This chapter of Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele and Onno Van Der Hart talks about what to do with the triggers you hopefully identified during last week’s homework.
Temporarily, it’s okay to eliminate or avoid triggering objects, people or situations from your life.
Excessive or long term avoidance can be a problem, but as your coping skills improve and your window of tolerance increases, you can dial down those restrictions. De-triggering your home can be a good place to start, just remember to put items in boxes out of sight, rather than throwing them away.
Next up, use what you know about you (and your parts) triggers to anticipate and prepare for triggers you can reasonably expect to encounter. The book gives a great example, needing to get a flu shot.
“You can prepare yourself by reflecting with all parts of you to discover what you need to cope. You can calm and reassure parts inside that you are getting medication that keeps you healthy. You, as an adult, will make sure nothing bad will happen. You might take time before the appointment to help parts of you go to an inner safe place, or you might imagine allowing them to stay at home, and only adult parts that can distinguish the past from the present of yourself should go the appointment.”
You can take a friend to help you stay “safe”, plan the appointment at the quiet part of the day, and take an anchor along that helps you stay present. The book also advises not ignoring triggered parts by acting tough. It’s pretty mean to belittle yourself.
An imaginary rehearsal can help, but make sure you’re picturing what success looks like, not failure.
Visualizing yourself freaking out is more likely to make you freak out, so don’t do that. Instead, visualize yourself using your coping skills, having the support you need, and celebrating afterwards.
If you do get triggered, it can help to recognize that you have control.
You can step out, leave early, be assertive about your needs, and so on. You will also want to practice creating distance from the emotional and physical experience of being triggered. Inner safe places, grounding, the armor shop, and other techniques in the book so far can all help.
The best advice in the chapter, at least for me, was this gem.
“It’s essential for all parts of you to learn to distinguish between here and now and then and there.”
When you notice the physical and/or emotional signs of being triggered, take a few deep breaths and focus on noticing and describing the differences between your current experience, and the past.
- If you’re alone you can talk out loud; if not, project inward as clearly as you can.
- Name the objects you see in the world around you, and their colors and shapes. Look for things that would NOT have been present in your past traumatic incident.
- Name the address or place you are, and what the weather is like (if you can see it). Again, focus on the differences between then and now.
- Describe what age you are now, and what you’re wearing on every part of your body. Nail paint, jewelry and piercings can be helpful for establishing time.
- Clarify that the person who triggered you is NOT the person who hurt you or scared you in the past. Compare differences in their appearance, voice, and character traits.
Finally, support yourself. Be compassionate and put in the effort to communicate internally. It can take time to build a sense of trust and safety with each other.
Homework this week is to reflect on your triggers and how you might deal with them, including all the techniques in the chapter. Luckily(?) if you have DID, there’s a good chance your world is full of triggering things to practice on.
You got this.