Four Steps for Overcoming Runaway Emotions
Do you know the difference between having trauma or just experiencing something bad?
By the way the emotions stay in your body.
You can recall a bad memory without experiencing an emotional overload.
You do not do that with a traumatic memory.
Traumatic memories are in the wrong part of your brain, your limbic system, where the amygdala is located. This is the part of your brain that senses danger and activates the fight, flight or freeze response.
Trauma is not stored as a memory so much as stuck in your limbic system. When something happens that seems similar to the traumatic event, the emotions associated with that trauma are aroused.
Take, for example, when you were a child, no one ever believed you when you said you felt sick. Instead, they accused you of seeking attention. Say it got to the point that you ended up in the hospital, and your parents excused the neglect saying, "I didn't know! She never mentioned it." Many years later you you get a partner. You feel sick and mention it to your partner, who responds with silence. It would not be unusual for you to get triggered, to feel that your partner, too, doesn't believe you.
Another example can be having a parent who was an alcoholic. Life was good until dinner time, when anger and violence would eventually erupt. Then in fear, you ran and hid, crouched behind the couch, waited for the parent to pass out before you crawled back out. Later in life, every time you smell a meal similar to the one you used to have, your muscles tense, you start getting anxious, and you feel like danger lurks.
These are small examples of your emotions being stirred up because of the trauma in your brain.
Trauma therapy can help you learn how to identify these triggers. I have steps I teach all of my clients who experience triggers:
Know that you cannot control being triggered. You can control your response,
Self-sooth. THIS IS IMPORTANT. You should be practicing self-soothing techniques regularly as part of self-regulation. Use deep breathing, calm place, going for a walk, or talking to a friend.
Having calmed yourself, come back to the present time. Recognize the event activated in your brain (the traumatic event) is NOT what is happening now. This person, place, incident, words, actions, are not the abusive person, place, incident, words, and actions.
Reframe. Give the event a different interpretation. This is crucial. Failure to do this will keep you stuck in your past. Example: my abuser used to make me work so hard I felt like a slave; my present partner is not my abuser. If he rests while I clean house, it is not because he thinks I should be his slave.
Understanding triggers and learning how to manage them is an important part of trauma healing.
I will be starting a trauma group in 2022 to teach individuals how to deal with these issues and many others associated with trauma.
If you are interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-267-8207.