Reacting to a trigger can lead to trouble. If you react in rage you could end up in a fight. If you react with flight you could end up somewhere worse, slip into depression, or a narcissist’s control. Freeze up and you are again poised to become a victim. Turn into the fawning people pleaser and you are everyone’s doormat. First, let’s recap. Trauma responses come in four types that we know of, Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn. I’m a freeze fawn meaning if I can’t make you happy with my massive people pleasing abilities I will freeze up and not be able to protect myself if you decide to hurt me. How helpful is being a freeze fawn? Not helpful at all. So how do we stop these reactions?
First you have to notice that you are triggered. If you can, get to a quiet safe space. Then you have to identify what has triggered you. Look at the last five minutes. Was the trigger activated by a scent, a color, a voice, a touch, a noise, a taste, a memory, or a though? When you’ve identified the trigger look at the thoughts that surround it. What are your thoughts telling you? Now listen to your body. What is your body telling you? Now comfort your body and talk quietly to yourself in a soothing voice. Comfort yourself as you would a small child. Take deep belly breaths and keep looking around to remind yourself that the trigger you feared is not here. Remind yourself that it’s a past event that is influencing the moment. You are safe now. Tell yourself that you are safe. (Now if you actually just saw your violent ex, hightail it to an exit. Do not stay were an abuser is. Even if they can’t hurt you now, their presence is detrimental to your nervous system and you need to get to a safe place.)
Here is an old example of me reacting to a trigger in the mall. I smell my mom’s perfume. I feel afraid and my legs are’t working right. I look around for her. I walk to a discrete location where I feel hidden. I straighten my clothes, and glance in a mirror while my inner voice says, ‘You really need to loose another forty pounds. She’s not going to recognize you now that you look so old. She always wanted to botox your forehead, even when you were a child. Your worry lines are out of control. Why can’t you just relax. Why are you so emotional. Stop being sensitive. Ok, you look crazy standing behind this sign thinking about dieting and wrinkles. Just buy something so the clerk will stop staring. Why the hell are you so weird? Just shut the fuck up and pull yourself together you dumb bitch.’ Often our inner voice yells at us using our abuser’s voice.
This is me after learning self compassion from Dr. Kristen Neff’s, Self Compassion Workbook. I smell my mother’s perfume, I keep walking and focus on my breathing. I practice common humanity by reminding myself that lots of people wear that perfume. I sit on a bench and scan my body, allowing my eyes to search the mall while I continually remind myself that I’m safe. I realize that my stomach is in knots so I wrap my arms around my stomach and focus on taking deep belly breaths while I repeat under my breath, ‘you’re safe, you’re loved, I’ve got you, God is with us, no one will hurt you.’ When my stomach relaxes enough I place my hand on it and gently rub the area until the muscles relax. I continue focusing on my breath until I’m able to get up and finish my shopping. If the trigger is big enough I might be too tired to keep shopping. Then I tell myself, ‘It’s ok, you have a right to rest. That was scary. I love you.’ No one needs to hear you talk to yourself. You can do it all in your mind. Just being present with yourself will help your nervous system calm down enough to begin recovery.
Listen to who’s talking in your head. When a voice isn’t yours it’s probably someone who hurt you. Your loving inner voice will sound like you. You can trust it. Get a qualified trauma therapist if you have been diagnosed with CPTSD. You are not alone in this. Many of us are struggling in silence.
I love you. You can live fully in the love you deserve. Your inner voice has the capacity to be kind.