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 You might also feel overly distraught, teary, angry, withdrawn, overwhelmed, paranoid, or panicked.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.
You can also rely on self-soothing and grounding tools such as:
These self-soothing tools can be combined or used separately to provide a path to integrate the displaced energies caused by the trigger. By giving yourself time to reconnect on the inside, you also give yourself respect and self-kindness.
Once you feel more in control, you might want to explore the origin of the trigger with someone you trust, such as a good friend or an experienced licensed therapist. You may also feel safe enough to explore the situation with yourself by journaling.
When I’m triggered, I lean towards quietness, nature, writing, and eventually sleep. I also befriend cheesy-easy sitcoms and simple comfort foods. Once I’ve regrouped, I can look more objectively at the trigger, its source, my feelings — and redefine my boundaries.
Finally, a whole lot of self-love helps too.
Originally featured on Being Known via Medium: Self-Soothing After Being Triggered
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."