Not all wounds are visible – Surviving Being Triggered

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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.” ― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

“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.”
Kathleen Heide

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

There are certain psychological triggers that when activated, are so powerful, that not only does it force someone to ignore other sensory information, it actually also forces them to behave in ways that you would consider totally irrational. Listen to this to get a better understanding of your triggers. #psychology #psychologicaltriggers

 

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.

 

 

8 Comments on “Not All Wounds are Visible – Surviving Being Triggered

  1. I very much appreciate your post, I have been dealing with a similar situation- my family who appears ‘normal’ don’t talk about their feelings and have zero therapy, and don’t appreciate when I speak about my feelings. But years of therapy has taught me that I’m not in the wrong for expressing healthy feelings around them, even if they can’t themselves.

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    • Hi Lauren
      Thank you for posting your thoughts.

      It can be so confusing when it’s family. You have love for these people. You even possibly have good memories. But their influence and toxic behavioural patterns take you months to get over.

      It is just not worth it. I have found that the more honest I am with myself and with those around me – the better it gets.

      I can stop defending myself and state it like it is.

      Often in families we have designated roles we have to play out. In my family I am the saviour – the fixer the passifyer. Well now if it is going to destabilise me I just say no.
      Sorry – but this will adversely effect my mental health and I won’t do it anymore.
      The trick is learning about your own Co dependant behaviour.

      I have a very close friend who I use as a sounding board because often my interpretations of the situation are false.
      Xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like that.. counterfeit as a12 dollar bank note…. one of the things dysfunction and trauma does is rob you of your true identity. You are so right Lance. Thanks for the dialogue. Interesting as usual.

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  3. I often wonder how two sisters sexually abused in the same way by the one person can tell such different stories. One sister had considerable counselling and is happily married with two children and has a part time job. The other sister abuses alcohol and despite counselling relives the trauma on a regular basis. She is incapable of a lasting relationship.
    This was an actual case I studied. What would be your conclusion?

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    • Interesting case study Lance and unfortunately very common. In my experience education, IQ, reiliance and creativity make a huge difference. There are similar cases in my own extended family.
      I’m speaking with several friends who have suffered horrific abuse to the point of multiple personalities- we concluded that the creative ability was a huge factor in survival.
      One friend has survivor guilt – she survived a pedophile ring from early childhood. The other children kept in captivity are all deceased now.
      Possibly the ability to creatively dissociate and escape is what helps you survive.
      It takes courage and resilience to face your demons enough to get help.
      Most people I know either won’t grt help or think they don’t need help. It’s easier to repress.
      Not sure if this helps

      Like

      • I think you have nailed it Lisa. All those factors play a major part. I also think knowing who we are and feeling secure in that also helps. Abuse as a child was well known by me. However, as a follower of Jesus I discovered my true identity. I am the beloved of God. All those other labels placed on me by family and other people are as counterfeit as a12 dollar bank note.

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