(Related to the post “Let the trigger game begin!”)
I’m guilty of using the words triggered, trauma and emotional wound interchangeably although not being synonymous. For starters, here is my interpretation of the slight distinction between the three. A trauma occurs at the initial incident where severe emotional pain, that’s too much to handle, is inflicted. Commonly, this occurs during childhood when we haven’t yet developed the appropriate inner tools to deal with intense (emotional) pain. If there’s no adult around to guide and soothe, it’s likely the outcome is the child will put the pain on the back burner as a survival mechanism. But the distress within the child doesn’t vanish so we carry around our inner childs pain until it’s taken to heart to heal. Until this occurs scenarios reminding of the traumatic event will bring forth the initial pain even into adulthood. The whole body gets activated and the hurting felt as a child resurfaces once again. This “resurfacing” is referred to as getting triggered. So the emotional reaction is in relation to a past event not necessarily the current one that set it off. The situation simply served as a catalyst. This of course doesn’t appear to be the case for the unaware mind. If the original trauma is continuously not attended to it becomes a sore emotional wound that won’t patch up.
The inner link
The good news is the emotional wound isn’t going anywhere unless actively understood and healed. We usually get plenty of chances to break the endless cycle. Another treat is that if you choose to avoid treating your emotional wound, it’s like a repeating loop with the emotional trigger sensations getting worse each time. I picture the emotions like a child screaming louder and louder for attention until you finally pick up the call.
Personally, I’ve had to do several rounds of the same traumas before realizing I needed to change something. The main barrier I discovered was the disconnect between my mind and my emotions. The mental bit I got down, I know how to shift perspective and see the positive and then that part would attempt to steer the ship. Only issue is my emotions seem to have their own agenda giving the finger to the mind, rationality and positivity. That’s the trickiest crux; being a seemingly rational adult validating the inner childs primal reactions. The truth is emotions may appear to be illogical but it doesn’t make them less real or valid. I’m definitely guilty of viewing feelings as somehow unnecessary or in the way. Have you ever had thoughts towards your feelings like “ It’s not that big of a deal”, “I don’t have the right to feel this way” or “I shouldn’t feel this way?”. Step number uno in emotional healing is building a bridge between the mind and emotions, neglecting this link is doomed to reinforce the trauma (the child screaming louder).
How do you start healing?
There are countless coaches, psychologists and spiritual practitioners promoting all kinds of processes and techniques, trust me I have plundered through many. Usually it’s diffrent versions of sitting down with the emotions and unconditionally accepting them. There is one process I’d like to share. I heard about it from Candice Van Dell (check her out on youtube, she’s great!) and this is my interpretation of it.
Instead of sitting with the negative feeling in your body imagine it as a separate entity outside yourself. Placing the emotion outside myself neutralizes me and allows me to communicate with the feeling instead of being swallowed up by it. Start by simply listening to the emotions, and allow yourself to be completely honest and unsecured. Swear if you need to, be as politically incorrect as you like, it’s time for your triggered part to let loose. This can be done through writing, inner or outer dialog. After the feeling has vented, it’s time for your mind to step in and validate every single feeling. It can be as simple as repeating “I understand you feel this way” ,“its normal to feel this way” ,“ anyone in your situation would feel this way”,”This isn’t fair I’m so sorry” or whatever other mantra showing the feeling it’s alright for it to exist.
Continue by asking it what it would like. Is it support? for someone to apologize? To feel appreciated? Allow whatever answer comes up and truly articulate what you would need. And then you give that to yourself. That’s right, you don’t need to wait for someone else to give you what you need, take the power back. So, let’s say you want to feel less lonely. Then, finish up by soothing the piece of you that desires less lonliness. Inspiration for soothing phrases could be “I’m here for you” “we’ll go through this together”,” you’re not alone”. The point is to feel relief and through trial and error you’ll find what mantras work for you. This soothing is actually what the child needed to get through when the trauma first appeared.
The sort of self talk described above might sound like psychological mumbo jumbo but is proven to change neurological pathways in the brain. If interested, read the very well written article “The neurobiology of feeling unlovable” that dives deep into this topic.
Now this does not erase the trigger reaction immediately. It will, however, take the edge off and doesn’t appear to be as devastating. With time and dedicated attentiveness the emotional wound will begin to heal.