Sarafina Bianco discusses four triggers that make us vulnerable to old pain and offers smart, self-protective strategies.
Life isn’t perfect. Neither are we, contrary to the beliefs of some of us. There are times when happy people struggle and when struggling people are happy.
But what I’m talking about, more specifically, are the times when people begin to revert back to old habits, old ways of reacting—and become vulnerable, not in the healthy, open way but in the dangerous, unprotected way—because they’re unintentionally rehashing old events in their minds.
Sure, it’s easy for me to avoid some triggers surrounding me on a daily basis. If I don’t want to feel unsafe, I avoid the places my ex used to take me, where he’d pick up his cocaine. This is a coping mechanism I’d created on my own, and one I think a lot of people can relate to: we avoid people, places and things that lead us back toward trauma. My trigger example is fairly uncommon (thankfully for most of you), which is why it’s so simple to see that this works.
As a survivor of domestic violence, I’m far from interested in rehashing emotions I’ve tried for years to resolve, so I’ve worked very hard toward staying present. And while these factors were presented to me by my therapist just before I graduated from trauma therapy, I’ve found that paying attention to these has made everyday life much, much easier.
Because, quite honestly, these are factors every person faces.
This is probably the easiest vulnerability factor to discover and rectify.
We are naturally more likely to be pulled emotionally when we are hungry. In my case, I get hangry (or hunger-angry) if I’ve waited too long to eat. My husband likes to point it out when it happens, often adding “hangry” into our conversation so I’ll move faster to get fed. I don’t do this to myself (or him) intentionally, but I can’t always control when my body wants me to eat.
When I am hungry, my emotions tend to change and I become more vulnerable to be edgy, and—in turn—to be vulnerable to past feelings creeping into my psyche.
If carrying carrot sticks or your favorite go-to snack keeps you from being retriggered by traumas in your past, then pack a few and get on with your day.
There isn’t a person I knew who can tell me it’s easy to focus on one incident that caused their anger.
Instead, we start thinking about other things that have made us angry: our asshole bosses or a traffic jam that made us late for dinner yesterday. We’re all victims of the anger-spiral.
This anger can also bring up more than simple frustrations.
It’s important to remember that feeling anger is normal, but—as a consequence of our experiences—it’s also a normal factor in making us vulnerable. Finding effective ways to deal with anger immediately will make certain the ghosts of your past don’t show back up.
Exercise. Meditate. Do whatever helps you resolve your anger constructively, and then let it go. Otherwise we’re more likely to allow our anger to hurt us.
You can be lonely in busy places, so this isn’t something to look for when you’re alone. Instead, if you feel alienated or invisible, this vulnerability factor also applies to you.
In my case, I’ve made a list of people I know I can depend on to talk me through my loneliness: my friends, my husband, and my boss. Keep your list of people nearby, so when you feel alone you’re able to remind yourself that you aren’t. Then, dial the phone, make an attempt to be around others and beat your loneliness.
When children are exhausted, how do they behave? While most of us grow out of the tantrums and extreme displays of emotion, exhaustion still makes us vulnerable to retriggering any past traumas we’ve experienced.
The best way to protect yourself from this vulnerability factor is simple: get enough sleep. Be proactive in making sure you’re sleeping as much as you need, and this—typically—won’t be an issue. However, if you find yourself in a particularly hectic week, one where you know you’re not going to sleep as much as you need, then plan your sleep schedule to fit in as much time in bed as you can.
While most of these factors seem obvious, and they are, it’s not likely we think about how every day emotions and events (being tired or hungry or frustrated) can throw us backward in our healing or growth. Focusing on these can help us function every day.
Not only can working through these factors help you avoid past experiences resurfacing, but paying attention to them also helps you strengthen your ability to recover from the daily stressors we face.