It’s six years ago, during an early morning rush hour of people dropping off their kids at school, going to work, or just going places. The result is the kind of traffic that moves forward an inch per minute. It doesn’t bother me, every day is the same in LA. So instead of testing how long my horn can honk like the car in front of me, I start to think about what to make for dinner later.
My eyes are drifting when they catch something to my right that makes my whole body change in seconds.
There, in the line of cars getting ready to merge and join me side-by-side, is my ex-husband. My heart feels like it’s trying to beat its way out of my body; palms are cold and sweaty, and somehow my body has figured out a way to feel both numb and tense at the same time. Everything inside of me is screaming, find a way out!
Even though I knew I was safe in my car, my body didn’t, and it was trying to protect me.
This response, or reaction, was something I used to experience all the time, even from just hearing his name or being reminded by a memory. But not anymore, and we’ll talk about it in just a little bit.
What got me thinking of this was someone messaging me that they feel anxious every time they have to talk to their ex. Certain people- even situations that mimic or remind us about something we’ve been through- can have that effect on us. It doesn’t have to be anything like my experience. It could be a completely different person, relationship, situation, anything.
What we’re looking for are the similarities in the responses.
Was there anything in my reaction from 6 years ago, that you recognized? Think back to your experience with a person. It could even be a workplace. Did someone scream and yell at you? Was there a moment when you felt unsafe?
If there’s someone or something in your life that triggers you, even if it’s not as “extreme” as to how I described it was for me, then it’s happening for a reason. Something happened in your past that caused a survival response. And if you never got to complete that survival response, then you are still living with it.
The good news is that it’s possible to let your body complete this response and not get triggered anymore.
The first thing you have to do is acknowledge (without trying to rationalize or minimize your experience) that this person, this place, or this environment is causing a survival response inside of you. Yes, I know, it doesn’t sound like much but don’t underestimate this.
So many people never even get to this step.
Instead, they get stuck rationalizing and blaming themselves.
Maybe I’m the problem.
Maybe I’m too sensitive.
Maybe it’s something I just need to get used to.
This is a learned behavior.
If you think about it; what is seen as the norm in Western societies is really about getting you used to pain and triggers. Not moving on from them. Try Googling the word ‘desensitize’ – you don’t even have to finish typing the word before ‘desensitize your triggers’ pops up. So if you’ve been taught that the only option is to get used to your triggers and pain. Then over and over again, you’ll put yourself in situations that are hurting you.
But now, things are different.
Now you’re going to look at these responses you have and ask questions:
Where did they come from?
Why does my body feel unsafe?
And what can I do right now to take care of myself?
Even a small step like avoiding social media because you often see something that triggers you there. Or something bigger like telling someone in your life that you need a break from them for a while. Start somewhere so that you can move away from feeling overwhelmed, and eventually move to the next step, which is letting your body end the survival response once and for all.
Pewkayal (until we meet again)
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