Trigger, Trigger, Why Am I Triggered?

Trigger, Trigger, Why Am I Triggered?

Dear Beloved,

You asked, “trigger, trigger, why am I still triggered?”

All you heard was the siren blasting from afar, but it was enough to send your brain into the “fear mode”. You noticed your body tense up, heart pounding, and you held your breath.

It’s understandable, dear one, that even when you didn’t consciously think about it, your body remembered. The fear, panic, loss of control, anger, the need to run, attack, or numb away seem to come back in a blink, just like when it happened before. This is how trauma gets stored in our bodies, as Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his groundbreaking book The Body Keeps Score.

It’s terrifying and exhausting to live with triggers that bombard our nervous systems. You probably remember that time period after “D Day” (the discovery of your husband’s compulsive sexual behaviors) when you could not stay focused, were “so emotional”, and had trouble eating and sleeping. You vacillated between feeling “crazy” (why/how did this happen to me?) and wishing you were dead (so you didn’t have to deal with the suffocating pain of trauma). In a way, it was as if you were coming out of the rubble in the aftermath of a life shattering earthquake.

So, “What can I do next time triggers come?”, you asked.

Well, you can always take a few deep breaths right where you are. You may think it’s not doing much, but biologically, it is widely proven that deep breathing helps our body to de-stress by allowing air flow, regulating our nervous system into a calmer state. So, when you take a deep breath, different parts of your brain that control your sense of safety, emotions, and thoughts actually communicate messages like “I am not in danger”, “I am safe”, “I can relax now”. Practically, when you begin to slow and deepen your breath, you are redirecting yourself into the present moment instead of staying stuck in past memories. As your brain and body begin to feel more regulated, you will also notice yourself able to think and concentrate better.

Another effective way to deal with triggers is the “5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique” involving the five senses. Go ahead, take a minute now and see if you can see 5 things right where you are, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. By noticing and becoming aware of your senses within your surroundings, you are again grounding yourself in the present moment. With your nervous system in a calmer state, you can then assess “am I safe now?” and move towards whatever you need at the moment.

How do you feel now as you practice these simple grounding techniques? What do you notice in your body as your breath deepens? How has your thinking shifted as you name your senses within your surroundings? Even if it is a subtle change, you are making progress by communicating with your nervous system that “I am finding safety”, and learning to regulate these “danger signs” differently. While triggers are also associated with memory and you might need further support to create new meanings to them, you can always start grounding yourself with deep breathing and focus on naming your senses in the here and now.

“Trigger, trigger, I can deal with triggers now”, you said with a sigh of relief.

Yes, you can, dear one!

Cheering you on,

Coach C