Dealing With Triggers of AbuseJan 23rd, 2012 | By Christina Enevoldsen | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing
by Christina Enevoldsen
I’ve loved horror films since I was a child. Even though I wasn’t allowed to see them, something about those stories resonated with me and I managed to watch them anyway. Through them, I was able to express what I couldn’t even acknowledge to myself, the terror of a childhood haunted by sexual abuse. Scary movies confirmed that monsters really do exist, which I knew all too well.
The part that frightened me the most was watching the girl curiously walk toward the strange noises. Her companions disappeared, her candle flickered, and still she crept forward. I always squirmed in my seat, yelling at the screen, willing her to turn around, “DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!!!”
When it comes to healing from sexual abuse, I’m the girl determined to search out the mysteries behind the door, but I’m also the audience member pleading with the girl to run in the opposite direction.
I recognize that the only way to stop being haunted from the ghosts of the past is to confront them. When something triggers me—a smell, a person, a situation, a touch, a place, a word—part of me is a Ghost-Buster, hunting down the things that threaten my peace. But when I walk down the dark corridor of a long-forgotten memory, another part of me wants to run away.
Before I’m even conscious of being triggered, the child within me fights as though it’s a life and death struggle and screams, “You’re going to die! Get away now!” To her, the trauma is ongoing and the threat is current. In that moment, it’s not merely a memory, it’s happening now.
In reality, it’s not the yelling that hinders me, but something much quieter; the little girl in me defends herself in the only way she ever could—through dissociation, denial and repression. I crave food when I’m not hungry, I suddenly feel an overwhelming need for sleep, I feel compelled to clean or to do some other kind of work, anything to escape.
From her perspective, everything is bigger and more powerful so running away from triggers is the only option. That was true then, but that’s not true any more. Running away doesn’t save me anymore; facing the memories that are triggered is the only thing that can save me now.
My adult-self knows that if I’m triggered at all, I am ready to face those things. I may not feel ready, but just as my mind locked this away so long ago for my benefit, it’s unlocking it at this time for my benefit.
The things I feel are what I would have felt during the abuse if I had been “present” enough to fully feel. It would have been too much for the child-me so I hid the feelings away for another time. And the time is now.
Even if I mentally will myself to pursue what dwells in the shadows of my mind, all my senses tell me it’s too much for me. My child-self was all alone and never comforted during the original abuse and she (I) still needs nurturing support.
When I feel overwhelmed, I do things to comfort myself before I move forward:
- Deep breathing calms me. When I’m stressed I hold my breath, which creates more stress. Deep breathing gives me the nourishing oxygen my body needs and it helps me to focus on the here and now.
- Sometimes, I withdraw in solitude to feel safe and other times, I reach out to supportive friends. Alone or with someone else, I listen to myself with understanding and compassion and let myself be loved.
- I listen to my thoughts and feelings, whether they seem to make sense or not. Many times, I hear phrases that sound very juvenile. I recognize that they are feelings from the small child who never had a voice. Listening tells me that the things that happened to me really matter and that I matter.
- I write down what I remember. Many times, I don’t feel any specific emotions until I write things out. There’s something about seeing it on paper or on the screen that connects me to my feelings and I’m able to acknowledge them, express them and release them. Sometimes I can’t cry, but it feels good to moan or to rock myself.
Once I comfort my inner child, I take her by the hand and we go through the door together. She shows me the horrors that happened there and I verify that they are every bit as awful as she believes them to be. My presence in her pain and fear allow her to join me in the present and to see that the monsters are long gone and it’s only the echoes from the past that we’ve been hearing. Behind the door, I don’t find death; I find my healing and my life.
Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion.
Forgetting About Abuse: Who Does That Really Serve?
Why Was I Afraid of Healing From Sexual Abuse?
Dead Silence: Killing My Voice
Coping or Copping Out?
Finding My Lost Childhood After Sexual Abuse
My Fear of Being Alone
Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and four grandchildren.