Coping with triggers

Today I have experienced an unexpected trigger.

Psych central describes a trigger as ‘something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma’.

Triggers are usually set off by something associated with one or more of the five senses – smell, sound, sight, touch and taste.

Today my trigger happened like this…I was out walking the dog when I noticed a parked car that had its rear passenger door open. As I passed the car I was hit with a new car smell that took me right back to being a 13 year old girl, stuck in the back of a car that was taking me to be trafficked.

The smell filled my nose and even my mouth and I felt like my breath had been taken away. My head was filled with the view I had as a 13 year old girl sat in the back of the car. I could feel the fear I experienced then as though it was happening to me right now.

As you can imagine this experience was extremely upsetting and completely unwelcome and unwanted.

Triggers can happen at anytime and are just one of the realties of life after abuse that many survivour’s have to endure. They are very open ended in that they can occur at any time after experiencing trauma and there is no way to predict how long a person could be affected by them.

I personally have accepted the fact that I could be affected by triggers for the rest of my life. This acceptance has gone a long way towards helping me deal with triggers as and when they happen.

So what can you do to help yourself after experiencing a trigger?

Here’s what I did today…

  • Immediately after the trigger I was able to recognise and accept the situation for what it was.
  • I then reminded myself that I was no longer a 13 year old girl in a situation I could not control, but an adult living a life of my own choosing.
  • I then practised gratitude, giving thanks for as many things I could think of that I am thankful for right now, today.
  • I then used some of my five senses to help keep me grounded in the present moment, focussing on what I was experiencing now.

After the initial fear and panic created by a particularly upsetting trigger has passed, I know that I am usually left with a deep sense of sadness that lingers around usually until the next day, so for the rest of that day I am mindful of taking care of myself.

For me this might mean taking some time to myself or reaching out to someone I trust. I might have a bubble bath, watch a film or read a book.

Today I have reached out to you.

I hope that my thoughts on triggers and how to cope with them will be useful to any readers who are experiencing them too.

Please do not suffer in silence. There are many organisations and counsellors out there who know how to help you help yourself if you are struggling.

Thanks for reading,

Love Zoe

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