Triggers Due to Trauma: A Journey of Recovery (in Progress) – by Deborah
[July 29, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
The following personal account was written by a friend who has survived years of horrific abuse. She hopes her experience in dealing with trauma will help others who read it:
My therapist and I have been down this road of healing from abuse for a while now. I have to be honest, I have had more than one therapist, since leaving my ex. In the beginning, it was the Houston Women’s Center, and then the books I read and later, a private therapist, specializing in abuse. Now, I am back to my books, until I can get brave enough to try again on finding someone who can help me go as deep as I need to right now, to deal with the gauntlet of emotional aftermath and navigate the slow and difficult healing from abuse that I have yet to do.
Triggers, triggers, triggers. My world is full of them. Those looks, sounds, smells, tones of voice, similar phrases, body language and situations that take me right back to the place of being pummeled, until I can’t recognize my own heart anymore. But it isn’t real, what those triggers are telling me. I’m not really in danger every time someone sends me a questioning look. People aren’t going to use my past mistakes like a laundry list, to pull out when I mess up again in life, just because he did.
What’s real is that when I experience these things that would be normal life interactions for anyone who hasn’t been under the evil of abuse, and I don’t react in a normal way to them. I want to crawl into a hole and hide. If someone says a phrase he used to use, uses a tone of voice that he did when I was about to really get it, touches me how he used to….it all triggers. I hate triggers. They scare me, they confuse me, they drive me into an emotional corner and when I am overtaken by them, I’m like a scared animal. It’s fight or flight at that point. I have to leave or I have to defend myself. I can’t get hurt that way again.
My life used to be full of pretending. Pretending the abuse wasn’t happening. Dissociating is what my range of therapists call it, because whenever the abuse would happen, I would mentally and sometimes physically just run away. Sometimes that meant losing myself in a movie, or books or into focusing completely on caring for my children or those that I worked with at church. Sometimes it meant imagining I was somewhere else, often retreating into my childhood memories, where things were safe. Dissociating was all about finding a place to be safe for a while, until he calmed down. It was my survival. It meant I didn’t have to face the abuse anymore. It covered for my abuser, denied the existence of abuse and kept me there, in it for 17 years.
But one day, a few months after I finally did leave, I had my first trigger. And then came another, and another and another, until I was so overwhelmed with them, I thought I was going crazy. What made it even worse, for them and for me, is that it has almost always been the people I am closest to, that trigger me. They got and get the brunt of my pain and fear, and as I deal with the aftershock and evil of abuse, so do they.
My team of therapists called that the beginning of healing. Huh? How in the world is that healing??? They told me that my mind finally felt safe enough to allow the memories of the abuse that had been blocked for so long by my old friend, dissociation, to surface, so that they can be understood (processed) and dealt with, to allow me that to heal. Once I began facing the abuse and dealing with it, the triggers would gradually disappear. This was the promise and the hope. So, I wasn’t going insane? Evidently not. But it did mean that I had a lot of work in front of me.
I have spent the past year and a half since then, learning to identify my triggers, and recognize new ones, as they come up (usually accompanied by new memories from my trauma). I have been able to deal with some of them and others, the hardest ones, I am still struggling with and battling hard to handle.
When they come, I flood with overpowering emotion (therapists appropriately call it “flooding”) and I can’t think straight. I am terrified, and I go right back to that fight or flight, like a cornered animal who has been hurt by humans all its life. Now at this point, I have a choice. I can choose to get defensive, and over-react to whatever or whoever is causing my trigger. I have done that, and wrongly so. I don’t want to react out of my pain, and cause the people I love pain, in the process. That is wrong.
It’s like teaching a dog, who has been abused all its life, to trust again. That dog needs to express feelings and you should not deny that dog’s past pain and current struggle, but at the same time, the dog has to learn not to lash out and bite, out of fear. Its fear can not be used to justify the biting, but the fear is very real, and it has to be healed, if the dog is to ever trust again.
My ex tried to manage my fear, by beating me down further. Some people since then, have tried to cage it up and restrict all of my emotions, in hopes that the fear would not be able to surface again. Both were not good. Like that dog, I need to be able to have and feel my feelings and emotions. Emotions aren’t bad things, like my ex-husband used to tell me they are. But when they become so dominating that they cause me to bite at someone else, that’s when they need to be managed, until I can calm down, and think clearly again.
What I have realized, just recently, is that it’s not in the weak moments, those trigger filled bonfires of emotional times, that I can heal. In those moments, I just need to rein in my emotions and learn to manage them. Those are the times that I just need to find a way to tell my loved ones that I am triggering and then walk away from whatever or whoever has triggered me and breathe, and read my Bible and pray, until God and I can calm the flood that has overtaken me. Those are not the times to talk through my trauma. All that does is exacerbate the emotional tidal wave that has already swept me under the water and makes it impossible for me to surface and breathe or come out of my trigger without biting.
I have to learn to hold off on dealing with the trauma, until those strong times, when I am not triggering. Those are the times when the work of healing happens. It’s in working through my trauma when I am strong and able to face the ugliness of the abuse, that I can reduce my triggers when I am weak, not the opposite way around. The work that creates positive change happens in the strong times, and the change flows through by decreasing the amount and intensity of the weak, trigger consuming times. So when I trigger, I have to hold to God, find His strength and rest in it, and then use the courage that He gave me when I left my abuser, to work as hard as I can in my strong times, toward healing, understanding and resolution of my trauma.
The sea of trauma is huge, the waves are rough and I often feel like I will drown, but I have a God who can walk on water and I know that If I keep my eyes on Him, one day, I will be able to walk on it too.
(Judges 5:12a ESV) “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song!
[July 29, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to July 29, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (July 29, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
- Posted in: Victims
- Tagged: awakening moments, courage, Deborah, emotional abuse, fear, getting free, guest post, neuroplasticity, recovery, survivors' stories, triggers
Really appreciate this article– beautifully written.
I never heard the term, ‘triggers,’ until well after I left. My first panic attack occurred a couple of weeks after leaving in the hardware store where I (literally) could not walk through the tool section. So many painful things happened at the hardware store– being forced to go with him then interrogated on my knowledge of power tools so he could mock how useless and incompetent I was, watching his back getting further and further away left me behind in the store pretending he didn’t know who I was and not wanting to be seen with me, standing in the tool section with my cell phone plastered to my ear trying to buy a drill bit knowing full well that, even calling him to double check, I’d buy the wrong thing and be sent back for another hour drive one-way to ‘get it right this time.’
And don’t even get me started on the grocery store. Once after leaving, I stood in front of the frozen food case so long, paralyzed by indecision, that I lost track of time. To this day, I can’t shop at Sam’s Warehouse. And paying the bills? You’ve got to be kidding. I navigated through that minefield by figuring out how to do the exact opposite of whatever I did BL (before leaving.) Was that bill paid online before? Now I sit down and write a check. Was it paid by check? Now it’s automatic withdrawal. And nothing gets balanced. Nothing. If they steal all my money, they can have it.
Two years out, I see this as coping. I’ve found ways to cope so I can function and appear as normal as possible to the kids and other outsiders. But I do not intend to stay this way. One step at a time, sisters. As we heal, we move on and tackle the next obstacle.
Some day I intend to waltz right into that hardware store and buy the most expensive, useless power tool they carry and plop the box right down in my living room for a coffee table. I’ll prop my feet on top and thank God that animal is gone for good.
Just thankful we won’t have bank accounts in heaven 🙂
Thanks Ida Mae! Places. Stores. My battles have been largely in our church building. After 20 years I still don’t find myself relaxed there. The people are great, but the rooms in that building — I can see and hear the events that happened.
I was a police officer in the Portland, OR area for a number of years. I left police work almost 30 years ago. And yet I can drive through Portland, especially on the East side, and if I were to speak out loud what was going on in my mind, you would hear me saying “ah yes, 102nd & Halsey, 2AM, officer shot here,” ; “98th and Powell, 4 people dead in a crash” ; and I can feel my pulse still picking up. So I hear you when you talk about those triggers.
By the way, the most useless, expensive power tool is a full-size Makita table saw. As you will only be using the box, I will be glad to haul that bulky, useless saw away for you.
When I get to that point in recovery, I will definitely consult you on the useless nature of various power tools before purchasing any symbolic tribute to victory over the Demons of Hardware 🙂
Oh Jeff and Ida Mae, you two make me laugh!
Well Jeff, if Ida Mae lives anywhere near Houston and you come to get that saw, stop in and say Howdy! Oh, and bring some of that delicious salmon you guys have in the northwest!
You got it!
I do balance my account, in the sense that I subtract and add numbers on paper.If something comes out I don’t know about or something that is supposed to go in, doesn’t…I can’t look on-line so I don’t know. One day I will get there! So glad to know others are walking a similar path, Ida Mae.
Still Scared– Sounds like you’ve worked out some pretty good coping skills. Who says we have to keep the accounts the way we use to? Not like the accounting police are going to show up if we don’t.
Speaking of which, I know a CPA who never balances her checkbook and hasn’t for a decade. She told me its the most useless waste of time ever devised by satan to torture the masses. She keeps enough in the account to cover the minimum balance and checks occasionally to make sure they don’t double charge her for anything.
Breaking free of all these ‘shoulds’ and ‘haftas’ is half the battle. Then we can deal with the big stuff that’s keeping us from living in freedom.
“Some people since then, have tried to cage it up and restrict all of my emotions, in hopes that the fear would not be able to surface again. Both were not good.”
My abuser used to regularly empty out the bank account with some new toy that “he needed” and I wouldn’t know, go try to pay a bill and have the money not be there. This happened so often in the 17 years that I would have horrible gut churning reactions anytime I tried to buy food or pay a bill.This reaction did not go away just because I awoke to the abuse and didn’t let him back in two years ago and am now divorced. It has faded slightly and I can generally buy food and gas now without the stomach response but big bills like rent…. I tried explaining this to two different counselors, they had no clue the size of the fear.They told me the goal for the next week was to look at my bank account twice, thinking it was a small minor thing they were suggesting. In my mind they were asking me to run a marathon after have had a c-section…just herculean in effort and after a few times I stopped trying to explain and stopped asking for support and help with this. God is so good, and I have been healing in this. IT helps knowing I am getting a regular paycheck that I can count on not just child support that may or may not come when it is supposed to. But just two days ago I face the mountain of confessing to my daughter’s orthodontist why I haven’t been able to pay the bill( no child support) and they were wonderful and understanding and worked it out. I faced it with only slight trepidation. And today, today I went to the bank to get my cashier’s check for rent and didn’t get that pit in my stomach at all!! Praise God!! I am moving forward. These are huge hurdles and I am climbing them.
SS – so your hope grows! Wonderful. That whole area of finances is a big one. Abusers frequently use the tactic of economic abuse in many different forms and the effects don’t just instantly disappear even after a person is free of the ongoing abuse. Keep climbing those hurdles!
SS, I have learned that if all you can make is baby steps, rejoice in those! Praise God that you are progressing. How fast is not important!
SS- I know EXACTLY what you mean! I get the same sick feeling when I spend money! Just today I took my dog to the vet. What was meant to be a $30 apt turned into $95 because he needed some medication. I was so sick I almost cried. Even though the money was there I hadn’t had I budgeted for that purpose. I check my bank account on line obsessively. I hate that feeling so much, but people who haven’t been there don’t understand and think it is something you can just get over by a sure force of will.
YES!! getting over it just by “sure force of will”!!They don’t get the damage done and how much healing/recovering has to happen. Whew! So nice to have people understand!
I know what you mean about getting anxious at the store-always afraid that my debit card will be refused- or when I’m getting gas. Always afraid my checks will bounce-bills won’t get paid- when the phone rings, my stomach tenses because I always think it’s bill collectors-tho sometimes it still is-(ex’s bills for the most part) . So scared I will not have enough money for everything, I hesitate even to buy new socks or underwear for myself.
Jodi! Praying for you. I know that fear, that struggle!
Thank you Still Scared 🙂
Deborah, day by day and step by step, get better and live well. I love you for your bravery and your willingness to share and encourage us. Thank you.
So many times I come here and it is just what I’m going through or what I need to read. When we moved to the other side of the country I decided not tell my rapist (my older brother) I had moved, much less where. Somehow he found me anyway. I received a Christmas card from him and it so triggered everything. You would have thought he might at least think she didn’t even tell me she moved, maybe she would just as soon not hear from me. No, he only thought about himself and he wanted to share how wonderful his life is. Well, Frankly, I don’t give a damn how wonderful his life is. Between my brother, my mother, my first husband and my current husband I’m just not sure how to find my way to the good stuff. In the last 40 years I have seen so many therapists, been to so many support groups and read so many books I’ve lost count. But I know what my Lord promised so I’m just going to stand firm and totally lean on him.
I just heard a great radio interview about Post-Traumatic Growth. You can listen to it online or download it here: Stephen Joseph: Post-Traumatic Growth [Internet Archive link] [Click on Download audio to listen to the interview. Editors.]
The program blurb says “Trauma can shape our lives forever and for some of us trauma can be a burden we just can’t shake. But Stephen Joseph believes adversity and trauma can be powerful opportunities for growth.”
The speaker is Professor Stephen Joseph, Professor of psychology, health and social care at the University of Nottingham, and Co-director of the Centre for Trauma, Resilience and Growth.
He has written a book called What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post traumatic Growth [*Affiliate link] which sounds like it would be really interesting.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
I listened to the link. Thank you! It is very encouraging. There are two sides to the coin and I look forward to being able to see the flip side in the future.
I know Deborah personally, and it is amazing to me how much she has progressed over the last couple of years. Though I know she still has many struggles, I have seen her life blossom and her countenance change. In many respects, she is almost like a new person.
I have seen her sense of humor return and more times of what I would call a true peace. God is doing a good work in her life! I am glad she feels strong enough to share!
Thanks Doulos, I think it’s helpful for our readers to hear that. Those who may not yet be as far along their journey of recovery as Deborah is, will take hope from your words. It’s an ongoing journey, and it does get easier as time goes on, if we face the stuff and go through it without always sweeping it back under the carpet. Blessings to you and thanks for coming to our blog.
So well said, Deborah. The triggers can sometimes be so flooding that it does little good to talk about them while the flood is raging.
However, I have found that as healing gradually occurs and the flood doesn’t go so high over the banks each time, talking about them while they are happening can help. I think it is an individual thing, and we each know what is best for ourselves. And of course, talking about them is only helpful if the person you are talking to is sympathetic and non-judgmental – and the best people to talk to are ones who understand what triggers are from their own experience.
I have found that the deepest healing came when I was able to be held but no words were spoken, and in that safety I let the emotions and memories do whatever they needed to do; I would simply share them all with Jesus, asking Him and trusting that He would re-configure my wiring in the way He knows best. Sometimes He would do the healing and re-wiring with me having some awareness of what he was doing; other times He would do it beyond my sight, so to speak. But always He did it perfectly, and never too fast or too much at any time.
He knows exactly when to operate, when to let the patient recover and convalesce, and when to schedule the next operation. It’s kind of like a surgeon doing a long series of operations after someone’s been in a major car crash. The person’s body is all wrecked and out of shape with bits missing, but the surgeon take bone from here and skin from there, and over many operations patches the person up so they are pretty good again. But that analogy breaks down because Jesus is WAY better than earthly surgeons, and He isn’t limited to patch up jobs, He can do amazing things surpassing what we can even imagine.
The concept of neuroplasticity is appropriate here; it relates to the re-wiring that Christ can do in us. Neuroplasticity is one of the really exciting cutting edges in psychology and brain science.
ANFL wrote a post yesterday on her blog called Matter Over Mind [Internet Archive link]. It’s about her latest trigger. Gee that gal can write!
I completely understand….. trauma triggers 😦 I am still living them and they are currently in full force. 😦 hanging on the best I can and just keeping the faith that God will see me through this as he has through so many tough times.
Good on you, Tee.
Right there with you Tee. I can barely get through a day right now without something triggering me. I am encouraged by the fact that everyone who has gone before me says that it gets better over time but it is still VERY difficult. I’ll be praying for you dear 🙂
You did an excellent job conveying this. Triggers are really hard for me, so I thank you for sharing your heart and the info on how you deal with them, here in your post. I especially relate to the covering of the abuse and finding ways to pretend it isn’t happening. I’ve been in counseling for a year (outside of the really bad pastoral counsel I was receiving prior to and during that) with a couple of good counselors and I am just now figuring out that I think I can actually trust them. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?
Not strange. I think that might be pretty normal. The journey from the head to the heart can be a lot longer than 12 inches!
Deborah….I wept throughout the entire reading of your story. I could honestly feel your fear and struggle, to some degree. I know how very difficult it is to face those triggers, having made a decision not to be mastered by them. I applaud your courage in choosing to fight these battles, rather than drown in that sea. I am in awe over the new creation God has made of you. You are very, very brave. And you give all of us hope that healing will come and is coming. Thank you for this.
Thanks Megan…courage isn’t the absence of fear, is it? It’s simply the willingness and perseverance to push through it somehow. Thanks for that encouragement! We all need that
Yes. I agree. We push through….knowing that each step will eventually lead us into victory. I admire you so.
My biggest trigger BY far is when people tell me that something that hurts is good. I went from 0 to fangs-out-you-will-not-get-me to my therapist after an absolutely silly encounter in which I was telling yet another story about my ex. He’d merely interrupted me to ask me to explain how I was feeling at that moment (his favorite question), and I said something like “ok” and continued on with my story. He interrupted me again and said that we couldn’t just pass over it like that. I started to get a little upset, because I just wanted him to listen to my story. Then he said that we could continue with the story, but after I did what he asked. I told him I just wanted him to let me finish my story, and it kind of hurt that he didn’t want to listen to me. He said he DID want to listen, but that doing this other thing was more important that telling my story. I absolutely blew up. I mean WAY beyond the “let me tell my story” thing, and in a way that I can’t recall having ever blown up at anyone. And you’d think it was over me feeling disrespected, but it wasn’t that.
I left so angry. I spent the evening angry. I wrote him a letter (that I did not send) expressing my feelings and why I was so angry. You would not believe the amount of emotion that letter contained. And all over me not getting to finish yet another story?
Well, here’s what was really going on: it was a little bit painful to be interrupted telling my story. Painful because you just want people to hear and understand the pain, and I FELT that his interruption was ignoring my pain. And when I’d expressed this to him, he said he understood that, but that right now, there was something more important that overrode the pain I felt at having been interrupted. And after writing that letter, I realized this was the core issue. People telling me that I should ignore my pain, and something that feels unpleasant is, in fact, good.
After that I’ve been much more aware, but I still see it. It’s really, really hard to handle when I feel one way and people I respect tell me that my feelings are wrong and I need to trust them. I used to be able to trust people and ignore my feelings, but that got me into a mess. Now I have to be really careful, withdraw, and pray a LOT for discernment because I know sometimes my gut can be wrong, and sometimes painful things are good for us. My instinct is to always say “No, this pain IS pain, and you will not tell me otherwise!” and that’s an important thing to have- it helps me to protect myself. But acknowledging the pain doesn’t always mean that it’s bad.
I am thankful for my therapist, because I now know what the full force of this can look like and I know how it feels. This helps me work with others, because there are a lot of times we do have to endure painful/objectionable things “for our own good”, and I can’t be bringing out the fangs everything someone suggests this is what I need to do.
This is very good and gives good counsel. My biggest trigger right now from others, is when they say, “well, you sin too!”, or they try to equalize my fear as being as sinful as his abuse, or when they pity him, but have no compassion for my children or me. I too hate it when evil is called good. I hate the lies I have learned from my past Church, but I see their (leadership) sin now very clearly and it can mean nothing more than that they have the same spirit as my abuser, which is why they approve of his sin, and call evil good! I have learned, that sin differs in degrees in God’s eyes, which is obvious from the Bible. So, that has helped me, and what I do now, is just tell myself, that God has shown that to me, but not to them and that I need to listen to and follow God, not the ones that do not know God in this way. It also triggers me that people think they know how to help or how you feel, just because they are Christians, when they have never experienced what I am living, and they see themselves as competent to counsel me.
Anon — I think pat answers (“Well, YOU sin, too, you know!”) are often more painful than if someone just honestly doesn’t know what to say or do at all. 😦 I have those triggers, as well, and have to guard sort of defending myself and others to the death.
I think, for me, that I have pretty much removed all the people in my life who would otherwise trigger me constantly. I don’t know if I should have done that or not. I just knew I COULD NOT TAKE IT. There was too much crazy swirling around me and I just could not have emails, texts, letters and phone calls from people who would say things like you described. I wonder how I would answer, now, if someone says something really triggering.
Thanks Anon, self-talk to validate and encouraged yourself and to keep you boundaries firm, can be really helpful, can’t it? I also find that I sometimes mentally rehearse ‘come-backs’ in my mind, so that when people make those hurtful comments that can trigger me, I’ve got a come-back in my head ready to reply with. The rehearsed words doesn’t always come out when needed, and they may undergo variation for each situation, but mental rehearsal of ‘my lines’ helps keep me on the front foot.
This kind of thing works when there are ‘standard’ lines from others that can be triggering. Like that one about all sins being equal.
Sometimes I like to reply with a semi-confronting question. Like when they spout silly theology, I might reply with just, “Really?” and arch my eyebrows and hold their eyes in a firm stare for that extra second or two, so they realise I’m not asking for clarification or explanation, I’m conveying that I don’t agree with them.
Shuffle… I was a classroom teacher for too long… that teacher look – it’s embarrassing admitting to it as I know it’s a cliche and can come across as bit haughty, but I have to say it has its uses.
Good idea Megan. And Barb, you will be thrilled to know my counselor told me this week that I need to up the ante on the boundaries portion as well. Kinda nice to hear them say that! I did rid myself of some people and then felt guilty about doing it when I thought maybe it wasn’t “nice”, but this is survival time. Megan, you can always go back later, when you are strong and you know your answer can be godly, secure and exactly what you would want to say, and then let those people know that you disagree and just make those conversations “off limits” – forever. But, on the other hand, what kind of friend would that be, where you could never really talk about your life and your past or the pain from it or talk about your thoughts and feelings and, well, the truth? No thanks and maybe God will just provide “new” friends for all of us. That would be nice and honestly, it would be just like Him.
Anon– That is exactly what the Lord has done for me– provided a whole company of new friends.
I had to let go of the old first, realizing we were acquaintances, not true friends, with a relationship based on the lie I use to live. So hard at first because I already felt alone and wanted others to please just understand. But they didn’t and they never would. Hard to face but essential to moving on. Thought it would kill me.
When I began living authentically, true to myself, telling the truth in moderation (without the word vomit that comes so easily at first) and living out every moment without apology, others seemed to show up out of nowhere and rally around. And a few from way-back-in-the-day that I’d lost for various reasons came back with unqualified love and support.
I’m learning that the isolation I suffered under for so many years created these false friendships I thought were real, just as I thought that sham of a marriage was real.
Anonymous- the old “you sin too” offense is really just that person saying you probably deserved whatever you got. If you told them that every day your husband tries to set you on fire- they would have a very different reaction. They would beg you to leave and never return. For some reason, they cannot fathom that abuse has no reason, and the victim cannot cause it nor stop it.
Jodi, I think that is so true, my one friend could not let go of the fact that I was not the cause. she kept reaching for things to try to put the cause on me; poor communication skills ( but I can communicate with everyone else fine), post partum depression( umm, I’m an RN and specialized in L&D, no), don’t know how to use boundaries( then how am I able to use them with everyone else) . The list went on and one and I just kept refusing to agree with something false( I really have a problem agreeing to anything false, why I am a horrible actor) until she washed her hands of me and let me wallow in my sin! 😛
Well Jeff, I’m glad to hear you can show your fangs! 🙂 You are so nice most of the time, it’s good to know you can get enraged. It makes me feel less embarrassed about my own fangs. Thanks for this story. What a skilled man your therapist is. And what insight you have derived from this episode.
Lol, you guys are too much. I promise I have fangs, just not with you guys 🙂
BIT, I’m glad to help you figure some triggers out. I was hoping maybe reading other people’s triggers might help us see some in ourselves.
I know! Jeff is so nice. I’m like all fangs all the time. And I just realized while reading Jeff’s comment that the reason has to do with the church I’m in now. I never really thought about it but it is like trigger city from when I was a young adult for a great many reasons. Then this thing with the victim I know happened and….
Oh dear. 😦
Whoo! Big realisations there, BIT!
So interesting how different victims have such different triggers – because we as victims are different in our strengths and weaknesses, and because our abusers fitted the abuse to our personalities. For so many of us, we truly sought God’s will, we committed ourselves to Him whole-heartedly, and as a result of that good part of us, God’s words were used against us – to control, to manipulate, to confuse, to make us do what we never otherwise would ever have considered. No wonder we struggle so much with the church!
I have a pastor who supports me, who has stood against my husband, and yet who often triggers me from the pulpit when preaching. I usually tell him what the trigger was – for his information and education – not to get him to change, but to make him aware that my reaction was not due to him but due to what he said or how he said it – and that it relates back to my abuse, not to the truth in the sermon. (When scripture triggers me, I know it is not due to the scripture, but to how the scripture was misused against me to abuse me.) I do not expect him to fit his sermon to my ‘abnormalities’ due to the sin of my husband, but to increase his awareness of reactions he may receive and not understand.
Learning about abuse is a journey – we have all learned in our own ways and in our own time – often knowing something was wrong but not being able to identify what was wrong. Finding out what abuse is, identifying abuse within a relationship, having the courage to escape and then to start speaking the truth about abuse – these are HUGE steps that require immense amounts of energy. Each victim has to do this is his or her own way in his/her own time and it takes such strength of character. Unfortunately, the victim is usually much further down this road that those around (especially those in the church) and it is so, so hard to give grace to those who do not yet know (but never, never to the abuser – that person or group of people must be confronted). To distinguish ignorance from the mindset of entitlement, superiority, and centrality that belongs to an abuser and is also so, so hard but distinguish we must as they require very different responses from us as victims. Ignorance requires education and grace; abuse requires confrontation and truth (once we are safe).
How does your pastor react when you tell him that his words triggered you? Is he understanding, or does he get defensive. If he is understanding, he is a rare bird indeed!
The relationship with my pastor has been built over years. Although he initially did not understand abuse nor keep me safe, he has learned a great deal over time.
We moved into this small town 7 1/2 years ago, attended church regularly, and became members. Our children were the ages of the pastor’s children and got along well together. My husband became an elder about 5 1/2 or 6 years ago. I started to work for the church part-time about 4 1/2 years ago and as a result have a weekly meeting with the pastor.
About 3 1/2 years ago, my husband confessed his ‘indiscretions’ to the pastor and me and he ‘came home’ (and was no longer an elder). I was blind-sided and unable to deal with what had already happened since the abuse escalated dramatically at that time. We started couples counselling with the pastor and I clearly remember thinking “What is the ‘correct’ answer to his question?” since I did not have enough contact with myself to give a true answer. At that point, (I didn’t know why then) things just got worse at a time when I expected that I would now be loved more deeply and truly.
About two years ago, the pastor told us that he was in over his head and he could no longer counsel us. He did not know which of us to believe since we both seemed to be telling the truth but our stories did not line up.
We then started driving an hour, having an hour of couples counselling, and driving the hour home together. It lasted only a few months until my husband walked out declaring it useless (that counsellor was also in over his head). I asked for a female counsellor for myself – and 17 months ago, within the first hour, she recognized what was happening.
Fourteen months ago I told my husband, in the presence of the pastor, that I could no longer live with him. The pastor supported me because of a physically violent incident, but still did not understand abuse. The pastor was still trying to help my husband ‘understand’ and work for reconciliation. Several times his words and actions put me into real danger.
Last spring, the pastor came and apologized to me for not believing me from the beginning. Having experienced abuse from my husband, the pastor now saw clearly how my husband reacted when crossed or confronted and has begun to understand the mindset of an abuser (entitled, superior, central, deserving). He has supported my filing for divorce and building a new life for myself. He has also cut off contact with my husband because of my husband’s continued attempts to control him (the pastor).
Remember that through all this, I was meeting weekly with the pastor because of work, and that time spent in building our relationship has made a difference, I’m sure. Also, through this, the pastor’s wife has become a true friend and I now spend as much time with her weekly as I do in the presence of the pastor.
So, to answer your question, the pastor listens with care when I describe my triggers and works to understand the journey that I am on.
Mama Martin, that learning curve your pastor has been on is really impressive. It’s what we would love to hear more pastors were doing, but so few are actually doing it – so few actually recognise when they are in over their heads it would be wiser to back out, and then become willing to see and learn the truth about abusers’ entitlement mindset and how dangerous they are. Thank you so much for sharing this story.
This is my first time posting–though I must admit to being a frequent lurker. 😉
I think I’d like to contribute further details of my own story and pain at some hopefully-not-too-distant point, but for now . . . since we are speaking of triggers, and since triggers of a particular sort have been much on my mind of late . . . I would appreciate the opportunity simply to pose a question, and maybe get some feedback and prayer.
There are many things that trigger me, of course. In fact, I spent the better part of yesterday evening in an utter weeping shambles because of something completely innocent my own loving mother said. Funny–because I had just been thinking I’d surmounted the worst of my PTSD . . . only to have this occur. It was an enormous eye-opener for me, and it shed new light on the other challenges–great and small–I struggle to overcome every day.
One of those challenges is my name.
I’m curious: Has anyone else had any sort of adverse reaction to (as strange as it may seem) the “trigger” of being called by your very own name? My nicknames–those that I considered to be my identity, those terms of endearment I loved the most–are the worst, and I have completely forbidden anyone to call me them ever again. (Quite frankly, because of the frequency with which and the way in which my abuser used these names, the sound of them makes even my family members wince–that’s how bad the situation became for all of us!) But it’s also my given name that just . . . doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t feel like me. More than that, sometimes–it’s like the very sound of it jars me from my present normality and catapults me straight back into fear, inadequacy, vulnerability, objectification, and a host of other nightmarish things I faced every day. To put it synesthetically, it’s almost as if this name carries actual, tangible weight–it feels heavy, oppressive, even noxious. A part of me wants to be free of it because of this weighty history and these wounds that keep reopening every time the name is pronounced–but another part of me wants to be free of it, because the real freedom would be in being able to define myself, name myself, call myself into a brighter future by giving myself a new name. Breaking through the old name feels like breaking free.
When the divorce is final . . . I’m thinking about not only going back to my maiden name, but taking a new first name, too. . . .
Sometimes I think it’s incredibly childish to be so obsessive about something so seemingly insignificant as a name. But the triggers and oppression it entails for me are very real–and the more I try to tell myself to “grow up” and “just move on,” the more it stings. The truth is, it’s important to me and my sense of wholeness, of healing. And so I can’t keep ignoring something that is so clearly a problem.
Just wondering if anyone else has weathered this particular difficulty, as well. . . .
Thank you so much for the work you do on this site–and for your books and articles. It was a blessing to find myself here, in the midst of so much pain and darkness. I credit this blog in helping me out of a mortally bad situation–and thus in no small way as instrumental in God’s illimitable mercy to save my life. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
Dear Urszula (I hope that is just a screen name you’re using, as I wouldn’t want to trigger you!) thanks so much for this question and for sharing this little piece of what’s going on for you.
I have not heard of any other survivor having an issue with her name like that, but I’m pretty sure you would not be the only one. I bet other readers will pipe up and say “Yes; me too!”
As I was reading what you wrote, I kept thinking this is spiritual. Maybe somehow your abuser and the demons he had in tow were – can I say it? – laying a curse on you by the way he used your name. And your nicknames. Sometimes, when someone has spoken negative words over us, it helps to ‘speak off’ the words. I can’t quite explain this, but I have found it to be true. When I’ve done this myself, under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I have actually spoken out loud, something like this:
I have gone out on a limb, in putting this prayer into words for you: the whole idea may be not appropriate for you, and my words may not be correct for you. If the general idea seems right, let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit to speak the correct words in you own prayer. It is important to speak it out loud, in my experience.
Please forgive me if I’m way off beam in this reply.
Thank you so much for being part of our blog.
I love Barbara’s idea. I also can’t handle someone using my given name. My nickname is fine but when random people call me by my full name my hackles go up. I try to be gracious and have to sign things with that name because of my job/license but coworkers I speak a lot to I try to very firmly express how important using my nickname is. He( the idiot) uses my full name when he needs to rebuke me.
Urszula–Yes, this has happened to me as well. Also, I personally know several women who have changed both their first and last names. In one case, the woman was in her twenties with three small children and suffered through about ten years before leaving. In another case, the woman waited until well into her seventies. She moved to a retirement community and started signing her Christmas cards with her new first name. When I asked, she said that the Lord was constantly changing people’s given names in the Bible and He’d given her a new name to go along with her new life in Him and she was just lining up with the reality that she understood and lived with everyday.
I don’t intend to change my first name. It doesn’t fit and I know it but few people call me that anyway. For the last 5-7 years or so, without fail, people will call me a different name (its always the same one) and then apologize. I just tell them not to worry about it, I like that one better. Fortunately the pet names and nicknames died off when I left and no one else would ever call me by those. One in particular rankles like crazy and if its ever mentioned, I just make sure the speaker knows how I feel about it.
Lots of folks change their first name, honey. Don’t fret over it if you need to do the same.
Revelation 2:17 ESV
(17) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
Hey, do you guys know this song? “I Will Change Your Name”
I Will Change Your Name
Beautiful song! Thank you for posting!
In my case, he would go out of his way NOT to call me by my name. Tho he did have a nickname for me-but no one else ever calls me that thank God! I would go back to my maiden name, but I hate it too!
Jodi, My son has changed his last name everywhere (FB , etc. ) but legally which he can’t do until he is 18. I have a friend who made up a last name for herself, why don’t you make up a last name that you want to have?!?!
My children have done the same. They HATE their legal last name but I cannot get it changed unless I have my ex’s signature and he would NEVER agree to that (it’s all about ownership). So, they go by my husband’s last name. I just spoke to all their teachers and they understood. Until they can be adopted or turn 18, they will just go by their new last name, even though their legal name is different.
I get the trigger of being called by your very own name. That makes complete sense to me. I’m not a DA survivor, but I think I’ve had something kind of related to the name issue. With me it was with name tags. I used to work in a place where name tags were a requirement, and it used to make me nuts to have to wear one. The base issue for me was that I wanted to be able to control who I gave my name out to, and I didn’t have control over that at my place of employment. I still get triggered in any situation where I have to wear a name tag. But it’s not there if someone asks me what my name is or in a situation where names are exchanged. In my place of employment the customer knew my name but I didn’t know theirs (it was a retail situation). It made me feel very vulnerable to them, because they could use my name to hurt or to reward me, and could do it pretty much anonymously since I didn’t know who they were. If you see what I mean.
Names are directly linked to identity so when someone uses your name to abuse you, they are attacking you at something directly tied to who you are — your core identity. I can certainly see how that could become a trigger point.
Urszula, yes, I can understand, too, how you may feel. I have experienced not wanting to here my name spoken from certain people. My name is an uncommon name here in the U.S. I have always loved my name because I felt unique having it. But there are some people who have a way of saying it that feels awkward or mocking. An aunt, no matter how many times she was corrected by me, my parents, or any of my family, continued to mispronounce my name. My name is close enough to a common, at one time popular name, but the way she would pronounce it wasn’t even close. Consequently, I did not enjoy being around her.
Jodi, I too have experienced that. I didn’t realize it for awhile because of the different ‘affectionate” nick-names he used instead. Then it dawned on me one day that it had been years since I had heard him say my name. I see this as fitting in with an abuser’s desire to eliminate the personhood, individuality, and identity of their target.
Barbara, thanks for the reminder to do the mental and spiritual house cleaning!
Jeff C, thank you for Rev. 2:17. Thank God He knows who we are and calls us by our name!
My ex used to call me “honey”. Normally that’s a term of endearment, I know, but frankly I don’t ever want to be called honey again. It’s ok. I think if you want to change your name – do it! Pray about it and ask God for a new one?
Jeff’s scripture application is good here, as usual! I never would have had that verse from Revelation pop up like that, but this is what a good pastor does, I think … 🙂
As new creations in Christ, having been adopted as sons of God, it makes sense that He gives us a new name. The Lord re-named Abram as Abraham, for example, so He is in the business of name changing. The believer is a new person with a new identity. I don’t like my mother to call me “her little boy”! I can understand a mother’s love for her children and all that (hey man, I’m 62 years old!), but I don’t like it because that is not who I am anymore. I don’t even like to look at pictures of myself before I knew Christ. That person is dead. And it is a good thing. Now I just want people who have known me all my life to know my “new name.” But many don’t like the new me.
I read this twice. Love this.
Jeff- I can relate to what you said- I am 46, and for some reason , my 8 years older sister still refers to me as her “baby sister”. I know it is to demean me-but I can’t get a handle on why or what she hopes to accomplish. It’s very insulting.
Thank you so much for the compassion, understanding, patience, kindness, grace, insight, clarity, wisdom, and LOVE you so clearly have exemplified in each of your posts!! Words utterly fail to express the depth of my gratitude for each of you–you have buttressed a crying soul and nourished a faltering heart, and I can never thank you enough–not only for this website, for your books, and for your work–but for your very personal attention, as well. I am truly touched. And I thank GOD on my knees for bringing me here!
Barbara . . . as I read your posts, I cannot help but feel that I am sharing with a true friend. It’s not often–especially in the shadow of abuse–that we are blessed with that warm sense of kinship and concern. Thank you. And thank you, as well, for your beautiful prayer. I am so pleased that you felt impelled to share it, even if you were not sure it would be particularly apt in my situation; it has brought me much comfort, indeed.
Jeff . . . oh, my. I was but few words into that verse from Revelation when tears began streaming down my face. I was reading your post out loud, and I could simply not make it through more than a handful of syllables at a time before having my speech drowned in soul-quenching, spirit-rejuvenating, life-restoring tears. I am profoundly moved. Thank you. That passage has given me much to reflect upon, and I know I will return to it often.
And thank you so very, very much to the countless others who shared their own stories and challenges. It is unbelievably heartening to know I am not alone in this–I have already felt alone and silenced for so long. . . .
I do feel encouraged to change my name, and I am thankful for this opportunity these boards have given me to explore that idea with greater humility and wisdom. Looking forward to sharing with you all much more in future!
🙂 thanks Urszula.
Just let us know what you want us to call you! 🙂
Thanks, Barnabas!! Urszula is good for here. It’s not my given name, or the name I will soon make my legal name–both names I don’t intend to disclose for privacy/security/safety issues I’m sure you’ll all understand. But Urszula is one my mom suggested for me a while back and makes a fitting online identity. 🙂
OK, Urszula. Will do.
Sorry for the delay in acknowledging this. For some reason I didn’t see it until now. Maybe because I never tick the notify box.
Deborah. Thank you for posting. Sounds like we have many similarities. You’re a bit further along in your process of healing. Thanks for letting me know what to expect & what I can do in response. My husband & I just separated last April. So, I’m beginning to notice some of the things you describe. I used dissociation too as an escape from a screwed up reality. Anyway, I hope you keep posting & encouraging all of us who are walking the same path at different speeds. 🙂
I didn`t even know I had triggers but looking back I realize now that I do. I had an intense reaction to a church situation where the leadership basically compromised the truth to look good when dealing with a defiantly sinning person. It triggered off a similar trauma in my background where I had trusted authority to be godly and put things right, dealing with evil that could destroy my family and instead they did evil and then turned on me, blaming me. I reacted because I saw the same betrayal and corruption taking place, though they would just blame it on me and how screwed up I supposedly am.
Other triggers that I never thought of as triggers before; I check the bank account lots of time during the day. Not sure why. Dealing with the finances is upsetting to me and it leaves me feeling as if I am back in the role of a child having to be an adult when I should have had some safety and protection. I may have absorbed my parents’ fears and anxiety as they grew up in serious poverty at one point, during the end of the depression. It makes it hard to be an adult when I actually am one, in that I don’t want to manage the money, I want my husband to lead and manage things and he wants ME to lead and manage things. Triggers are frustrating because I find once activated I cannot shut the darn things off.
I read the original post and comments generated a few times several months ago… In a reply to me on another post, Jamie suggested the post to me and the Holy Spirit led me back….
After my divorce just over a decade ago, I kept my hyphenated married name, as it also pertained professionally. I see-sawed back and forth, wanting to get rid of the unwieldy “handle”, but the Holy Spirit kept saying “No”. Not a big deal, really, as I didn’t want to return to my maiden name.
Almost two years ago, I completely re-integrated, though it would be some time before the walls would crumble, and flashbacks and memory re-integration become a 24 / 7 experience. It was then the Holy Spirit led me through the process of legally changing my name. I eliminated the hyphenated name completely. (Details omitted for my protection.)
I felt / feel free of the baggage both names carried.
Changing names is, indeed, Biblical.
At the same time I initiated my name change, the Holy Spirit led me to throw out all pictures of me, with the exception of grade school and high school photos. There weren’t many left to toss in the garbage. 🙂
For me, the pictures represented an identity not mine, but an identity defined by the world. Daughter. Sister. Spouse. Professional.
I felt / feel free of the baggage the pictures carried.
Changing Who defines my identity is, indeed, Biblical.
In an almost two decade long “marriage”, my anti-x only used my name when introducing me to someone, as if I only existed when there were witnesses.
The Holy Spirit recognizes me, every minute of every day, calling my name with or without witnesses present.
My name has changed. My identity has changed.
I am now a child of God.
Around the time Barbara published the Don Hennessy series, I started doing something I’ve found helpful. Building on what she brought out of Hennessy’s teaching about how abusers select their victims based on many of their positive traits….
How the male intimate abuser selects, sets-up & grooms a target woman (Don Hennessy series part 3)
Finding Answers, you have shared in a lot of your posts about issues with names or identity your family and others assigned to you. Some of the taunting / mocking you’ve mentioned sounds very familiar to me. I’m so sorry that happened to you.
For me, name-calling was a consistent and regular part of things. When I was younger, it bothered me. As I got older, I dismissed it as harmless joking and more recently, I almost pitied the people participating. But, even still, I wasn’t ever able to ignore it completely and would always examine each pejorative name, trying to determine if there was any truth there.
Now, I realize just how absolutely they did. not. know. me. …at all.
I’ve found it helpful to make a list of CORRECT names for myself as I identify them….to write them and use them. If anyone decides to try it and has trouble getting started, we have Hennessy’s:
And what God calls us:
He also calls us “Friend” (John 15:15)….and so much more! 🙂
Finding Answers, I hope you don’t mind, for your list I’d suggest: Encourager, Example, Hope, Linguist, Guide, among many others. ….And a lot of us have grown to consider you a friend.
I’m so pleased to continue to participate alongside you, praying with you through your posts and comments here, even when I cannot comment. How exciting to see the hard work you are doing! xo
I second what Jamie said!
And I’d like to add another nice word to describe Finding Answers: she is a geek who can see analogies between the malware in computer coding and the way abusers twist words and scriptures to mess us up. And she is a beautiful writer.
Jamie and Barb,
(I am combining my replies….)
Each time you comment, Jamie, you give me enough for an entire meal. Now the memory re-integration is less intense, I can go back to the Don Hennessy series – and others – and savour the flavours. Bless you for coming alongside and praying for me.
I still have plans for the computer malware analogy, Barb, though it may take a little more grounding….I have an image of malware, application software, and the basic operating system. The picture is not yet fully formed. I think the operating system malfunction is going to take into account the childhood illness.
You truly bless us all, Barb. Your reaching out has had a ripple effect far beyond the “celebrity pastors”….and your ministry will help take them down. You are the “point man” (sorry for the gender-based analogy), the leader in a vee formation of geese. (I know there are those out there who will mock my words….I suggest they study the habits of geese in flight.)
As for the rest of my reply….
(….insert net-speak for left speechless….)