We all get triggered. It’s completely normal, natural, human, and even animal, and it happens when we sense a worry or fear or impending threat. Our amygdala, located at the base of the brain, activates our learned bodily response, and game over. Our baseline has left the building. After listening to this podcast, Kourt felt that this wasn’t a topic we are all as familiar with as we should be… It’s a kind of game-changing awareness to better understand ourselves, and improve the way we move through the world.
What happens when that aforementioned trigger doesn’t represent a real threat or certain doom? What if, due to past trauma, we have harbored a reactionary pattern to a trigger that is disproportionate? Our poor amygdala doesn’t know the difference, and it’s not responsible. We have to do the work to free ourselves of these patterns.
We spoke with counselor and addiction and wellness specialist, Erica Spiegelman, to understand how to know when our threat response is accurate and just what that work entails.
“First of all, we have to identify our trauma and what it entails to change a response to a past threat,” Spiegelman starts.
“Maybe you respond in a very specific, conditioned way due to an experience you have had, and we need to make sure we know what it is we are truly fearful of! Trauma is the result of an event that created a negative emotional response attached to said event. Examples are death of a loved one, abuse (emotional, mental, or physical), a car accident, a plane accident, a bad break-up, divorce, addiction, or a natural disaster, to name a few.”
Right, admitting we have a problem is the first step, every time. But as humans, trauma happens. So we aren’t identifying this trauma so much as a “problem” but as a natural part of life that just needs a little recognition, awareness, and course-correction so we don’t harbor it, feed it, and let it grow.
Spiegelman continues, “If you feel an array of emotions around an event that happened in your life, that is normal. Your past trauma really isn’t the current event or experience, but your body and mind may respond and react to it as if it were. Traumatic stress affects the brain, and that is also why we can treat it, rewrite our narratives, see that we are not our experiences, and that recovery from responding to past threats is possible.”
We don’t need to guilt ourselves for having these disproportionate reactions. But remembering that trauma is a reason, and not an excuse, is key. It’s when we neglect the effort to recognize—through feedback with loved ones, etc—that we are harboring things from the past that unhealthily shape our behavior today that we do ourselves a long-term disservice.
Spiegelman tells us that the things we can do all involve practicing self-care. Therapy with a qualified professional, journaling to see that the threat no longer exists and isn’t real anymore—that it has passed and we have to move on—EMDR therapy, somatic modalities, and self-awareness practices are all helpful. Also, keeping a humble, open mind about your responses to your triggers is important for fostering a loving dynamic with an accountability buddy such as a friend, family member, or spouse.
“Also, physical movement, a mindfulness or meditation practice, breathwork, and engaging in activities that can challenge the traumatic event safely can all help,” Spiegelman encourages.
“I would suggest not engaging in recreational drinking or taking drugs, as that can get in your way of processing feelings and healing in the healthy way that we need when recovering from past stress responses.”