Emotions – Trauma – Triggers

It is not what we’ve been taught

After decades of abuse, I have had plenty of experiences with painful memories and reliving the sensations of the initial abuse event. There are places that can be difficult to drive by because of the abuse that occurred there. 

In the past, we’ve called these recurring trauma events, “triggers”, but this may not represent what is happening. 

No matter what we call these events, the bigger question should be, is there a better way to navigate these events that can help mitigate the lingering effects of abuse?

I think there is. Let’s dig in!

Emotions do NOT Have Their Own Specific Neural Pathway

Just like there are no universal facial expressions for our emotions, our brain does not have separate neural pathways for emotions like fear, anger, joy, etc. We don’t have an area of the brain for emotion and another for our thinking or reasoning.

We have ONE brain. This one brain uses all areas of the 3lbs of matter to manage all our sensory (physical) experiences and actions. 

Unfortunately, it is more difficult to clear up old or faulty long-held beliefs (especially when it has been woven into psychology and counseling textbooks in academia). At Center for Peace, we know that the better we understand ourselves and how we experience the world – particularly one where there is targeted partner abuse©, the better we can navigate the path to wholeness.

Just for fun → the limbic system is a neural connection regulating the autonomic nervous, immune, endocrine, and other systems to create interoception (more on this in another post).

The limbic system is NOT dedicated to emotion – it is part of a total network of systems that manage the body’s needs, send action orders to the body, and takes up instructions from what is being sensed (you could say felt) in the body or in the world you experience.

Emotions are Constructed by Human Beings – They do not Happen to us

Emotions are perceptions. We construct them based on our interpretations, experiences, and particular patterns of coding life experiences, both internal and external. All these events are recorded. We have access to all past recorded events to help us construct current events

Emotions are a mental state. As humans we are in a continual process of making meaning or sense of the experiences we have in a moment by moment/day by day process.

What Does This Have to do With Trauma and Triggers

Let’s unpack this as a wife of targeted partner abuse© to see if we can add clarity to what we go through. 

It makes the most sense to start from the point of discovery or disclosure. At this point, we’ve had several experiences of targeted partner abuse© that we have attempted to make sense of. 

We may have found books, sought out therapy or found a support group to try to gain a greater understanding of what we are dealing with. 

We’ve experienced multiple incidents of abuse and coercion. These incidents create a sensation in the body that some of us may recognize as fear, dread, anxiety, or many other descriptors. We may uniquely code them, or we may resonate with the coding of others. 

Each of the abuse events opened a communication from the somatic sensory systems in our own individual body and brain. Each experience is coded with language – even if we do not have all the correct terms, we are constructing the meaning or the story of our lived experience with the one who abuses us. 

Each subsequent event of abuse is reviewed against the previous experience. If it is similar, the coding is reinforced. If something is different, a new code will be assigned – and a new experience learned. (This is a similar process used to re-code or reframe past hurts to encourage optimal processing and less reactivation when reconsidered as a memory experience.)

The Triggers

Let’s say for example, you come into the house from the grocery. You have quite a few bags you are carrying in. Your husband arrived home from work earlier than you. He’s already out of his suit and tie, reclining in his chair in front of the TV. Snack stuff on the end table. Remote in hand. (You know the picture!)

He’s watching you come in and out. The kids are all over the place, some talking to dad, others trying to re-calibrate to homework and dinner routines. It’s a bit chaotic. Whether you ask for help, or not, at some point, the abusive husband calls out from his chair, “Jeez, how much did you buy?” 

Maybe he sauntered over to rummage through a few bags. For no valid reason, he’s now upset. He wants to see the receipt. He’s criticizing how much you spent. Asking questions about why you bought one item over another. 

What’s happening inside of you?  Well, if you’ve been abused financially in this past, you may be feeling those sensations of distress somewhere in your body. You give them a name based on past experience. You may even rate the intensity of them. This is categorizing.

Your brain, however, already recognized the scenario. It has an experience ot two, very similar, already in the file. Aware of the outcome – not the cause – your brain will attempt to send oxygen and other supplies to you to help stabilize you. 

If you’ve been navigating this life for a while, and have a few tools in your arsenal, you’ll talk to yourself, remind yourself to breathe. You’ll talk to yourself about your values, reminding yourself that all you did was make a trip to the grocery to provide supplies to care for your family. You’ve done nothing wrong. What your husband is saying is about power, control and is abuse.

You attempt to manage the chaos, organize the children, prepare dinner all the while, our abusive husband likely sees a good opportunity to target you, tear you down, criticize your spending, threaten to put you on a budget, etc.

Our Individual Story

At this point – it is important to note that we all vary in the construction of our story. At Center for Peace, we honor each woman’s story. You are the authority and author of your story. The way you write each chapter, each paragraph differs even if, as victims, we share similar experiences of abuse.

Your personal experience, your culture, religion, even to some degree DNA and temperament play a role in story construction. All of that aside, there are still choices and decisions we make. These steps are mostly habitual, with little consideration at times, but all of use do this as a method of the construction of our life – whether there is abuse or not – it is how we operate in this world.

Changing the Story

Where you are in this journey will play a large role in this process. When we are in the early throes of discovery and disclosure, it is all about learning and much less about the reframing and re-coding to help you inform your safe space. That is still a good time to initiate this practice.

This timing is different for everyone. Please, don’t measure yourself against others. Please reach out to one of our coaches to walk you along this journey. It makes so much sense to have support.

Social Beings Impact Others in Good and Harmful Ways

The senses in the body are meaningful to you because they are a part of your world construction and how they are created in your brain. Once you feel ready to embark on the change process, you have more resources and responsibility to ensure your own well-being and comfort. 

All adults have both capacity and responsibility to challenge our life experiences as the impact of the choices impact others around you to one degree or another.

We influence one another. We know this to be true or the abusive behaviors of others wouldn’t have the impact it does if we could just say something like, “Whatever, he can just do him, right?!” 

To influence a previous storyline we rigorously seek to apply new meaning, healthy system regulation practices, like deep breathing, bi-lateral work, and work with people who have learned this process. This isn’t a quick fix, but it has so much benefit to keep us in balance as we work on the bigger decisions of safety.

A Word of Caution

These changes are about you – not your abuser. Every human being is responsible for their change. No one can change someone else. He is responsible for his work. 

Your safety should be the primary objective.

In time, the re-coding will become the current working data from which the brain and body work cohesively together. From this new storyline, when an event erupts, the increase in heartbeat, the flushing of the skin, or the electrical charge in the gut, can be managed through a series of tools the brain will employ on your behalf. 

We truly have an amazing set of systems and networks to navigate the adverse experiences as well as all the joyful ones.

Make meaning well! You deserve that life.

“Understanding the elements of emotion is important. The truth has critical consequences for the whole of humanity. When we understand this one important point —  we can NOT detect emotions in other people — that is not accurate. All those suppositions come from inside our own head. This is relative to interactions one on one with others as much as it would be in the clinic with a therapist or in the legal arena. Emotions are built – they do not happen to us out of our control and are not readable in the face” (Coach Joi).
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