I’ve been working in the domestic and sexual violence field formally for about 6 years. However, my experience with such things spans a lot longer time span. As such, I can’t help but view trauma, triggers, and our work from my own unique lens as a survivor.
Before I even get started here, I must say that I do not expect anyone else – fellow survivor or not – to think as I do on this (or anything else really). We often experience the same traumas in different ways with different thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Rightly so.
So let’s get to the meat of it now, shall we? My work and training have presented me with a bit of a conundrum: from a place of great concern and care, there has been a strong emphasis on avoidance of triggers – language, visuals, scents that could be triggering.
On one hand, I totally get this. If you’ve gone through a recent crisis your body, mind, and psyche can be completely overwhelmed and there is a need to create a calm, safe, atmosphere. It’s absolutely needed and this is a part of my work with clients.
However, who are we to assume that we know what the hardest, most triggering part of the trauma is for anyone else but ourselves?
Depending on a person’s experience, cotton candy could be the trigger. And we wouldn’t know to avoid it if we assume that the most traumatic piece of a trauma is the act of, for example, the sexual violence itself.
I can’t even count how many conversations I have had with people whose triggers are not what we would think they would be. Their triggers include things like: enchiladas, the Austin emblem, a particular bridge, or tone of voice. We even have a very popular store called Target. These kinds of triggers are unavoidable.
Inadvertently focusing too much on minimizing stimuli that we assume is the trigger can pull us away from being present with the person struggling in front of us. Which is not the intention at all, but it happens.
So, how do we work with this?
Just be humble and ask. Be willing to make mistakes, own it, and adjust in the moment. This is more than what this person may have gotten from their abuser.
In my experience, even if I don’t use all the right words, being humble, present, connected and flexible has been greatly appreciated. This is precious considering that they may feel like they want to run from their life due to whatever has happened.
And sometimes, too, not avoiding the trigger helps to bring it to the forefront to be acknowledged and validated – which may actually help to diffuse the power of the trigger itself.