Chapter 16 – Planning for Difficult Times

Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steele and Onno Van Der Hart is educational, practical, and therapist-recommended if you suffer from a dissociative disorder. This chapter wraps up the section on triggers by teaching you how to plan when you know you’re going to be in trigger city.

Why is planning hard?

When you’re already dealing with the stress of daily life, coming down from whatever challenge you’ve just faced, it’s tough to think about the next mountain you have to climb. Inner confusion and inner conflict can be a problem: while some parts can be excited about an upcoming event, others may be filled with dread, which it can trigger poor behavior like name calling and belittling. It’s important to face these inner conflicts as soon as you become aware of them, so that you can negotiate a solution that works for everybody.

Chapters 10 through 13 contain solutions to problems with time management, which can also make planning for difficult times hard, and if you’re struggling to get ahead of the curve, make sure you’re getting enough rest and using your relaxation skills.

Holidays tend to suck.

For survivors of traumatic childhoods, most holidays are full of painful triggers, external obligations, contact with abusers, pressure, and unstructured time. Repeated exposure, and being bombarded from every angle throughout the day, can also leave you hyper-vigilant.

Your can try to avoid anything that might be triggering, but that’s pretty difficult. Instead, the book recommends taking a proactive approach. Change things about the holiday that remind you of the past, from food to decorations to the company you keep. Skip any traditions that don’t bring you joy, and create new traditions that do.

Remember, the problem is not the holiday itself, but what it represents for you.

Planning Tips

Start early! Don’t want til the day before, take time as early as possible to reflect on what happens to you during the difficult time that’s coming up. Imagine the situation, then notice what you think and feel, how your body responds, and how your various parts react. You can use a journal or inner meeting room, and the more dissociative parts who participate, the more effective it’ll be.

Together, ask yourself questions like:

  • What times tend to be most difficult?
  • When you have a difficult time, what happens? (across thinking, feeling and acting/reacting)
  • How do you usually plan? How do you usually cope?
  • What obstacles make planning difficult?
  • What triggers do we KNOW we should prepare for?
  • What fears and concerns do parts have?
  • What techniques and skills do you have, that you can plan to use?
  • What has helped in the past?
  • What can you do to feel physically and emotionally safe during the time?
  • What obligations do you have, and does that conflict with your self-care?
  • Can you set boundaries – with yourself, or others – that might help?

Remember to listen to each other, and especially, to be honest when you have conflict. And remember that no plan is final; don’t let it cause you MORE anxiety. Flexibility and in-the-moment thinking are encouraged, not rigidity.

Homework time!

This week, you’ll choose a difficult time that you predict is likely to occur soon, and make a plan. The assignment walks step by step through the process of creating your plan, including identifying triggers and conflict, the goals of each part of the system, the resources you may need to cope, and an escape plan for overwhelming situations.

Put in the work. You can make holidays – and job interviews, and weddings, and trauma-versaries, and other difficult times – easier for all of you.

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