Not all wounds are visible – Surviving Being Triggered
The last few months have for me have been quite difficult in regard to my mental health. One side effect of trauma is silence. You get verbal vertigo. You lose your voice. I have spent the last 19 years walking out of and through trauma. Learning to find my voice. However, there are still many times when I trigger. Sometimes worse than others. The death of my father set off a cyclone of events and emotions. In the aftermath I found that once again I had lost my voice.
It wasn’t so much the death of my father. At 89 he had led a long life. Grief in itself is inescapable, normal and has a place in our lives. It was the lead up to his death, the arrangements for the funeral and the conversations that took place afterward that knocked my backward.
Judith Lewis says it this way: “Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.
But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.” ―
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom…a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
In the last two decades I have learned to build boundaries and cages to protect myself. I never learned how to build proper boundaries as a child so I have had to do the learning and unlearning as an adult.
Children can be taught at a very young age to build shark cages and this will help them identify as well as keep off predators in life. Some develop strong, impenetrable cages that allow them to live healthy, happy lives. Others are not so fortunate. These unfortunate ones may never build up enough bars to keep them safe from “sharks” or along the way, may lose bars when danger has presented itself (Hettwar).
Think of each bar of the shark cage as a boundary or a basic human right. It we are taught that its not acceptable for people to shout at us or call us names, that is one bar in the shark cage..if we are taught that its not acceptable for people to hit us, then thats another bar in the shark cage (Ursula Benstead). (see article on The Shark Cage).
I have learned that it is okay not to put myself in the way of harm. In the past duty rated higher than safety. This means that now I know that I DO NOT have to spend time with toxic family members, friends or institutions. I do not have to put myself in harms way. It is difficult to separate yourself from ‘duty’, ‘obligation’, ‘loyalty’, to family members and friends who are not healthy and who trigger you.
If there is one event that is difficult to escape, it is a family funeral. This means you are thrown ‘into’ harms way. You can apply the skills that you have learned in therapy. You can stand up for yourself when you have to. You can use the voice that you have recently found. Sometimes though it is all too much and too many memories and harrowing emotions are triggered and the tsunami engulfs you.
“Persons in dysfunctional families characteristically do not feel because they learned from a young age that not feeling is necessary for psychic survival. Family members generally learn it is too painful to feel the hurt or to experience the fear that comes from feelings of rage, abandonment, moments of terror, and memories of horror.”
For me harrowing emotions lead to silence. Shhh stay small, stay quiet, hide, don’t draw any notice to yourself. Hide your true self. Your true self is not applauded anyway so stay small, stay quiet. Hide on the roof of the house or in the dark musty dirt underneath the house. You have no voice, do what you are told, go where you are told. If you hide no-one can find you, the chaos cannot find you.
What does it mean to trigger?
A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback (source). A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic. It may also cause someone to have flashbacks. A flashback is a vivid, often negative memory that may appear without warning. It can cause someone to lose track of their surroundings and “relive” a traumatic event. Triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk (source).
Published on Jul 30, 2017
You can see in this clip how the abused can easily end up in co dependant relationships with the abuser which in turn often disables and destroys other relationships. Breaking this cycle is incredibly hard. When I came out of a fundamental religious cult in 2000, I started attending a large pentecostal church. This space ‘seemed safe’ but eventually ended up being another instrument of torture. I did not recognise the danger. Like the pole cat with the inserted cheeping sound bite. The danger sounded familiar and safe so I allowed it into my life. Fed it and nurtured it to the detriment of my own family.
Triggers follow me into deep sleep. I have recurring lucid dreaming where all sorts of nightmares are played over and over during the night. This means that I wake tired and triggered before the day has even begun. This cycle take a long time to break and is very exhausting. Normal activities become overwhelming. The demands of every day life feel like climbing Mount Everest. Demands of friends and family drain you and there is little relief. I would explain it this way. You have no margins. There is no extra safe space to absorb the inevitable ups and downs of daily life. Just answering a phone call can take all the energy you have left.
HOW ARE TRIGGERS FORMED?
‘When a person is in a threatening situation, they may engage in a fight or flight response. The body goes on high alert, prioritizing all its resources to react to the situation. Functions that aren’t necessary for survival, such as digestion, are put on hold.
One of the functions neglected during a fight or flight situation is short-term memory formation. In some cases, a person’s brain may misfile the traumatic event in its memory storage. Rather than being stored as a past event, the situation is labeled as a still-present threat. When a person is reminded of the trauma, their body acts as if the event is happening, returning to fight or flight mode’ (source).
Very few people understand the aftermath of trauma or what it is to live constantly with PTSD. You look normal, you sound normal so why can’t you be normal? You are funny, you are entertaining so why can’t you just get over it. “Let’s just talk about positive things they say”. I find these types of demands from friends the most draining. It is in the nature of people to shy away from ugliness and disturbances. They may have heard a little about your weird life or you weird family but do you have to keep going on about it? They have zero comprehension of the effort it takes day after day after day, nor the hailstrom of fire something like a family funeral throw’s at you.
Thank you readers for allowing me to navigate these feelings. For listening to my voice. I have found it impossible to write over the last few months. Maybe I am starting to recover. Coinciding with this season I am doing a small amount of narrative therapy. So many other layers of my childhood are being revealed, restored and understood.
Healing is a long and laborious effort but it has great rewards. I have taken refuge in creativity and beauty and have been blessed to work in an environment where my job partners with my healing. Thank you to my friends and family who do understand and who walk alongside me every step of the way. Especially my children who sometimes seem to know me better than I know myself. I am grateful for their love and support and I learn so much from them every single day.