You have explored your childhood emotional trauma, you have explored your triggers, and you have learned to reframe negative thoughts. You understand how your past experiences affect your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings today. You participate in mindfulness training regularly and engage in self-care continually. In other words, you have advanced quite far on your therapeutic journey to overcome previous difficulties. You have never felt better about yourself and you are proud of the insight into yourself that you have gained.
And then your new boyfriend breaks up with you and—BAM!—you’re suddenly having difficulty all over again. You worry about what you look like. You worry about fumbling over your words. You worry someone will see you trip on your shoelace. Your thoughts are a flurry. Confusion begins to seep in.
You worked so hard to overcome your childhood issues. You worked hard to reframe negative thoughts. You worked to learn good breathing techniques and implement them in difficult situations. But now you are face to face with the person you had long forgotten about. You look in the mirror and the person looking back at you says, “I’m still not good enough.”
Changing beliefs about oneself and improving self-esteem is difficult work. It can take months and even years to uncover, and reframe, cognitive distortions. Yes, you explored your childhood to learn the origins of negative thoughts. Yes, you learned to identify triggers and how to reframe irrational thoughts. Yes, your journey is on a new and healthy path and you feel wonderful each day. Whether it be good or bad, however, you are never without all of the events in your life that make up your history—and from time to time, history may pay us all a visit in ways we did not anticipate. We can become triggered.
A funeral can remind us of the long-ago passing of a loved one. The smell of cut grass can remind us of childhood days we miss. A song can bring about painful memories of abuse or trauma. A broken relationship may bring about buried feelings of abandonment. A new person in our lives may unexpectedly leave us feeling unsure of ourselves. We may suddenly become upset, anxious, or even depressed when events surface that bring about old memories and negative beliefs. We may feel we are reverting to old behaviors, thoughts, and feelings we had previously processed and moved away from, which can leave us feeling like we have somehow lost ourselves in the present.
We are never without our previous selves, no matter how much we may want to leave them behind. They may even visit us from time to time. From the words of a fellow therapist, when they return, say, “Hi, old friend. I know who you are. I know how you feel. Here’s how I can help.”
What to Do When You Feel Triggered
Healing is a process that has ebbs and flows. When you feel triggered, take the time to understand what triggered you and how you are reacting to the situation. What are you feeling? How is your body reacting? Do you have a “knot” in your stomach? Are you feeling panicked? Have you felt this way before? If so, when? Remember that when you feel triggered and old feelings and thoughts come rushing back, these moments will pass.
Review your previous therapeutic work. Revisit old ghosts and explore how they may be affecting you now. Explore previous feelings and how your current situation may leave you feeling the same way. Are there any similarities? Explore previous negative thoughts. Are you feeling less than? Do you feel unlovable? What in your history caused these thoughts? How is your current situation highlighting them again?
Review coping skills: reframing negative thoughts, deep breathing, mindfulness training, exercise, and other forms of self-care. We are never without our previous selves, no matter how much we may want to leave them behind. They may even visit us from time to time. From the words of a fellow therapist, when they return, say, “Hi, old friend. I know who you are. I know how you feel. Here’s how I can help.” Accepting yourself, past and present and all the flaws, is key to continued healing. Embrace who you are now … and who you once were, then.
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