One thing I must say, thankfully, is that I’m not triggered that much anymore. It’s rare. I was triggered most usually on the subway, and honestly, sometimes we are under attack. People can be extremely aggressive and we live in a society that promotes and valorizes winning and violence. The most important thing I’ve learned in all this is to get the hell out of the situation at the very first hint of possible trigger so I don’t have to go through it. It’s not worth it. Get space.
This has helped me remarkably. Before, I made up reasons I shouldn’t get out, but I get the need now, and I get out. Sometimes I thought it’d look bad or not nice and that I should stay put. Another, heavier, reason was a strong, righteous feeling of “but I have a right to be here!” undermined by a stronger suspicion that I didn’t, which increased my rage and enmeshment with the trigger. “FUCK YOU! I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE! I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE!”
When I learned to screw that, when I learned that getting space was the tunnel to freedom and clarity, everything changed.
I realize from the bit about your sister and cousin that you may use trigger more loosely than I do, kind of like a mindstorm of sorts that demands exploration, but not all out terror and panic. Either way, my words here are in no way meant to be condescending or negating of your experience and I hope they don’t come off that way just because my experience differs a bit—everyone’s does. I appreciate your candor more than I can say.
One thing I hear about “responding” to difficult situations in all sorts of modalities, from Buddhism to psychoanalysis, is to take space. Find the gap between trigger and reaction.
This is maddening for the trauma survivor because as anyone with the scantiest knowledge of the neuroscience of trauma can tell you, hyperarousal (trigger mind, aka, fight or flight) hijacks the possibility of such space. The brain literally turns off the prefrontal cortex and “lower” brain regions take over (see Herman, van der Kolk, or Perry). There is no “Let’s think about this rationally.” There is no space. There is only “pure survival savagery” as Kole so aptly put it.
No one who teaches “the gap between” particularly wants to hear this (yeah you, Nasreddin), so I taught myself to be very aware of how I feel at the earliest stages of possible trigger, and I get out. Then there can be a gap.
For me, I’ve never been triggered when I feel safe enough to go down into the emotion underneath the rage. In a way it’s a catch-22. If I feel that safe, I won’t be triggered in the first place. I’ve sensed it, the chaos and grief beneath the rage, as I mentioned in that post, but had to shut it down.
Yet I don’t need the “visceral experience of attack and trigger to remember the original environment of attack.” For me, trigger mind is totally negative and damaging (like dissociation is for you. I know my “trigger mind” is a little ambiguous, as I use it to mean fight or flight mode, but we can also be triggered into dissociation). As I mentioned in the comments of trigger mind, I’m well aware it’s not the trigger against me, that it’s me against me. But honestly, in a triggered state, this is even harder to face down. We are fighting against ourselves, always. It’s a battle we can’t win, so I try now as best I can not to enter it.
When I practice yoga, I work with the sensation and affect held in my body. This is where I meet the past and rewrite it. Because—did anyone ever tell me this? did I not believe them? or was not ready to hear it? or was it simply never said?—you can rewrite your flashbacks. You can neutralize horrendous flashbacks, and you can rewrite them. It is possible and sometimes even fun.
I love your mention of letting yourself be the age you were at the time of trauma, and before the trauma. Absolutely. This sort of regression, the tending to this inner part of myself, is incredibly rich and healing. She is alive in places I am shut down. Like most children, she teaches me and gives me a sense of wonder, strength, and faith in life. We heal each other.
There are different therapy modalities that deal directly with dialoguing inner parts of ourselves, like Internal Family Systems Model, but I’ve never done any formal work. She kind of presented herself one day without prompting, maybe after seeing some childhood photos, and we went from there. But yes, she’s very present in my analytic process, and she’s often there when I practice as well. If she wants to be.
“STAYING on the boat and braving the waters instead of going in the cabin and locking the door.” This is true for me in life at large more than in moments of trigger. Very difficult but must be done.
The Inferno! Perfect. Too perfect. I can’t believe it. If you haven’t, you must read Kalsched. In his second book on trauma, Trauma and the Soul, he writes extensively about the unconscious sadistic figure in a traumatized person’s “self-care system.” He calls the figure “Dis.” I almost reread the Inferno after this, but it’s been so long since I’ve been triggered into full hyperarousal, I didn’t want to encourage that mind state. But I know it’s there if I need it (come winter). He also writes about our addiction to it and reliance on it as part of our “self-care system.” I just finished note-taking his first book on trauma (The Inner World of Trauma, not as good but worth a read) as it was due at the library, and I want to share some lines with you that speak to your comment, but it’s late now and I can’t fit it in. Soon.
I’m not sure what to say about yoga, other than I get absolutely get not being ready. I’ve always been a physical person, always needed to move to release the tension. I did not start doing it to heal, but because it felt good. I didn’t really believe in “healing” back then. I thought I was over it, thought I was tough and together and had processed as well as anyone can process such a life. The yoga and meditation are what unraveled that armored self and the belief I’d gotten over it. Not the other way around.
When you feel ready, I’d probably recommend a class specifically for trauma survivors so you can avoid being the “special” one, though the accessibility and quality of the classes out there I can’t speak to. You may do well to find an excellent teacher who can give you a private lesson and design a home practice for you. The book Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga is a bit odd though probably helpful—the exercises are barely yoga, more similar to calisthenics I did in elementary school than what you’d find in the average yoga class. I’m not sure why we have to call any healing body movement “yoga” these days, but it seems to be the case. The West has traditions of healing movement therapies as well.
So, thank you Kole, for your amazing comments. They are really wonderful. Hope the sister/cousin processing went well, and I look forward to hearing more. xoAnastasia