Trauma & Triggers - My Article for Pipe Down Magazine
Trauma. It’s a weird one. Everyone has or has had some sort of trauma but not everyone realises that they have experienced it. Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. There is not a person on earth that has not had some kind of trauma. If you were to have the best possible childhood, with the best possible parents, it is likely you will still have experienced some sort of trauma. Even the process of being weaned from the breast can be a trauma; one that can perhaps be subconsciously embedded within oneself.
Similarly, the experience of being separated from ones parents and being sent to school can register as a trauma. Not everybody has had a terrible life, but even if you were to have the best possible life, you could still possibly be living in your day-to-day adult life, unaware of the byproducts of earlier trauma that you experienced in your childhood.
Trauma impacts the whole system in a physical, mental and emotional way. As adults, when we look at the issues we face in our day-to-day lives, it can often be traced to a prior trauma. Often these issues arise through circumstances in which we failed to gain resolution.
People can be quick to blame their parents for their trauma and don’t always realise where it is coming from. In some cases the trauma doesn’t stem from just one generation; it could even have been passed down through many generations. For this reason you should never pass up on the opportunity to ask your parents about their own childhood. Try to make your questioning non-threatening: ‘what was it like when you were five?’, ‘what was going on then?’, etc, and gradually let them unfold their childhood to you. Exchanges like this can give both parties a great deal of understanding. You may even be able to identify your parent’s trauma and how it has affected you.
Trauma is like a black hole that can suck you in if you are not careful, and getting sucked in – re-experiencing the trauma – can be a re-traumatisation.
In my case, trauma that was previously buried deep within my subconscious mind, suddenly appeared to be out and walking alongside me. BAM! It was like being hit by a bus. This is not an uncommon situation. People often report events or ordeals that have been filed away unnoticed suddenly being triggered. As these events enter your pre-frontal cortex they become inextricable thoughts and feelings in your present world.
So triggers. What are they? A trigger can be any sort of emotional experience that sends adrenaline to the brain; a childhood trauma, the sudden death of a loved one, a car accident, a divorce, or devastating news of any kind. A trigger is essentially our past calling us back to try to find a resolution. Everybody has triggers, not only the people who have experienced extreme trauma. Let’s say that when you were a child you had an absent father who worked a lot. One day you have an accident and injure yourself. You try to get your father’s attention but he ignores you and leaves for work anyway. The subconscious feelings you experience as this child are; ‘I’m unimportant’, ‘I’m invisible’ or ‘I don’t matter’.
If this event was to become a trauma that you couldn’t overcome later in life, you will end up attracting these very same feelings. To avoid these feelings in adult life we must find significance in the events that took place and rewrite them to improve our present life. Failure to rewrite these experiences means we are unable to let go of them and move on. In this case your adult self could attract a partner who makes you feel the very same negative emotions you have been trying to bury; somebody who makes you feel “unimportant”, “invisible” or “irrelevant”. Conversely, you may end up reflecting these emotions onto a partner who has no idea why you are blowing things out of proportion. The familiar scenario of ‘I can’t talk about this now, I’m late for work’ has a whole different meaning to the adult who was abandoned as a child and their over-reactive response to this may not be recognized as the trigger it really is.
Most of us, regardless of how ‘together’ we may seem, are dealing with all of these unresolved issues in our day-to-day lives without ever realising they are triggers. The adult in the previous scenario, for example, is not dealing with the fact their partner is leaving for work; they’re dealing with Daddy abandoning them. The secondary trauma is a reflection of the original trauma. Being mindful in these conversations and really listening to people can allow us to recognise this reflection.
Since writing this article I have added on this extra bit.
Another aspect of treating and recovering from trauma is to nurture greater capacities, greater strengths, inside that person. In this general way, while working on your own or with a therapist, taking in the good may be useful. You need to praise yourself, believe me when I say you accomplish many things every day, many more than you realise. However, they may be relatively small and easy to overlook, such as getting out of bed in the morning, getting your children off to school, going to the supermarket, or returning a phone call. You must notice these small accomplishments and be proud of yourself. Take the time to take in the feeling of achievement and success once you have done them rather than think of the frustration and failure of the things you have not done yet. Be proud that you have accomplished those tasks and hold onto pleasant experiences just a little bit longer, really let them settle into you. The more you practice this the greater the chance of it becoming a learned behaviour and becoming second nature to you.