Feeling powerless can be a major trigger for many survivors. So too is the feeling that your voice is not going to be heard or your thoughts are not important. The current coverage of the Sandusky trial (and the other stories that are sure to follow) can easily to give rise to these feelings. Since the start I know I’ve struggled with both these feelings and it’s very likely that a lot of other survivors and their loved ones will be triggered as well. As the Sandusky trial focuses society’s attention to the issue of sexual abuse, it is also inevitable that someone is going to say something (or not say something) that will send someone else into a spiral of anger, frustration, sadness, or even fear.
My hope in posting this information with you is to share a few things:
1. What does being triggered feel like?,
2. What can I do if I feel I’m becoming triggered and/or feeling overwhelmed?, and
3. What can I do to make a difference?
What does being triggered feel like?
Getting triggered does not give rise to a simple, uniform set of symptoms that can be easily labeled. Everyone (survivor or not) presents a unique blend of emotions and reactions to any given stimulus. But, if you find yourself struggling with more negative emotions than usual—anger, sadness, anxiety, bitterness, etc., if you are noticing that things that normally do not bother you are becoming stressors (for example, maybe you are more irritable in traffic than normal); and/or if you find yourself pushing others away and wanting to be alone—these can all be signs that you might be upset and need to take some time to rest, reflect, and exercise some self care.
What can I do if I feel I’m becoming triggered and/or feeling overwhelmed?
It’s important to remember a few things: First, all of these emotions are normal reactions to having a painful subject discussed. Outside of the therapeutic environment, where these feelings can be processed, there is a higher risk that these emotions can be destabilizing. If you feel yourself getting triggered (e.g. if you are having strong emotional swings, feeling out of balance and unable to focus, and/or if you find yourself more irritable and moody) and do not have a therapist to process these feeling I strongly recommend finding someone to talk with, even for just a session or two. Our resource directory is a great resource for finding people local to you. And if you do not see a therapist in your area listed, contact your insurance provider or the nearest rape crisis center and ask for help finding someone to speak to. As always, if you are in severe crisis or considering self harm and have no one else to speak to call your doctor, emergency services (such as 911), or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US or the Samaritans in the UK.
Hopefully, you can find some support and exercise “exquisite” self care during this time, as Dr. Howard Fradkin encourages us all to do. A few tips along those lines:
- Ensure you are getting proper rest. This is especially a time to make sure you are getting enough sleep every day.
- Try to exercise regularly and maintain as regular a schedule of self-care as possible: mediation, yoga, and working out are all excellent ways to disconnect from all these stories and get recentered on the most important person—you.
- Maintain a healthy diet—Again, this is even more important in times of high stress and anxiety. Simply avoiding junk food and eating a few more fruits and vegetables can make a huge difference to how you feel physically. As you feel better in your body, you will feel better in your mind.
- Try to moderate, or eliminate, use of alcohol and other mood altering substances. If you find yourself self-medicating to a greater degree at this time, it is especially important to discuss that with your doctor or therapist. And please, inform your doctor if you have increased your use of prescriptions.
- Perhaps most importantly—do something FUN. Regardless of whether you are a survivor or not, there is a part inside all of us that needs to be allowed to have some fun. Do a silly dance for no reason, sing a song that you love (whether you can sing or not), for example. And if you have children, make sure to make time for them and play a game or go for a walk.
What can I do to make a difference?
If you are looking for some things to do that might have a positive effect, here are a couple suggestions.
- If you feel an overwhelming urge to say something or do something—stop. First go for a cleansing walk. Take a walk around the block or get up from your desk and go get a glass of water. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths and try to focus on something calming—a color you like or the sound of ocean waves, for instance.
- Try to spend at least an hour each day with the TV, Internet, and radio (if it’s tuned to the news) off, and do not read or listen to any information on the trial. Find something else to focus on in your life. The most effective thing you can do at this time is make sure you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.
ONLY AFTER doing both of these things, if you still feel a strong desire to do something productive here are a few suggestions.
- Write an email, or better yet handwrite a card or letter to the brave young men who are testifying in the Sandusky case. You can send messages to Voices4Victims, which is working with the accusers’ attorneys to ensure that these messages of support are getting into these courageous young men’s hands.
- Spend some time doing some volunteer work for a community organization, preferably doing something wholly unrelated to survivor issues. There are a lot of people and organizations that need help and are being ignored as our attention is focused on these matters. Go improve a local or donate, give some time to an animal shelter, or donate blood for instance.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. (if you are in a large city, find your neighborhood newspapers) Don’t try to send a message to the national media outlets, the likelihood of your message getting through is much higher on the local level. That said, remember that the act of sending out a message should not be to get a response, but rather to feel empowered by expressing yourself. Keep any letters you write short and try to focus on statements of support for surviors who are testifying in court, and/or that resources such as MaleSurvivor are available to provide support for healing, and/or that healing is possible for every single survivor.
Lastly, here are two things that I strongly caution you against doing.
DON’T engage in debates or battles over the Internet in chat rooms, discussion boards, or comment pages. There are people out there who will not believe you, who will attack you for their own reasons, and who are just generally rude and immature. Fighting with them will not help you feel better. In addition, I strongly recommend that you NOT disclose in one any of these places. Except, of course, for the MaleSurvivor forums, none of the places are a community of healing where you are likely to receive the support you deserve and need after disclosing. This is true even if you have made great progress in your healing.
And maybe most importantly:
DON’T allow yourself to fall into despair. Having been in the courtroom for the first two days of the trial and seeing and hearing the first two young men speak with such courage and bravery I can tell you that something truly amazing is happening in that courtroom, and every single one of those brave young men has a great deal to be proud of. We have much to be hopeful about. It’s important to remember that healing IS possible for every single survivor and we are all, collectively, making strides every day. It can be hard to see the big picture that as awareness increases, so does the possibility of healing. And that, in the long run, is what will help all of us get better.
As always, please remember that there is a whole community of support at MaleSurvivor to help you as well.
—Photo credit: ST33VO/Flickr