Monday, August 15, 2011

~Mental Health Monday Guestblog~ Dealing with Triggers

Today's guest blogger is Allison, a writer for

Having a survivor for a partner can remind us of the beauty of the human experience; that regardless of the adversity of their experiences, they have thrived, living as beautiful and complex people, with a strength we can only dream of possessing. Still, anyone who’s ever loved a survivor knows that strength does come with coping mechanisms, and that there are scars that we can’t rub away, no matter how hard we may scrub. The good news is that it doesn’t take a psychology degree to understand how to avoid accidentally triggering a loved one. It’s important to know how to handle those scars, how to prevent the darker thoughts from being given power. Read on to learn how just a little bit of thought can make a difference in your partner’s pain.

A trigger is a psychiatric term that is used to describe an occurrence that will cause a “mentally unwell” period. These things can range from words spoken, to a particular kind of touch; even an odor or a taste can be triggering. They can be as common as the smell of a specific brand of soap, as rare a sight as a street sign in the town where they grew up.

*Are Inappropriate Jokes Triggering?
Joking about sexual assault, rape, or molestation can instantly bring repressed memories to the surface. "Jokes" about sexual abuse aren't jokes; telling one doesn't make you funny, it makes you cruel (whether or not you know you’re in the company of a survivor). The amount of mental effort that goes into keeping those thoughts at bay can easily be countered with an errant comment. The survivor is spending a significant amount of time in their mind trying to keep those thoughts from overwhelming them. So you didn't "rape" someone at Halo last night. Maybe you owned them, maybe you kicked butt, but to compare the impact of rape to the right combinations of left and right arrows is to depreciate the pain of your loved ones on what was likely one of the worst days of their life. Change your vocabulary.

*Avoiding Triggers - For Loved Ones And Survivors
Pay attention. Do you notice the way your girlfriend shudders when you touch her knee? If you see your husband pull away at a scene in a movie? If your partner is not ready to explain why they feel the way they do, don’t press them. Institute a "Red Light" statement. If they feel threatened by a situation, or if they feel a trigger around them, they can say "Red Light," and you change the environment, no questions asked.

A flashback is when an individual relives that moment of their life. For all intents and purposes, their mind is currently at the age that the trauma occurred. A 40 year old reliving a flashback of sexual assault as an 8 year old is essentially back at that point in time. Everything they are seeing and experiencing is as though they were there again, having it done to them again.

*Flashback - Helping A Loved One
It can be frightening or confusing to witness someone have a flashback. Do not try and pin the person down, grip them hard, or errantly touch them. Even an innocent hand on the shoulder can make things worse. Focus on getting their mind in the now. Talk to them calmly, take their wrist and wrap their fingers around an ice cube in their palm. The sharp cold serves as an anchor point to reality, where they need to be. Remind them what year it is, how old they are, any accomplishments they may have made as an adult, that they are in a safe place. Continue talking to them and be patient.

*Flashback - Helping Oneself
Many individuals will have precursors to an unwell period or a flashback. It is no different than the sniffles indicating a cold is starting. Common symptoms are a slowing of the thought processes and feeling different or off compared to how one normally feels. The two most effective ways to counter this are ice in your palm or loud music. Both serve as a stark, sharp reminder of what is happening right now, not what happened in the past. If neither is available, put yourself in a position that forces your mind to be in this time frame. A good example is a recent newspaper (for the date) or watching the current president on television.

*Letting A Loved One Into The Mind
A common thought for a sexual abuse survivor is to bring their partner or others into their mind so they can “understand what I go through”. In and of itself, this is not a bad idea. It will give them a better perspective on what the survivor is going through and what caused it.

The loved one of the survivor should realize that they are currently participating in one of the most vulnerable parts of that person’s life. It takes a lot for most sexual abuse victims to bring another person into that world of theirs. If they need to stop, don’t pressure them to speak. If they need a break, give it to them. Don’t be upset if they can’t share everything with you. Coping with that trauma in a healthy way is a far, far bigger issue than simple trust.

*Reasonable Results

Any problems involving the mind are going to be complicated. Everyone handles trauma differently, making a universal treatment impossible. The only thing that matters is getting those unwell periods under control so the survivor can attempt to enjoy the rest of their life.


Mitch Mckinley said...

Mental health problems are a little trickier to cure. Without the patient's cooperation, medication and therapy are bound to fail. On the bright side, there are health insurance plans that covers mental health sicknesses.

John Stevenson said...

This is a good opportunity for those older workers. The law states that they are entitled to these benefits.

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