Triggered Abuse Survivors

I have a giant list of posts and thoughts that I want to share that will help pull us all into the big picture a little bit. Today, however, I’m going to dig into a single topic that is very specific instead.

I’ve heard from more than one woman that this election triggered the hell out of her. When I talk about “triggering” – I don’t mean the internet idiom “made me feel bad”. I mean it in the sense of memories and emotions bubbling up and squishing out sideways as a result of unresolved or past trauma.  When a past trauma is triggered, our emotional response is often out of proportion with the real events or situation. Sometimes completely out of sync with it.

The people I’ve heard talking about being triggered by this election are domestic and emotional abuse survivors. 

You can read lots of analysis that’s way smarter than mine about how Trump uses gaslighting. About how he uses physical intimidation. About how he minimizes people by name-calling or trying to shame them into silence. There are lists. Many of them.

I’ve seen a lot of the emotional reaction to this election be caused by these tactics, and our by individual responses to them. Like other aspects of shadow work, this is not something that’s going to go away on its own.

For all of us, it’s better to face it and name it. To call it what it is, and then tackle healing it.

If You Are a Survivor of Abuse:

  1. It’s normal and sane to feel triggered by the events of this election.
  2. You are not the only one feeling this way.

You’re not crazy. You feel a little crazy because you’re aware that your emotional responses are out of proportion with actual events. But you’re not. What you are is triggered.  I googled to try to find a solid list of ways to deal with triggered emotions, and they are all fine. But none of them really work for me.

My first step is noticing when my response is out of proportion with the situation. When I’ve got a full flight or fight happening sitting at my desk.  Many of us are triggered by people talking about the election or by news coverage of the election.

My second step is to take a break. Take a walk. Take a breath. Take a nap. I don’t hit send on emails, and I disengage from the active conversation.  If it’s just running to the restroom, I will do that.

If I have to, step three is to find a safe person to blow my top in front of and then subsequently calm down.

The key for me is to identify where the emotions came from – what was being triggered? How does this current situation bring up something from my past?

The final step is to look at the actual situation again, without the emotional charge of my personal arc. And decide how to respond (if at all).

I am making my mantra right now “Respond, don’t react.

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For The Survivors of Triggered Survivors:

We’re all swimming in a lot of emotional turmoil right now. If you feel like someone has responded really emotionally to a situation, please take a moment to recognize that there could be more going on under the surface.

Your first goal is the same – try to respond and not react. The worst thing that could happen in this situation is for you to take this personally. It’s not about you.  Take a deep breath, take the aforementioned walk.

If you can bring yourself to respond without taking things personally, the best course of action is to validate the person’s feelings. Listen. Practice reflective listening.  If this person is dealing with shame, try to offer empathy.

Honestly, deploying these tools in the interpersonal toolbox is very nearly always a best practice. In this case, however, these are really all of the tools you have unless you happen to be a therapist. You can’t fix what happened years before.

In reality, so many of the tactics abusers use are set up to make people feel crazy.  Just saying “You’re not crazy” can really help.

Why This Topic Today?

This topic has been written about for weeks by people with more knowledge and time to research.  Why have I decided that this was the most important topic to write about today?

I thought we could all use the reminder, for one thing.

The path  through feeling complicated is one of compassion and empathy.

What I’m asking of all of my friends and family is not an absence of their own feelings, but an honesty with them.  What I’m asking of people around me is to sit with the uncomfortable truths.

The fact of the matter is that this election is triggering people all over the place, and we need to acknowledge that and try to disarm it if we can.  Triggered people can’t behave with empathy or compassion.  They can only operate with old programs of fear and rage.

I’m not being all “love and light” right now, people. I think fear and rage have a purpose and a place.  I want it to be current and immediate fear and rage, not stuff from twenty years ago.  There is current fear and rage to be dealt with. To be acknowledged.

This is the first of many baby steps.

2 thoughts on “Triggered Abuse Survivors

  1. Pingback: Attention Matters: An Addendum and a Twist | A.K. Anderson

  2. Pingback: I don’t feel up to this task | Alicia K. Anderson

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