What are Triggers? How Can We Deal?

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Last week, my co-TBTN blog editor Erin and I sat down to work through the plan for Trigger Warnings here on the blog.

As we worked through this, I found myself comfortably able to admit — Trigger Warnings and talk of triggers? Kind of triggering for me sometimes.

Today, I sat down with an enormous stack of resources from an amazing ‘zine called A World Without Sexual Assault. There in, I found a section about triggers. The first time I scanned through the package, I attempted to read more. Almost instantly, I got through four paragraphs without reading a word. I’d drifted off into memories of super unhappy past experiences.

Today, I tried again. I have coffee, Fugazi, and strong friends around.

From the ‘zine A World Without Sexual Assault:

What are Triggers?

Triggers are things that bring up negative feelings, flashbacks and other related reactions. Smells, places, actions, sensations, body language, certain phrases or words — these are some things we might find triggering for us.

How Can I Tell if Someone is Being Triggered?

There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Be Aware of Body Language — if someone seems to’ve drifted off into space suddenly or become very tense or anxious, they may be experiencing a flashback. Maybe they have stopped maintaining eye-contact or are looking away.
  2. Note the Way They Respond — Has the person you’re interacting with stopped responding? Are their responses suddenly very short? Have they changed the subject? Have you begun to feel that you are alone in your interaction?
  3. Ask.“How are you feeling?” and “Is this okay?” regardless of what situation you might be in (sexual, conversational, physical, etc.). Note that those two questions could elicit very different responses — checking in can be vital to preventing triggers, however you go about it.

What Can I Do If I Become Triggered?

  1. Notice — Ask yourself: “What seems to trigger me?“. Ask yourself, “What do I do when I am triggered?” (See above for some references.) “How might others know if I am being triggered?“; Think, “What are some behaviours, thoughts and feelings I have when I seem to be triggered?
  2. Pause — Stop what you are doing for a moment. (If there is a smell that has triggered you, remove yourself from it; If you are in a place that has triggered you, consider leaving that space for a moment; If you are engaging with someone and they have done something triggering, even if it is completely unintentional, tell them you need to stop for a moment.) Work on thinking about ways that you can initiate these pauses — gestures, signals or words.
  3. Choices — Choose how you want to proceed. You can take as much time to figure it out as you need. Maybe you need to alter the situation, maybe you need to not participate with it at all anymore. (Some things I like to do when I when I feel triggered but am around other people, are: go for a walk (with them or alone); stretch my arms really wide; change my body’s position — get up and sit in a different chair or stand; tell someone and mentioned i want to change the subject; etc.) If you are triggered while interacting with someone, talking about it means you could create ways you can both be supported in feeling more comfortable.
  4. Engage — Sometimes “checking out” or dissociating (becoming mentally not-present) is what you need to do. Sometimes, instead, we can practice one of the strategies of Choice. You can build your capacity to stay present and work on gaining a tolerance for certain triggers. Taking a big breath, during the pause stage, think about the things that make you feel safe in your current situation — list them to yourself, tell yourself about why you appreciate those things. You can always change your mind, do something different, or stop what you are doing entirely and discontinue to engage with it if you want to.  Be gentle with yourself and continue slowly.

If you are interested in downloading the original, amazing package, as created by the World Without Collective in Melbourne, you can find a .pdf available: http://zinelibrary.info/world-without-sexual-assault-community-response-sexual-assault

– amelia

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