Thursday, May 29, 2014

To Recognise our Triggers:

Photo by Jocelyn Wardle

I was standing in the kitchen, aged twenty, making a cup of black tea (one sugar, though heaped on top of a soup spoon). I could hear two of my housemates speaking in low voices, further muffled by the wall between the kitchen and their bedroom.

For some reason their conversation unnerved me. Up to this point (and beyond) this particular set of housemates had never given me reason to believe they would ever speak horrifically ill of me behind my back (I’ve analysed my behaviour thoroughly enough that I’m willing to forgive someone bitching about the fact that I lack seriously in my application to domestic duties). Yet for some reason, right now, right there, I felt that this conversation was significant.

It was weeks, perhaps months, later when I realised what had happened that morning, the reason I had frozen in my act of pouring water into a mug and ladling sugar into it in order to start my day. I had been transported, I had been swept back in time via a murky and inconsistent cognitive web to a period of my life which no longer mattered. For that moment, when my chest seemed to thump with extra adrenaline and my brain began racing with all the possibilities that barely-heard conversation beside me could entail, I was in another world. A Venn diagram of universes had encapsulated me and I was caught in the crux. My head spun, my body felt…strange to say the least, anxiety has a habit of exhausting its victims, and I closed my eyes and took a breath.

Perhaps I only let that breath out when I realised what had happened all those weeks (or months) later. When a collection of strange circumstances (a tweet, a blog post, a train ride and an inordinate amount of thinking) revealed to me what shadows were lingering in my mind: I had been triggered. I had experienced a triggering moment, and its isolation had been what led to my recognising it.

All it had taken to send me into panic mode was a muffled voice, a voice without words, without (really) even gender. Just something which contained enough of something to remind me of a past I had tried to leave behind, but which of course had (and still does) set the precedent for every action and reaction I have had since.


Recognising our Triggers:

To know and understand ones triggers is something I believe extremely important. Learning to recognise those sights, smells and sounds which might force us into a panic can be so helpful in reminding ourselves that our old lives, our old painful experiences, no longer exist.

I can only refer to my own experiences when it comes to teaching or understanding how I recognised the roots of my own triggers, but if Philosophy 101 and several hours spent with a psychologist have taught me anything it is that the soul, the ‘self’, the being (whatever it is) within us that is truly ‘us’ has an evolutionary process just as complex, albeit much faster, as the biological process of natural selection which put humans atop the foodchain[1].

Let’s call it, for the purpose of this writing, the ‘soul’ – it’s an easy enough terminology to understand, for me and for you – if we understand that the reason we jump when a cat pounces out at us from the darkness is because fear of furry creatures is a relic leftover from caveman times, then we should also understand why a muffled voice (or loud noise, disgusting rape joke, sound of chains being dragged along a floor, etc, etc…) scares us in order to understand our personal evolution.

The soul has evolved based on our personal/own empirical experience, our triggers relate to these, and we must recognise those triggers in order to remind ourselves that those past situations no longer exist.

Recognise triggers and then understand them.

Xo, Ellen

[1] At least, while we’re in big cities eating steak from ceramic plates. Put us in the ocean with a great white shark and no weapon and we’re right at the bottom again.