After several months of positive, healthy progress and energy I have recently found myself emotionally tired. The heaviness of the burden associated with healing from and breaking a cycle of abuse reappears whenever my life gets too stressful or triggers are encountered and last month presented both of those to me. Over the past 15 years I have learned to process emotional triggers and then move past them but when I’m tired or under pressure, that process can take longer than I would like. I get impatient with myself and frustrated with my stall in progress.
The past couple of weeks have been spent in fervent efforts towards resolving these triggers and landing back on solid ground. I have dug deep to find the willingness to accept God’s unending, unconditional love and have had to work hard to ignore the voice of the adversary telling me lies about that love. My counselor helped me realize that shame continues to play a role in the story of my life – an erroneous belief that if I had tried harder I would’ve been able to change my family’s dysfunction, thus protecting my children and allowing our extended family relationships to remain intact. I can speak and write of the strength that comes from breaking toxic relationships with abusive family members because that has been my experience, but when triggers arise, beliefs that I held onto for 34 years of my life reemerge as well.
So what are we to do when this happens? I believe that there are three things that will set us back on the right track.
1. Acknowledge the source of the pain. For most survivors of abuse and trauma, our default response to emotional triggers is to revisit our sense of responsibility. We blame ourselves for not doing better because in our hearts, we only wanted to be loved and long ago we dedicated ourselves to doing whatever we could to make that happen. Yet now that we are adults on a journey of recovery we have come to a profound awareness that the way we were treated was not our fault, period. Healthy, functional, Christlike relationships don’t involve bullying, abuse, manipulation and denial. We are all born into families divinely designed to offer love and support and when that didn’t happen we were left with a profound sense of loss and betrayal. Re-acknowledging this fact is the first step in getting back on track in our lives.
2. Set aside time for processing and self-care. Life is busy and our resolution to emotional triggers isn’t always something that can be tacked onto a to-do list and checked off after the laundry has been finished, before starting on dinner. For myself, I didn’t have the time that I needed to process for three weeks after being triggered – but I knew that the time for processing and self-care was coming. I needed a few days and those days were able to start 3 days after my kids had gone on vacation with their Dad, after I had finished studying for and taking two big tests at school. When I got to that point I turned off my phone, shut down my computer and watched a few movies that I knew would break through the tough outer exterior into the center of my emotional pain. (Collateral Beauty, Lion, and Sully) Allowing ourselves the time to cry, hard, is the first step to processing. Good tasting, nutritious food, extra (not excessive) sleep, some time in nature and pampering are the necessary aspects of self-care that remind ourselves that we are worth loving.
3. Give it to God and start again. After the pain has been processed the only thing left to do is to give it to God and start again. We have to resist fearing that this momentary setback just undid all of the years of healing that we’ve worked so hard to achieve and we must let go of the things that we cannot change, especially the behavior of abusive family members and friends. The only person that any of us can control is ourselves and truthfully, the best way to have control of ourselves is to work hard, every day, to create a beautiful, healthy, meaningful life. When we choose to remain in toxic, abusive relationships and dysfunctional family systems, we remain in a never ending cycle of raw, triggered reactions. Triggers will happen, but we have a choice of how to respond to them when they do. We may not have the power to control our initial emotions but we do have a choice of how to overcome negativity and move back towards peace.
Life is a journey full of mountains and valleys of experience and emotion. The thing to remember is that I know myself better than anyone. I know what I’m feeling and I know what I need. That goes for you too. Remember that you’re not alone. One of the blessings of social media is that finding someone who understands is quite literally, just a click away.