By Deborah Schiefer
I am a trauma survivor and I hate the word “triggered.” See, social media and politics have taken a word that’s very real to me and turned it into something that paints me into a tantrum-throwing child.
But, friend, triggers are real and sometimes those of us with trauma histories really experience them. Some of us like to call it being “activated”* because “triggered” has been used in a way that does so much damage to the PTSD and cPTSD communities that it invalidates our experiences.
Sometimes, I experience this activation. When I do, it’s like the world or circumstances around me threw me back into the immediate moments surrounding my trauma or the secondary trauma** that came from it. I can’t think clearly. I need to survive.
I might freeze. If I do, you’ll think you see a mess. A mental breakdown. I can’t act. I’m not an unstable person, I’m just paralyzed by fear of what consequences my actions will bring.
I might run. If I do, you might feel like I’m pushing you away. You might feel unappreciated or like I blame you. I’m not truly running from you, I’m just terrified of what I can’t anticipate.
I might fight. If I do, you might think I’m aggressive and unfairly angry. You might think I’m taking things too personally or that my response is unwarranted for the circumstances. I don’t truly want to hurt you, I’m just scared about being violated or attacked by an unknown predator.
Friend, I love you and appreciate our relationship, so much. Your support means the world to me. When I’m activated – when I’m re-experiencing my past trauma – it might scare you, too. It might make you feel so many things. But will you honor me by helping to fight for me?
These moments when I’m activated will always pass. They won’t ever last forever and as I learn how to navigate them with the loving help and support of friends and family, like you, these moments will become less intense. I’ll grow in my ability to trust the people around me, in my ability to recognize my emotions for what they are, and my ability to manage the onslaught of physical, mental, and emotional sensations that come with activation and flashbacks.
The way I respond when I’m activated will sometimes be unacceptable. There are times I might lash out. I promise I’m working on this. I didn’t choose this but now I have to live it. I’m working so hard to be aware so I don’t continue a cycle of bleeding on those who never cut me. Friend, I need your patience, so much. Once the moment of activation is over, if I’ve hurt you, will you tell me?
If I don’t apologize because I don’t realize what I’ve done, can we talk about it? I don’t always recognize when I’m activated. I don’t always piece together that what I feel in the moment is actually related to trauma I’ve lived in the past. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’ve behaved in a damaging or unacceptable way because I’m so activated and in so deep, my mind doesn’t connect what my body feels. While I can’t be responsible for the trauma others have inflicted on me, I can and must take charge of my healing. I want to become more self-aware. I want to heal. I don’t want my trauma to rule my life and relationships. Friend, I promise I won’t stop working on my healing, but sometimes, I might need guidance to see where I need to heal.
In that way, you can become a piece of my healing. Will you do that for me?
When I am activated, when I experience a flashback of any kind***, can you help ground me? Bring me back to the present. Help me see that the danger I anticipate is behind me or that the red flag my body is recognizing in the present is something I can navigate. I am safe. I am protected. I am loved.
Friend, will you support me, trauma, brokenness, and all? Will you stay with me? I promise I’m healing. This won’t be forever.
* “Activated” is a term used by one of our team member’s therapists. I’m adopting it because I feel it honors us and our experiences better than the word “triggered” due to the social and political implications now given to that word.
** Secondary trauma can refer to the trauma that follows the precipitating event. For example, the primary trauma for a sexual assault survivor is the assault itself. Secondary trauma can include the process of reporting, being disbelieved, and/or any medical help that may be needed in the aftermath of the assault
*** Most people think of flashbacks as visual. The person experiencing the flashback is suddenly transported back to the time of the trauma and is seeing and experiencing it again. This is how they’re often portrayed on screen. However, flashbacks can include any situation that makes you feel like you’re in that place again. The person experiencing the flashback may not see their surroundings from the moment of their trauma but instead may experience intense smells, physical sensations, audio sensations, tastes, or emotions.
Inspired by a post written by Whitney Goldman, LMFT. You can follow Whitney on Instagram via the handle @sitwithwhit or on Facebook @sitwithwhitney