What does it mean to be “triggered” or to have a “triggering” response?
Have you ever had the experience of hearing a joke, or something said in passing either to you or in a group and, rather than finding the comment either funny, interesting or barely thinking of it at all, it sets off feelings of embarrassment, guilt or shame? Or you suddenly feel angry? Or anxious, even panicked?
This is an emotional trigger response. We all have them, and knowing and understanding what our emotional triggers are, and where they come from, can be useful.
However, if you have experienced something traumatic in the past, you can experience a ‘trauma trigger’, meaning that something in the ‘here and now’ causes you to recall a previous traumatic memory.
In the case of the Harvey Weinstein story, the events being discussed in the media are ones involving accusations of sexual harassment and assault. If sexual assault or harassment is something that you have experienced in any form in the past, reading these accounts may have been traumatic for you, and as a result, these stories and reports may be having a “triggering” effect on you, in relation to your own trauma and what you have experienced personally.
This trigger response means you relive the experiences and the emotions connected to that traumatic experience, again, and in the present. . .
These responses may surprise you as you could have forgotten about your original reactions to the traumatic event, thought you had worked through them, or may not have experienced any noticeable trauma reactions initially, but are doing now.
Trigger responses can vary . . . It may be that your response feels “milder” meaning you have a “sense” of anxiety connected to your experience, or you’re feeling emotional about it in a way you haven’t before, or for a long time . . . Or your response may feel much more intense and you may be having flashbacks, panic attacks or nightmares.
How do I cope if I am experiencing this response?
First, you may be confused, anxious or even terrified by the reaction that you are having. It is important to know that being ‘triggered’ is a normal response given what you have experienced. It is not weird or strange, and you are not weird or strange for feeling this way.
Second, be kind to yourself. . . It is easy to become more distressed thinking thoughts such as “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I can’t believe I am still reacting to what happened” or “Am I bad / silly / overreacting to be having this response?”.
There are no limits or rules on how and when someone reacts to a trauma they have experienced. Trauma and the reactions connected to trauma are varied. Everyone will react in different ways, and at different times.
Third, If you find a news story distressing then, to the best of your ability, stay away from the news articles that you find difficult or you know to be reactive for you. Sometimes the idea that we should “force” ourselves to be okay following an event means that we push ourselves into things that we are not yet ready for. Again, this returns to the advice of ‘being kind to yourself’ and testing your boundaries only when you feel ready.
How do I cope with the physical ‘Triggering’ reactions?
If you are having physical triggering reactions such as mounting anxiety or panic attacks, “grounding” techniques can feel useful, as can breathing techniques. These can be useful for keeping you in the present and preventing you from feeling pulled into an experience.
Who can I talk to about my Trauma?
If you feel able and ready, speak to someone that you trust, but, if for whatever reason, it does not feel okay or comfortable for you to speak to someone you know, then there are several specialist services you can go to in complete confidentiality. In relation to sexual assault or harassment, the concern about not being believed can be a strong force that prevents individuals from talking to someone about what has happened, as can a concern that what happened to you does not constitute as abuse, assault, harassment or rape.
The following charities specialise in listening, support and advice in relation to anything connected to these experiences. They will believe you. They will understand what has happened and they will be able to provide advice and support to help you to understand the reactions you are having.
This list includes support for both male and female survivors:
Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline: 0808 802 9999
Support Line: 08 08 16 89 111
Phone: 0207 735 2062
Provides support and advocacy to women and girls who have experienced any form of violence. Main areas of specialism are trafficking, prostitution, sexual violence, housing and employment.
The Survivors Trust
A national umbrella agency for over 135 specialist rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse support organisations throughout the UK and Ireland.
Solace Women’s Aid
Phone: 0808 802 5565