If you’ve recently ended a toxic relationship, healing emotional trauma is one of the first steps to rebuilding your life and self-esteem.
You may already understand the importance of taking care of yourself after being the target of abuse. Perhaps you’ve even started a healing regimen, complete with guided meditations and energy healing.
But, in the path to recovery, trauma triggers happen. Sometimes these triggers happen because of something you’re deliberately doing, like checking out the Ex’s Facebook page or driving past their house.
If you’re doing those things, you’ll want to stop. Obviously.
But, sometimes trauma triggers happen that are absolutely out of your control. Maybe the Ex sends an email from a new account. Or, perhaps you think you see them in traffic. Worse, the Ex approaches you while you’re visiting your favorite coffee shop.
Suddenly, you’re triggered and your best friend isn’t available for a phone call. Or, it’s 1:00 a.m. in the morning and you see a text that was sent from your Ex who figured out they could use a different number to contact you – and you have no one to reach out to.
What do you do?
Following are seven ways to rescue yourself when you get triggered or are feeling especially blue – and there’s no one around:
1 – Calm your fear circuits with deep breathing
Although this tip may seem ridiculously mundane, the truth is IT WORKS. When you feel triggered, stop what you’re doing, take six to ten deep, long breaths. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Imagine that you’re inhaling white, healing light and exhaling fear and trauma.
This kind of deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to relieve stress and shut down the fight-or-flight response. Additionally, when we breathe deeply, we oxygenate the blood, which causes our brain to release endorphins. These endorphins help reduce stress in the body and decrease levels of pain, both emotional and physical.
2 – Lie down and listen to a guided meditation
Guided meditations help you relax while focusing on pleasant, positive images and affirmations to replace any negative, limiting thoughts. They’re also a super-easy way of achieving mindfulness, because they help you visualize a calming environment and achieve a soothed emotional state, rather than letting your mind go to internal chatter that is stressful.
Make sure you are in a place where you can relax comfortably and use earbuds or headphones for maximum effect. Keep in mind that guided meditations are different from the popular Zen meditation where you sit quietly and focus on being. Generally, Zen meditations won’t help in the midst of a trauma trigger.
3 – Be gentle and patient with yourself
Recognize that your overwhelming feelings have less to do with your Ex and more to do with feelings that have been living inside of you long before they came along. Your relationship just reminded you they were there (and made you feel worse). Once you embrace this, you can get to the root of true self-acceptance and recovery. You don’t have to know exactly how this will happen in the moment, only that you will begin your healing journey.
4 – Cut down excess sources of audio-visual stimuli
Survivors of narcissistic and emotional abuse are often Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). Add that to the fact that you may be experiencing elements of PTSD due to your toxic relationship and any excess noise or activity can make you feel much worse. Sometimes, without your even being aware of it.
To avoid stark feelings of loneliness, abuse survivors often leave the T.V. on while also browsing the internet on their phone or laptop and may leave other sources of background activity running.
The last thing you need during a trauma trigger is several sources of noise and visuals blaring at you. If you experience a trigger, go outside and take some deep breaths, then go back inside and turn off most of your electronics.
5 – Create a coping toolbox for times when you feel anxious, panicky, or triggered
Your coping toolbox might include any of the following items:
6 – Don’t give in to wild urges you may have in a moment of panic or triggering
Part of your healing journey should include self-control exercises and managing your emotions. Don’t act, try to sit with triggers until they pass. For example, when you feel triggered – such as after discovering more deception after leaving a toxic relationship – how do you handle it?
A: Blow up their cell phone with nasty messages, send them an email from Hell, get in your car and speed to their house or place of employment to confront them, and/or burn a pile of their belongings in your back yard?
B: You feel upset and betrayed but choose not to engage in drama. You write the incident in your journal and document the event in case you need to refer to it later. You realize that trying to get a sincere apology or trying to control events to make the Ex not be a liar is a waste of your precious time (and health). You choose a self-soothing activity and remind yourself that you have done nothing wrong, so there’s no need to feel badly about the bad choices of another person or internalize the event as meaning you are lacking as an individual.
You’ll definitely want to go with option B. Option A will leave you feeling angry with yourself and less in control of the situation. It will also keep you entangled with the person you want to be free from. Although ‘A’ will feel extremely good in the moment, once you recognize that you acted out of character, you may feel negative feelings toward yourself later.
7 – Recognize that you’ve been triggered
Perhaps it seems silly to say to yourself, “This thing triggered me and now I feel this way.” However, your brain needs to hear you say it. You must remind your brain that where you are now is more important than where you were then. Take an inventory of your surroundings and remind yourself that you are safe. Your life is not in danger, and your Ex is no longer a part of your life.
If you happen to be out in public and the Ex approaches you unexpectedly, walk hurriedly in the opposite direction, get in your car, and drive to the local police station in the event they follow you. This should put to rest any agendas they may have for stalking and hoovering. Then, practice the coping exercises in this article.
Copyright 2016. Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach
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Kim Saeed is a recognized relationship and new life educator specializing in helping narcissistic abuse survivors to heal, rebuild, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. In 2013, she founded Let Me Reach, a life transformation company that teaches people to flourish after toxic relationships.