What happens when you feel triggered? Maybe something someone says or does, on the news, on the street, in your home, at work eeks it’s way into your psyche and your body threatening to replay the repugnant details of a traumatic or painful event…
What do you do? Do you avoid it? Or do you find yourself suddenly at the mercy of your mind and body spiraling out of control?
The problem is, we don’t always have fair warning when something or someone is going to trigger the emotional and physical reminder of a painful experience, or worse activate re-living a past trauma.
We know it’s not healthy to re-live trauma. As one of my mentors Dr. Besser Van Der Kolk says, by re-living the trauma, your mind and body validates that there’s danger and a threat, even if there isn’t.
To some degree you may be able control what you take in on the media, but if someone shares their own traumatic event with you, it may inevitably stir up painful or uncomfortable memories or trauma of your own.
Whether or not you identify with trauma, I want to share a powerful tool not only for getting through emotional pain when it’s been poked at, but for healing trauma while you’re in it.
The common association to trauma is something that results from physical incidents, such as rape, sexual assault, physical abuse or other violations. But actually, trauma can be even more complex when it comes to emotional incidents that happen when we’re younger, which then get activated by things like a break-up that happens too fast and too soon, for you to be able to do anything about it.
With that in mind, you can use this tool for anytime you’re in a state of overwhelm, whether it’s post traumatic stress that’s been triggered, or an unresolved emotional wound that you may not be aware of.
The key is that you don’t stop or try to repress any uncomfortable sensations or emotions, but that you can off-set the overwhelm that comes with post traumatic stress with pleasant sensations in your body, to ground you. By off-setting the sensation of threat in your body, with a pleasant sensation in your body, the trauma can be releaseed in small, gentle increments without overwhelming you.
When you feel triggered, your body goes into a state of arousal, and your sympathetic nervous system becomes activiated. This kind of arousal is associated with threat or danger, so your body may react by shutting-down with numbness, or you may feel rage course through you, and want to fight, or you may be filled with adrenalin and want to get as far away from the situation as possible.
In which ever way you find yourself reacting, here’s what you can do to move through the overwhelm, and
1. Breathe into the sensation in your body that feels the most activated while keeping your eyes open. Then describe the sensation to yourself out loud.
2. Next, recall a time when you felt free, pleasant, happy or content. It can be as simple as recalling the last thing that went well for you that week, or something recent that made you feel grateful.
3. After you recall that moment, scan your body and notice the sensations when you think of that moment. Then breathe into that sensation in your body and describe the sensation out loud.
4. After you express out loud what this new sensation is, scan your body again and see if the sensation changes. Then describe out loud how you feel when you think of the pleasant moment.
5. Then scan your body to see if the part of your body that felt triggered, is still activated. Describe that sensation out loud.
6. Go back to recalling the pleasant experience. Continue to go back to the pleasant sensation and staying with that sensation by describing it out loud.
By going back and forth between the activated part of your body that signals danger or threat, and the pleasant sensations in your body, you get to release the activated part in small increments, so that it doesn’t overwhelm your nervous system.
These small internal movements not only help you to ground yourself and prevent you from re-living trauma, but it helps you to heal from trauma.
In Somatic Experiencing Trauma Release, this process is called “titration”. The pleasant sensation, or grounded sensation in your body, helps to diffuse and off-set the sensation where your body senses a threat, when there isn’t actually a physical threat.
This process also helps you to stay in the moment, so you don’t disassociate from your body. Staying present with the sensations in your body, without going into overwhelm is the key to healing from any emotional or physical pain.
If you’d like guidance through this healing process, I’m a certified Somatic Experiencing Trauma Release practitioner and I’m available for one hour skype sessions. Please feel free to contact me through my website.