Triggers and Flashbacks
Judy Byington, MSW, LCSW, ret., Author, Twenty-Two Faces:
Inside the Extraordinary Life of Jenny Hill and Her Twenty-Two Multiple Personalities
Do you find yourself avoiding triggers and flashbacks to memory of trauma from your past? Yes. Certainly avoid it… Kind of. Triggers and flashbacks to repressed memory is a normal process of a brain trying to rid itself of stress, but can destabilize your day and cause unbelievable pain. When you are ready to process the trauma in a safe environment or treatment setting, this overwhelming recall of abuse can be a force for healing. If the stress is addressed thoroughly and correctly it will help you move on with your life.
Overcoming fear plays a big role in the healing process. For one, abusers are known to control their victims through fear. They engrain silence into their victims through physical or emotional torture that often leads to low self esteem and even hate of yourself. The “don’t tell” programming especially with a child victim, can cause memory to repress. “You tell, you die, you remember, you will kill yourself” is often apparent, especially in ritualized abuse where perpetrators are trained on how to control their victims for a lifetime.
However once a survivor, the preferred designation (rather than victim) of one who has undergone severe trauma, does speak out about their horrid experiences and nothing happens, they learn it is easier to keep talking. Exposing abuse through explaining it to others, or writing incidents down in journals, can release emotional and physical stress that has been held within since the incidents.
You deserve to be healed. Push yourself to become whole again. Believe in yourself and your strengths. Search out and find your good points. There are other ways to look at your fears. Try to reframe them. Think of your fears as a stack of bricks that has been formed into an unstable wall in front of you. A wall that is preventing you from having peace and happiness in your life. Know that you have the ability to take down that wall if you work on it one piece at a time. Learn to talk with yourself about your abuse and the fears it created. Search out and find pieces of your fears. See them for what they really are: just words that control you. Don’t let them. Get a strong hold on those crumbling bricks and throw them away.
It’s OK to be angry. Bad things happened to you that you didn’t deserve. Understand your anger. There is always a fear behind the anger. Find the fear, process it, let it go, then don’t spend more of your valuable life thinking about the anger. You deserve better.
Accept your abuse. Don’t spend time wondering if this or that actually happened. The bottom line is that something occurred to cause the stress that in turn made it a problem for you. Memories that have been repressed may not seem accurate, but it doesn’t matter if they are or not because you need to process them in order to heal.
Be in charge of yourself and your therapy. Only you can control your own healing. Your mind will decide when it is ready.
Chose your therapist carefully. Don’t spend time, nor money, with one you can’t trust, who doesn’t believe your stories of abuse, who won’t treat you as an equal, who isn’t trained in your particular area of trauma, who tries to control you, who cares more about themselves than you, or who simply doesn’t care at all. Clinicians who have those issues are often unsuccessful. It’s your life, not theirs. You deserve to heal and it can be accomplished with a competent therapist. Find them.
As you begin the process realize that there will be a natural tendency to pull away from wanting to heal. The nature of fear is that you will be re-victimized and to mention or recall abuse means that it is going to harm you again. Don’t believe it.
Healing from trauma is a very slow process. If you want success you must be committed to stay to the end, which may take years. The most important aspect is to understand your feelings. Perhaps you have learned not to feel your feelings, or are afraid of doing so. Take a tiny step forward. Put one fear, then another aside. Teach yourself how to feel by washing yourself with emotions, whatever comes up. It’s OK to have emotions, no matter what they are. Other feelings are out there also and you deserve to experience them – love, happiness, the warmth that comes from reaching out to others.
Ridding yourself from the stress that trauma creates by processing your fears, triggers and flashbacks of the incidents will change your life. You deserve peace. Go for it.