People who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (not all of whom will have a diagnosis because mental health resources are scarce) experience triggering. Triggering is a process that takes you back into experiences of trauma. It’s very hard, through to impossible to get the resurgence of memory under control. It can mean anything from hours of revisiting terrible memories, unable to stop the flow, through to re-experiencing the trauma as though you are back in that situation and reliving it.
People become traumatised when they experience terrible things – violence, cruelty, assault, psychological torment… and when that becomes normal. A person can experience a terrible one off thing and not take massive psychological damage if it doesn’t then become part of their sense of how the world works. However, if you spend time in a literal or metaphorical war zone, it becomes your reality, and at some level it’s hard to feel safe after that, and so easy to go back there.
Traumatised people respond dramatically to things other people may think are no big deal. This can make it very confusing to deal with from the outside, because from the outside, it doesn’t look like a reasonable pattern of cause and effect. This can lead to treating the trauma survivor as though they are a drama queen, or totally unreasonable, or being unfair.
I have on enough occasions dealt with people who weren’t going to walk on eggshells around me and who weren’t going to be careful about not triggering me and didn’t see why they should have to. This, for me, is now a deal-breaker in a relationship of any shape. If someone doesn’t value me enough to at least try not to trigger me, it’s not a place I can afford to stay.
When a person doesn’t make sense, it can be hard to find empathy, or to work with them. It is easy to dismiss what seems illogical or out of all proportion.
After someone has been triggered, things can go one of two ways:
One: in the aftermath of the triggering they may learn that it was a reasonable response. They aren’t safe. They can’t trust the people around them. What looked ominous was indeed a real threat, and they were right to respond as they did. The normalising of the trauma continues. They learn that what they fear, is true.
Two: they learn that it was a mistake, and that the people around them care and want to fix things and keep them safe and help them feel better. The sense that traumatic experiences are normal and to be expected diminishes a little, and the world becomes a slightly better place.
The difference in these situations is the behaviour of the person who caused the triggering once it’s evident that there’s a problem. Do they add to it, or do they try to sort things out? Do they blame, shame, mock and belittle the victim, or do they encourage them and help them get back on their feet? Do they take careful note of the problem in the hopes they can make sure it never happens again, or do they call the victim a snowflake?
We have so much power over each other. So much potential for good and for harm. So often it comes down to whether we are willing and able to care about things that may at first make no sense to us.
November 15th, 2018 at 1:51 pm
What if a parent suffers PTSD and most everything is a trigger? Her small children cannot understand what is going on. These children cannot respond appropriately to the triggers and everything continues to escalate to the point that the children are gaslighted and mentally/emotionally/psychology abused. These children grow up to have PTSD and the cycle continues.
November 15th, 2018 at 4:41 pm
that is a really tough situation, and probably depends on the care and support of other adults who are able to step in. This sounds like something that cannot be solved between parent and child, but needs community solutions. I think too often we place too much responsibility on those whoa re in trouble, when the only possible answers must come from elsewhere.
November 15th, 2018 at 5:40 pm
November 15th, 2018 at 4:17 pm
Thank you so much for explaining this…it’s hard to articulate sometimes what is going on inside me and often I do feel racked by guilt for not being “stronger.” If we all had a little more compassion, this world would be a completely different place to live. Peace.
November 15th, 2018 at 4:40 pm
really glad it’s helpful. I hope you find ways forward that work for you.
November 15th, 2018 at 7:46 pm
Reblogged this on Helgaleena and commented:
I practice two therapies that can help PTSD to lessen, but it is up to the person who finds themselves ‘triggered’ to take charge of their response enough to seek them.
The first step Nimue describes, which is to avoid people who don’t react to your discomfort with compassion, is a good marker that such therapy techniques can help. Otherwise, the reliving of the trauma will continue until scar tissue forms. It may take the rest of one’s life.
Our world is getting more uncomfortable all the time. That is why it is so important to nurture and magnify peace, peace, peace.