How to Manage Triggers in World that is Waking Up



How to Manage Triggers in World that is Waking Up

By: Holly Smith, LMHC | Senior Therapist/Clinical Coordinator

We have seen a recent skyrocket of awareness in the media regarding sexual assaults and sexual abuse.  We are truly in a chapter of our history where we are waking up to the reality of how sex is used as a method of control.  Whether it is sports teams, nude photo leaks, or the White House’s task force and recommendations regarding college campus sex crimes, it seems these issues are everywhere.

On a public policy and educational level, this is great coverage because it keeps us from forgetting that crimes like this happen every day.  On a personal level for survivors of sex crimes, this can be a constant reminder of what was perpetrated against them.

Many of my clients have recently shared with me how seeing these images in the media and on TV have acted as triggers for their own traumatic experiences.  Now that our society is less likely to remain silent in the face of this awful epidemic, what should survivors do to manage the increased reminders of their own experiences?  Here are a few ways to work with triggers when they arise.

Remember where you are – Just because something triggered a memory or feeling it doesn’t mean it is happening again.  Remember that you are safe now.  Get back in your body.  Drink something hot or cold, brush your hair, touch textured items around you, or lightly pinch your arm.  Your brain may need a reminder that it isn’t happening again so it stops releasing the chemicals that put you into fight or flight mode.

Call a friend – You are not in this alone.  If you can’t get back into your body and you need someone to remind you of where you are and how far you have come, develop lines of communication and support that provide this.  Develop a community with therapists, advocates, other survivors, family, or friends.  There is no award for suffering alone.

Distraction – Do what you can to remove the trigger.  Turn off the TV, leave the room, leave the conversation, turn off the radio, change the subject, etc.  You may not be able to control if a trigger shows up, but you are not powerless in what you do once you notice one.  Develop an arsenal of coping strategies that work for you.

The recent increase in openness and discussion surrounding sex crimes is a necessary step for awareness s and social change.  In some ways it brings in front of us feelings, memories, and triggers that we would like to forget.  We cannot work with something that we cannot see.  We can, however, use this exposure to move past our own traumas and “wake up” to an enlightened, empowered state of being.