By Sara Lambert
Many of the triggers which disrupt the
lives of survivors are apparently innocuous, everyday items - for
example, certain colours, animals, music, people (eg men with
facial hair). Because of this, it is crucial that survivors find
ways to deal with these triggers so they are not constantly
vulnerable to flashbacks, dissociation, or having a panic attack.
There are a number of steps survivors can
take to move towards disarming and reclaiming the triggers in
- Identify the trigger. This is the
hardest part. You may not realise you have been triggered
until long after the trigger has left your environment, and so
have to trace back through the minute details of your day.
Also, for many survivors, the attempt to discover the trigger
may set off further dissociation, especially if it is a
cult-designed cue which has been protected by programming. The
long-term solution is to keep a record of your changing moods
and dissociative experiences, including what was happening,
and where you were, at the time. If you are diligent about
this, a pattern will eventually emerge and the triggers will
become more apparent to you. You can also ask friends,
partner, therapist, and family to help you with this.
- Associate the trigger with its
original event. This will help you understand the specific
response you have and reinforce for you the fact that your
"crazy spells" infact have meaning, in terms of
being automatic responses to echoes of past trauma.
It might not always be possible, or even a good idea, to track
down memories in this way, especially if you are still not
ready to know the story of what happened to you as a child, or
if you are still intensely programmed to self-harm or suicide
upon memory recovery. This trigger association work is not
essential to the healing process, providing you are willing to
accept that certain objects/events have a powerful negative
effect on you, "for whatever reason". However, the
more information you have, the more powerful you can be.
- Begin desensitizing yourself to the
trigger. Do this very slowly, remembering at all times to keep
yourself safe and not push too hard against your defensive
barriers. Use a balance of logic (eg, this is just a spoon, it
can not hurt me on its own) and physical relaxation techniques
like deep breathing (to forestall an automatic panic attack).
If you can, reassociate the trigger with positive things.
Above all, remain in control of the situation.
Do not feel that you have to reclaim
the trigger quickly, completely, or even at all.
The following example from Caryn
StarDancer (SurvivorShip 1990) describes such a gentle process:
"I desensitized the colour red by having the inside of a
closet, in which I kept my stereo, records, and most loved
books, painted red. I could prepare myself to reinforce these
positive associations with the colour before I opened the door
to the closet. I could keep the door open or shut, well or
poorly lighted. This gave me a sense of control. Next, I made
pillows out of carefully selected, beautifully soft fabrics, and
moved the colour out into my room. Finally, I was able to fully
accept the colour back into my life on my terms."
- Choose what new role the trigger will
have in your life. Remember, this is all about you creating
for yourself the kind of life you would like to have. You may
want to be able to cope with triggering items, or even embrace
them wholeheartedly. Sometimes you will have little
choice about this. For example, I used to be profoundly
triggered by helicopters. Then I moved into a house directly
beneath the main emergency helicopter route, and had them
flying overhead at least ten times a day. If I didn't work to
disarm that trigger, I would have been perpetually a
On the other hand, you may decide that
some triggers aren't worth the workload - you don't actually have
to eat certain foods, wear certain types of clothing, or listen to
classical music. It's your choice.
Used by permission. http:///users.actrix.co.nz/tmspirit/index.html
you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you must
also get educated if you want to be effective. And you must
learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need to be
around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in pain
need people who will connect with them on an emotional
level, get right down in there where they are, and listen. --Kathleen