No one is without a past. Therefore, no one is without pain. And what happens when our present experiences reinforce the pain of our past? We become triggered – meaning activated and disregulated. There is compassion for you that we cannot NOT be triggered. Our triggers are activating the part of our brain that is instinctual. This part of our brain means well because it is trying to keep us safe. Unfortunately, this instinctual part of the brain is separate from the part of the brain where there is logic and decision making. Bummer! All of this, the triggers and the lack of control around them, is VERY hard. Extremely hard. You are not alone! Yes, even therapists get triggered.
Thankfully, through the processing of our past traumas, and reparative experiences in our present, our brains can be retrained. When this happens, our fight, flight or freeze response is only activated when there really is TRUE imminent danger, freeing us to live a life fully present and with less fear. AGHHH. What relief! So how does all of this play out in our real, everyday lives? Below, I have listed our two most common responses to triggers. In contrast, I have listed the way we can redirect ourselves in the midst of our triggers to create new reparative experiences, where safety and comfort can create both healing and connection. I don’t know about you, but I get excited when I think about giving the fear in my brain a new narrative, that I am safe and loved, so that it can take a much needed vacation from hyper-vigilance and survival.
Instinctual Responses to Trauma
When we feel unsafe, causing fear and distress, we usually respond by:
Moving Away – an attempt to contain emotion.
Includes defensiveness, denial/minimizing, shut down, avoidance, numbing,
Intellectualizing, performing, placating, anger (pushing away), and withdraw to
something else more affirming.
Moving At – an attempt to control.
Includes anxious protest, accusations, demands, criticism, instructive teaching, anger (poking and pulling), and withdraw to take care of self/self-sufficiency.
Reparative Response to Trauma
Allows us to feel safe, building trust and establishing comfort.
Moving Towards – an attempt to connect to self, God, and/or others.
Includes curiosity, acknowledgement, vulnerability, shared feelings and desires, listening, holding what is, affirmation and validation, grace and mercy, and a willingness to be soothed.