Lying. Manipulation. Stealing. Silence and drunk people yelling.
These are just a few of the many ways that ACOAs can be emotionally triggered.
Although I identify with all of them, one of my biggest emotional triggers is connected to feeling powerless. And I was triggered big time, last week when news of what happened at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England broke.
I’m not going to rehash the details of that horrific event here because by now I’m sure you’ve heard them all but I do want to talk about being triggered by the event.
Now, please don’t get this twisted. I’m not trying to compare my abusive childhood to what happened in Manchester. No Sir! I know that what I experienced when I was younger pales in comparison to that level of terror.
Which is why it took me an entire day to realize that I’d been triggered. Out of nowhere it felt like my mood completely shifted downward. At one point I wanted to cry and even contemplated never leaving my apartment again and then later in the day I felt so angry I could’ve punched a hole in my wall. Overall, I felt this heavy sense of powerlessness. I felt there was nothing I could do or say to protect myself or anyone, especially the people I love, from getting hurt.
So, I tried to connect what I was feeling then to moments in my past where I felt that same frustrating level of powerlessness. And that’s when memories of my stepdad surfaced and of all the times I felt powerless in my puny efforts to protect my mom from his drunken rages. So many young girls at that concert were my age when I lived with my stepdad and I can’t deny that that also contributed to what I was feeling.
Regardless of your specific triggers, in addition to identifying them, it’s also important to know how to deal with them. And that’s what we’re covering in today’s post.
You’ll learn three simple strategies that will help you restore balance back into your life and your mind once you’ve been triggered.
After you’re done reading, I’d love to hear from you.
In the comment section, tell me what triggers you. And if you have a specific strategy that helps you get back to calm, share that too.
Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comment section.
Remember your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thanks for letting me get personal with you today:)
P.S. Triggers don’t discriminate. So if you know of a friend or family member that could benefit from this post, please share!
#1 Lean On Your Routine
Did you know that Wade Boggs, a former third basemen for The Boston Red Sox, carried out a very specific pregame ritual? For example, before every game he’d munch on chicken, practice batting at 5:17 pm, perform a series of sprints at 7:17 pm, and end by fielding exactly 150 ground balls. And every time he stepped up to bat he etched the word “Chai” in the dirt.
Whether or not Bogg’s routine was rooted purely in superstition, I couldn’t tell you but if you asked Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks what she thought she’d probably point to research she’s done on the anxiety reducing powers that habits, routines and rituals can have on all people from office workers to Olympic athletes.
If you’d like to learn more about professor Brook’s research, I’ve left a link for you below and I can tell you from personal experience, when I get triggered, I lean on my everyday routines to reset and restore balance.
This means, even when I’m triggered, I still get up when the alarm goes off at 7:30 am. I brush my teeth and pull my hair back into a pony tail. I head to the kitchen and feed the cats, I empty the dishwasher, I go to the gym, I drink my water, make coffee and I check my email.
There’s nothing special about what I do but following my routine and completing these ridiculously mundane tasks, while I’m triggered, gives my mind something solid and reliable to lean on. It creates a sense of order, it makes me feel in control and this, I’ve found, gives me the mental and emotional reset I need to continue with my day.
The beauty of leaning on your routine when you’re triggered comes from its simplicity. Who knew that the boring, seemingly mindless things you do in your everyday life could be beneficial in another way. And the only way to find out if it works for you is to give it a try the next time you’re triggered. Even if it happens in the middle of your work day after interacting with a co-worker, what simple tasks, that you perform every day, could you lean on to to calm and settle your mind?
#2 If It’s Hysterical It’s Historical
My therapist Joan used to tell me that if my reaction to something or someone was hysterical then that probably meant I wasn’t reacting to what was happening in front of me but rather reacting to something that had happened a long time ago.
So for example, another trigger that I struggle with is manipulation. If I feel that someone is trying to manipulate me to think or behave in a certain way then I get very defensive just ask Ryan, my husband.
Growing up, my stepmom mom was maniacally manipulative to the point that after I cut her out of my life I second guessed whether or not I could trust myself enough to believe that the sky was the sky. Many years of therapy have healed my gaping mental wounds but that doesn’t mean I don’t often get triggered by what I perceive to be manipulation even if what I sense is way off the mark.
In those moments when I’m on the defense, I have to remind myself that whoever is standing in front of me isn’t my stepmom. I have to remember that I’m a grown woman and far from a vulnerable eight year old little girl. Unlike when I was younger, I can stand up for, speak up for and protect myself now.
In an article for Oprah Magazine, author and life coach Martha Beck had this to say about the power we have in the present moment to react to our triggers in a healthy and more empowering way.
The smell of burnt toast doesn’t mean your house is burning down. An argument with your partner isn’t the abuse you suffered in childhood. Fire, abuse, or any other trauma may still occur, but you are different. You’re older, wiser, more capable. You’re free to negotiate life more skillfully than you could when that first awful thing occurred. You have options. You can stand up for yourself; express your preferences; get help from friends, counselors, the police. As you notice your ability to act on your own behalf in the present moment, the terrible helplessness and self-abandonment common to all trauma slowly yields to a sense of personal empowerment.
#3 Let Yourself DPT
Typically, around the discussion of triggers, we spend a lot of time talking about identifying them. But, I’d argue that it’s just as important to spend time doing some DPT or Discovering your Positive Triggers. And by positive triggers I mean anything that you do that brings you peace or instantly puts you in a better frame of mind.
Your DPT could be anything – reading, going for a walk, spending time at your local coffee shop, going for a long drive or hitting the gym. I know that spending time in nature is a popular positive trigger for many people but did you know that spending time near water or spending time in what marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols calls the “Blue Mind” is also quite effective?
The research is still in it’s infancy but many scientists are beginning to recognize the meditative and relaxing quality that simply spending time near water can have on someone.
For example, there’s a program in California called Operation Surf that’s designed to help wounded warriors recover from the trauma of PTSD. Participants in this water-based therapy have reported a 36% decrease in PTSD symptoms, a 47% decrease in depression and their overall self-efficacy was up by 68%.
Even if your triggers aren’t trauma related, you could still reap the positive benefits of spending time near water. Whether it’s a pool, the ocean, a lake or even your own shower, water could become your personal, positive trigger.
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