When Emotional Triggers are too…
Emotional triggers can send you on a rollercoaster ride you didn’t want to take. Try as you may, sometimes they just can’t be avoided. You can try to avoid situations that you know will trigger you, but is that realistic? You can’t avoid every difficult situation, and unless you seclude yourself under your bed and away from people (which isn’t healthy or recommended) then it is certain there will be times that unpleasant, and sometimes strong, emotions will surface.
What is an emotional trigger?
An emotional trigger is something that causes you to have an intense emotional reaction and often it appears out of nowhere. An emotional trigger will pull you back to the emotions of the original cause of pain, even if you are not consciously aware of what the genesis of the injury is. A trigger is an emotional memory of a painful traumatic experience or event and causes anxiety and flashbacks.
For this post, I am going to talk about the emotional triggers that stem from childhood trauma.
Now you may think an adult should be over the traumatic experiences during childhood, but that is not entirely true. A child learns coping mechanisms to survive an abusive environment. They are too young and small to defend themselves and are unable to stop the abuse without the help of another adult intervening for them. Later in life, though the memories may have been stuffed deep inside, the coping mechanisms they learned follow them into their adulthood.
Emotional triggers are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs when someone witnesses or experiences a traumatic event.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition where you experience symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty controlling your emotions
- Feelings of anger or frustration
- Headaches, dizziness, chest pains, stomach aches…
- Relationship difficulties
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Destructive or risky behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
- Disruptive sleep patterns, nightmares
- Lapse in memories
The difference between C-PTSD and PTSD is that PTSD usually occurs after a single traumatic event, while C-PTSD is associated with repeated trauma.
As an adult survivor of childhood trauma from an abusive parent, I can attest that C-PTSD is a real thing.
I am going to be transparent and share a little bit about me, which is a huge step, and a sure sign of healing, because I no longer carry the shame or fear. Dear reader, if you are a survivor, please know the shame and fear is NOT yours to carry.
When we are in a dangerous situation, mentally or physically, we respond with fight or flight. As children we can’t always do either, we are too little to fight and too young to run. So we find other ways to cope. Maybe we tip-toe around to not upset anything, like walking on eggshells. Or we withdraw into ourselves and avoid the person we are afraid of. Children learn quickly when things are about to escalate and will try to either hide from the situation or appease the person (parent) to divert their attention to approval rather than retribution.
When I entered adolescents, I fought back with rebellion and then I took flight as a runaway. As a runaway I basically raised myself and I learned to mimic what I thought “normal” was like, by watching other people. I became a chameleon of sorts. The abuse I ran from I kept stuffed and hidden. I put as many miles as I could between me and my father.
The symptoms mentioned above… I experienced them all.
You see, we can naively think if we put the miles between what we ran from, and if we miraculously avoid all similarities of the past where we experienced the greatest injury, then somehow, we will be completely healed and never have to deal with those ugly memories again. It’s almost like a feeling of “it happened to someone else in another lifetime.” Can you relate?
But as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, so will those triggers. Then you find yourself in an emotional tailspin, lashing out like a drowning person in the middle of an ocean. The nightmares come back, the feelings and emotions crash in like waves, you will see something, or hear something, a certain tone of voice, or smell; and then Bam!
You function until you don’t.
I share my personal experiences when I believe the hell I went through and the hell I defeated (with help) can help someone else. I pray this is one of those times and even if only one reader can be encouraged, then to me, it was all worth it.
Healing is a process. I don’t know why people think we reach a magical age where everything is OK and it all makes sense. I do believe God can heal us instantaneously, but there is a path we must follow, a healing we must walk out. Emotional healing doesn’t happen overnight, especially when the wounds are from long ago and have scabbed over into a callous and then been buried deep into the back of our minds. We may not even realize we are still carrying an injury until that trigger pulls the first layer of the scab back and the infection hits us like a brick. But even then, we may not realize what’s going on or why, we just know we have suddenly plummeted into depression, anger, despair, self-doubt, insecurity, fear, shame, withdraw, and possibly all-out feelings of crazy. The instability of the emotions cause us to doubt our own judgement and make decisions that are not in our best interest.
Whew! It’s an exhausting cycle, isn’t it? So destabilizing. Everything and everyone around us suffer. We are suddenly faced with the reality of lifelong patterns of bad decisions in relationships, work, and life. Intellectually we may see a pattern and our insides are screaming… NO! But there we are, in a rut, a very dark place, and wishing someone could just save us from ourselves and the situation(s).
Let me tell ya, I’ve been there. It was like living in a personal hell, not trusting anyone, wanting to talk it out and feeling crazier with each word I spoke because what was bottled up wanted to pour out. I felt misunderstood, judged, and alone. Then I was alone, I stopped going around people. I isolated myself because it was just too darn exhausting to fake a smile and an upbeat personality that most expected from me, because that is the persona I developed; the always optimistic, happy go-lucky, faith-filled Christian woman.
I would beat myself up with berating thoughts of “I’m a Christian, I shouldn’t be feeling or acting this way!” I wanted to forgive someone who was not even sorry, but I was so stinkin’ angry and hurt. The feelings of betrayal magnified every emotion I was feeling.
If you are experiencing this, not everyone will understand. But let me encourage you with some good news, there is ONE who does understand, and He cares so much for you and He is strong enough to carry you through, even if you are kicking, screaming, crying, and snotting it up. You may isolate yourself, others may run, but He will NEVER abandon or reject you.
I was in ministry. I mentored and coached many women. My relationship with Christ was/is solid. So when God allowed the season of my undoing so He could build me back up, there was no one but Him that I could turn to. Sure, there were well-meaning Christian friends who I confided in (though the number is small) who had the Bible verse to give me, the prayer to offer for me, and the “just have faith” accolades, but they were of very little help and caused me to withdraw even more.
Heed my warning, alone is not where you should be when you are fighting this battle.
Who do the wolves attack? The little gazelles on the edge, by their self.
Dear Reader, there is another side and you can make it through if you are willing. Don’t give up. You are not defeated. You survived, now it’s time for you to thrive!
The emotional triggers are a signal to you that there is some inner healing that needs to happen. When you can no longer run, or avoid situations, then it may very well be a signal that now is the time.
Here are some practical steps you can take now to start your journey of healing.
- Get help! There are many counselors/therapists that are trained in the area of C-PTSD & childhood trauma. I wish I could say go to your pastor, but in honesty, not all pastors are equip to help you heal. If you do go to your pastor, be sure they are filled with His Holy Spirit and are able to hear God’s voice concerning you. This is not the time for a generic well-meaning pep talk. This is war, an inner war, a spiritual war, and you need someone who is partnered with Christ to fight with you and for you. There are many well-meaning, educated, and successful therapist out there, I encourage you to find a Christian counselor, because only God’s truth can bring complete healing and wholeness. Which brings me to the next step…
- Draw close to God. Don’t let your bad day(s) or attitude keep you from going to Him. Many days I would wake up and ask Him to help me get through the day without blowing it with an emotional outburst, only to end my day with repenting and apologizing for my emotional outbursts. Guess what? He never once rejected me. The healing process can be ugly at times. The Bible says He gives us beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). Where do ashes come from? They come from things that have been set to fire and burned away. Allow and trust the hand of God to burn away the uglies so He can apply soothing oil of healing. Pray OFTEN and read your Bible DAILY and listen to worship songs that glorify Jesus; worship does wonders!
- Don’t deny your pain. It’s OK to feel it. Don’t stuff it or hide it or medicate it with alcohol, drugs, or whatever you are tempted to turn to to numb your feelings. Face it and deal with it and give it to Jesus.
- Be kind to yourself. Pay attention to your self-talk. Our words are powerful! The Bible says we are to take every thought captive and to cast down any thought or imagination that exalts itself over the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Obviously, you can’t just empty your mind, you have to think on something, so think on what God’s word say about you. You may be surprised to know that what He says about you is different than what you, the world, and the people of your past, have to say about you.
- Have realistic expectations. You may never reconcile with the person who injured you and that’s OK. You may have to draw some firm boundaries and boundaries are a good thing. Sadly, not all abusers will come to a place of repentance. These type of people you must cut ties with. And here is a truth that is going to sting a little, you must come to a place of forgiveness. I know, it doesn’t seem fair to have to forgive someone who isn’t even sorry. But God can AND will help you do this…if you are willing. Unforgiveness will nurture the seed of bitterness and that will cause friction in your relationship with God. God knows what happened, He is not blind or oblivious. Forgive and stay close to God and trust God to deal with that person. You know you have arrived when the anxiety attacks stops, the nightmares leave, your joy comes back, and you no longer fear the person. You will especially know you have been fully healed when you can pray for that person to encounter God and come to a repentance so they can be saved. Healing is never based or dependent on injuring someone else.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, what we put in our body matters. You may be surprised what foods do to and for us. Keep a schedule, rest when your tired, but don’t sleep all day. Get out, fresh air and sunshine is good for you. Do something you enjoy. Be around people who uplift you, not weigh you down.
- For more tips and/or help and/or prayer, please contact me by clicking here.
Most importantly, remember you are loved by a God who sees. Life can be hard this side of eternity, but you are not alone. You do have purpose. And everything that was stolen from you as a child will be restored and you will have a beautiful testimony to share with others who so desperately need to hear it. You matter!
Be Free & Stay Free