold open space or circle it down to keep it safe. I let their voices rise or whisper.
Together, if need be, we ‘die’ and explore the depths of pain, abuse, worries, and fears. I feel images and see feelings and share what has risen.
We create a bond of sacred space where authenticity and trust can truly grow.
Sometimes we use art or music and let the spirit of colors and shapes and sounds speak what words can’t. Other times I’m reminded that questions don’t always have immediate answers; however, we wait together and explore to see what is your deepest soul’s truth.
It can be difficult to trust especially when we might have a backlog of antiquated experiences that tell us otherwise.
Those thought-process and feels that have a history of inconsistency in interpersonal relationships such as those voices that are triggered by: The Criticizer. The Scolder. The Belittler. The Power Tripper -- that is being on the receiving end of a Know-it-All.
When those landmines are set-off, it hurts; even by the slightest infraction whether it’s an eye roll, obviously being ignored, or a yawn when we start to reveal something important to us, and/or being talked-down-to.
A chain reaction may occur: this isn’t a safe person-place-or-thing.
Pulling back from those situations is one brilliant built-in mechanism of protection and setting boundaries that we’ve learned from an earlier form of survival. Some might even develop a creative level of intelligent dissociation.
But what’s next? How do we negotiate these landmines and practice new trust and relationship skills?
It has been both my personal experience, and as a therapist to honor and follow the lead of my clients. Often that means taking it s-l-o-w-l-y.
To build trust, one needs respect and to sincerely honor the person’s intelligence (when I say intelligence that goes way beyond school & degrees; it is the soul’s intelligence.)
Together we see-feel and go into the shadows with a fresh set of eyes and perspective. We untangle the knots and spaces in between to hear, learn and understand that: trust – is as fierce as it is fragile.
Trusting ourselves (inner intuitiveness) is part of the foundation and a stronger step stone to creating healthier relationships.
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."