There are moments when we experience an event, see an unknown person walking past us, are struck by memories which enter our mental space with no previous warning or we may even be watching or reading something – that suddenly, without any further awareness, leads us to be reminded of our most painful memories causing us to feel anxious and stressed. Traumatic events can have a severe effect on an individual and can take years to move through and even then, it’s more than difficult to eliminate an experience which inculcated fear and pain within you, it doesn’t disappear but we learn to live with it consciously and with strength.
We build enough awareness to know that we aren’t identified by one event and hold onto the idea that there are and will be experiences which are more valuable to keep close. It’s not uncommon to spiral down to imagining the extent of the trauma we experienced, it’s not uncommon to feel helpless and fearful again and it is possible to be reminded of it from time to time through ‘our triggers’ or ‘reminders’.
Our triggers almost convince us that we’re reliving the trauma all over again – and this can be increasingly distressing. However, with this said, we believe avoiding our triggers is the way to heal through the feelings and emotions which still remain amidst the experience we had in our past, but this is far from true – confronting our triggers which include the fear, pain and helplessness that comes about from reliving a part of our experience is the only way to truly heal through it. This does not imply that our past trauma becomes insignificant or disappears, it just helps one build awareness around the ideas of compassion, empathy and understanding towards oneself. Confrontation helps us make sense of our emotions, instead of invalidating them as ‘abnormal’ or ‘unnecessary’.
We tend to fall into a spiral of wanting to ‘control’ our triggers because we fear what we experienced, we tend to establish a false sense of control – giving less importance to the idea that maybe the feelings we experience from our triggers is a way for them to protect us and to warn us. We perceive triggers negatively, but sometimes they open a passage for immense awareness and growth. They open a way for us to heal and identify close with who we are and what we can do to build the understanding and awareness around the trauma we experienced and ourselves, maybe it’s a warning and reminder for us to forgive ourselves and let ourselves experience all that we’ve been denying. How can we identify and learn from our triggers? is a question we overlook drastically.
Places, people, books, movies, feelings, memories and emotions that reminds us of our past trauma is how we can identify our triggers.
There will be something which will inculcate the fear you felt when you experienced the traumatic event, there will always be an association to a similar feeling you experienced back then – when we’re reminded, it’s probable that we are reliving the past, but what reminded us of the event? is something we need to focus upon and be aware of. When we are aware of a similar emotion in association to an event, we must identify the reasons of the event that are triggering those emotions that we experienced amidst our traumatic event as well. It helps to name these emotions and what they particularly are associated with. For example – a burn victim can feel triggered by seeing the object which led their to scars or any particular object which derives heat etc.
It’s important to note that sometimes traumatic events are always re-lived by triggers, they can take place unknowingly, which is absolutely normal – it was a dangerous, threatening and fearful part of your life, they are bound to come as reminders.
The best way to identify our triggers is to actually acknowledge how we feel amidst an experience and ask ourselves why we feel this way – asking ourselves questions helps us become more aware of what we are feeling and why we are feeling it. It helps us practice confrontation instead of avoidance. “Seeing this person caused a sense of fear in me, why do I think this is happening? Do they remind me of someone or something from my past?” “Why is the news of someone’s death, who I barely knew affecting me? Is it by any chance triggering and calling out on my own fear of death?” – these are just a few examples but some simple ways to identify and be more aware of our triggers, but the point is there is always a reason behind our triggers. The more aware we are of them, the easier it will be to move through our trauma in bits and pieces with time. It helps us stay close to ourselves and find comfort in ourselves.
With this said, no matter how much we build on our awareness – having had a traumatic experience never gets easy, it never seems to go away and even though it is a part of us, it’s a part of us which helps us become more resilient, courageous, aware and vulnerable. It may stay with us but it does not identify our life ahead and who we are and are becoming.
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