What to do When You Feel Triggered

As survivors, we can get easily triggered by present day events.  It is easy to want to run and hide behind our televisions, cell phones and computers, etc.  But since we most likely already survived the worst of the abuse, it is okay, in fact great, to get back into our bodies to feel and fully live our lives.  That includes bringing real laughter and not just stress laughter back into our lives.

So lets say that a feeling of panic comes up, without realizing it, when we walked into the room the light was exactly the same as the light we saw when we were abused.  We feel anxious, we want to run, get away and our heart is pounding.

What should we do?  First of all, anytime that we notice an emotion that is way out there, we need to ask ourselves what was the thing that triggered that feeling.  It is easy to say, well we have a panic disorder but that is most likely not the truth.  The truth is most likely, that we are unconsciously remembering a trauma.

For example, one time I was living on a boat in Seattle and in order to have running water on the boat, I would have to fill it from a spigot on my dock.  It had been dripping for a while, so my neighbor trying to help out put a cap on my spigot, which would not have been an issue except when I went to fill the holding tank with water, so that I could take a shower, I could not get the cap off.  I was livid, ready to explode and go over to my neighbors and scream at them, “what the !?#%!  How dare you touch my spigot!  MY SPIGOT!  Who the hell do you think you are?”, but before I did that I took a moment and noticed that I was experiencing and extreme emotion.

I took a breath and asked myself if that really was an appropriate emotion for the situation.  And of course, I screamed back inside my head “YES!”

This is the problem with triggered emotions, we always feel like it is justified.  It most likely does not seem justified to the people watching us, but it does to us.  That is why if any time we experience an extreme emotion we should ask ourselves what triggered this response and what is something that I should have such an extreme emotional response to.

For me the trigger was the spigot cover being stuck and because I needed this water to take a shower, I realized that it reminded me of not having control over my body.  It reminded me of being grabbed, held down and raped.  My emotional response was appropriate for that.

Summary and action steps:

  • If you feel an EXTREME EMOTION stop and take a deep breath into your stomach.
  • If you are not driving get out a piece of paper.
  • Ask yourself what was the triggered.  (If you are not sure ask yourself what is the triggered and write down whatever thought come to you.  Let the pen flow without judgement or editing what you are writing.) Remember a trigger can be a word, lighting, a facial expression, scene from a TV show or movie, even the temperature of a room or things that occur when you are driving.  It can really be anything.
  • Then ask yourself what is something in my life that it would be appropriate for me to have such an extreme emotional response?  Then write down that answer without editing and keep asking yourself that question and writing down whatever comes to you.  It can be something that makes no sense to you such as “Mickey Mouse” or “wallpaper” but trust your unconscious mind and write it down anyway.  It may be a piece to your puzzle that was buried a long time ago for your survival.
  • When you are finished writing breath deep into your stomach and slowly read what you wrote, allowing yourself to feel any emotions that may or may not come up.
  • Read it at least three times slowly
  • Keep breathing deeply and congratulate yourself for becoming more and more conscious.

Every time you do this you are healing and you are taking action.  You may not notice at first but the more you heal, the happier and better you will feel.

About Amy Marschak

I am a survivor of sexual abuse and through my healing process I have written my one woman play "An Angel Cried A Tear Last Night" an autobiography of forgetting remembering and healing from child sexual abuse. I have toured this play coast to coast in the United States and Canada. This play has also run for four months in Los Angeles, toured universities and conferences where I have keynoted. I also lead a various workshops from healing from abuse to public speaking, you can read more about me at InspiredToSpeak.com.