“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Victor Frankl
I am grateful for the recent research and the subsequent education related to trauma and our ability to heal. Finally, after years of creating silos of treatment for the brain, the mind and/or the body, the therapeutic community is seeing the truth: For healing to occur, the brain, mind and body must be integrated as healing occurs.
And now we have MRI images to support that reality.
Trauma occurs when you are overwhelmed by something outside of your control. It is a result of wounding. Whether the wounds come from physical harm or an experiential terror or a mental shock, the body responds in the same way. And the body remembers that response and repeats it over and over until the integrated healing of the mind, brain and body occurs.
What is so glibly referred to as a “trigger” in polite language these days, is actually the reintroduction of the past traumatizing experience into the here and now—even though no actual threat exists. But don’t try to explain that to a person who is triggered. Their mind, body, and brain are functioning as if they are in actual danger.
A “trigger” is an intrusive thought, feeling or behavior that is a distortion of thinking and mood that begins the trauma cycle. When “triggered, people retreat real experience and live in a disconnected reality of “then and there.”
This causes troubling reactions such as AVOIDANCE which often looks like non-compliance, fussing, helplessness, non-cooperation, dependency, and feelings of numbing. Or it can look like AROUSAL which generally takes a more center stage as anxiety, anger, frustration, and aggression.
Both responses are based on the disconnect from the here and now of the present moment and hooked to the then and there experience of threat and danger.
WHAT TO DO?
The most important thing to do when you or someone around you is feeling triggered is to PAUSE in order to calm yourself. There is no danger; a person is feeling endangered. Each of us has an opportunity to respond to the situation rather than react.
In that response is the space that creates the opportunity for healing.
Take a moment to PAUSE. TAKE A BREATH. LOWER YOUR VOICE. RELAX YOUR BODY.
Make sure you allow yourself to know what is actually happening and what you can do to bring awareness, compassion, and intentionality back to the present moment.
In the space of the PAUSE, you create the way forward for another who is “stuck” in an old pattern of reality. Through your calm, collected presence, you allow the invitation for that triggered person, who has lost awareness, compassion and intentionality, to connect back again into the “here and now” reality with you.
What has happened? How can I help? What do you need?
These are the questions that invite those around us back into the “here and now” and begin the process of healing.
About Elizabeth M. Johnson, LCSW, LMFT
Therapist and Clinical Director
Beth has been practicing individual, relationship and family therapies in the Indianapolis and Greenwood communities for more than 30 years. She completed her studies through Indiana University, including 13 years of supervision specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Beth also is an artist and writer and has a passion for creating art and offering creative opportunities for women.