Triggers Are The Key To Unlocking Our Trauma Boxes
As I was talking in my therapy session, I had an epiphany. Our traumas are all locked in boxes in our brain and our nervous system, and in order to unlock them, we need the right trigger. And while that seems scary because who wants to unlock their trauma box, it’s actually a good thing. Because trauma thrives on being kept secret. Once the secret is out, we can begin to process and heal it. But when the secret is locked away, it releases poison that seeps into our systems.
What Is A Trauma Box
A trauma box is a tool often used in EFT (Tapping) and other trauma healing modalities. It is a technique where you imagine the trauma or bothersome memory being locked away in a box. It’s typically used when you don’t have time or energy to address the issue in the session, and you need to keep it for safe keeping until the next session.
But, I think, there is a difference between the trauma box we create in a healing session vs. the trauma boxes our own mind creates to try and contain our trauma.
The trauma boxes created during the healing process are usually temporary and heavily reinforced. Our mind and body knows that the trauma has been securely stored and will be addressed at a future date. So it can relax and not be as hypervigilant about it. But the trauma boxes that we ourselves create after the trauma has occurred are different. They are usually weak, hastily made, and rarely stand the test of time, mainly because they are not meant to. We are not meant to bury our traumas and pretend that they don’t exist. Traumas are meant to be addressed and dealt with, so they don’t continue poisoning our system long after they occurred.
And because those trauma boxes are not secure, our traumas leak out and affect all our daily processes. That’s how you end up with crippling anxiety and depression, anger outbursts, inability to maintain healthy relationships, not to mention a whole host of physical illnesses like GI issues, autoimmune disease, headaches and migraines, severe and chronic backpain, and even things like stroke and cancer.
So, it is important to address our trauma boxes and clear them out, so they don’t spread their poison through our system.
What Is A Trigger
A trigger (stressor) is an event or situation that has brought on an emotional reaction. And it can also either bring on or worsen a mental illness. The effects of the trigger may be immediate or have a more long term impact.
Triggers can present themselves in many ways. You can be triggered by something you saw, heard, smelt, or felt. You can also experience a situation that blows the lid off your trauma box and you can no longer contain it.
A Personal Trigger Story
I’ll share a bit of a personal story here about how a life transition (in my case, becoming a mother) can be a trigger that blows off the lid of your trauma box.
For me, motherhood has been a huge trigger for my, probably largest, trauma box. Becoming a mother has unearthed so many issues that I thought I have dealt with in the past, that it led me to having severe PPD and PPA. (You can read more about it in The Dark Side of Motherhood: When PPD Takes Over). But while this was painful, it was important. Becoming a mom was the key to unlocking the trauma box that has been poisoning my system for decades.
Motherhood showed me all the deeply ingrained negative messages I heard growing up. “You are too sensitive”. “Other people have it worse!” “You’re just not trying hard enough.” “Other people don’t have these issues, why do you?” And so on. And it showed how those messages negatively impacted my overall wellbeing.
As a new mother, I was drowning. I needed help. But I had no idea how to ask for it. What’s worse? I didn’t think I had any right to ask for help! And that is damaging. Isolating and taking on the load all by myself, only intensified my already crippling PPD and PPA.
But the truth is, I’m not the only one. Most women (mothers) have a very hard time admitting that motherhood unlocked their trauma boxes because in our society it is still not acceptable to say anything negative about motherhood. Women who are brave enough to speak to the hardships they encounter are often shamed, silenced, and even shunned by other mothers. So, while we may have found the right key, it is still unsafe to open our trauma boxes and address the issues hidden within.
Also, becoming a mother allowed me to see all the generational trauma boxes in my family of origin. And since I was the one who found the key and was brave enough to unlock the trauma box, I felt the responsibility to process and heal it.
For all of us who take on the responsibility of breaking the trauma cycles, it is difficult work. And often unsafe work because as we break down trauma boxes in our family tree, our family members can be resistant and hostile towards us. And the greater society is often hostile towards us as well. Because the number 1 survival mechanism of trauma is staying hidden! That’s how it holds power over us for many generations.
And then there are smaller triggers that happen every day. It could be the sound of your child crying, the sight of mess in your house, feeling trapped because your infant is a contact napper, etc. Motherhood can unearth many traumas from your past, but it also creates traumas in the present that keep getting triggered every single day.
Why Pay Attention To The Triggers
Now that you know what triggers are and how they can show up in motherhood, let’s talk about why they are so important.
Triggers are like pain, they are an alert that something isn’t right. So, instead of brushing off triggers or feeling guilty about experiencing them, we need to tune in to them and understand what they are trying to communicate to us.
Usually triggers either show us our wounds from our childhood, our more recent wounds, or our unmet needs. Here are some potential scenarios (they are not all inclusive and may show up different for you):
- Infant crying triggers anxiety – common for moms with colicky babies; infants signal their distress by crying and when we are bombarded by incessant crying, we go into panic mode.
- You fly into blind rage when things aren’t the way you envisioned them – could be part of PPD; could also be triggering feelings of complete helplessness and lack of control over the situation.
- Child spilling food triggers yelling from you – could either be a learned reaction from your childhood (you were yelled at and punished for minor transgressions) or you could be feeling completely overwhelmed by the constant messes your child makes and being the only one to clean them up.
- Your toddler hitting you triggers a reaction from you – bringing up trauma from being physically assaulted; makes you feel like a failure as a mother; makes you feel helpless; brings up memories of being punished as a child for doing similar things
- Children fighting and yelling triggers an angry reaction from you – you may have grown up in an environment where fighting and yelling was common; you are overwhelmed by not being able to “control” your children’s behavior; the noise is overstimulating
These are just a few common examples of triggers that moms can experience. So, if you are feeling triggered, don’t feel guilty or ashamed. We all get triggered sometimes and depending on how much trauma we sustained in our life, we may experience being triggered more or less often than the average.
Just know that what you are experiencing is not a character flaw, nor does this make you a bad mother. It simply makes you a human who is doing her best despite all that life has thrown at her.
What Can You Do To Feel Less Triggered?
Now that you know about triggers and how important they are to the healing process, let’s talk about some things you can do today to start healing your trauma.
Minimize Triggering Situations
Now, this is easier said than done, especially when your triggers are things around your house and things your children do, but it’s still important. See, what you can do to eliminate some of the triggers. It’s important because we want to allow our nervous system to take a break and have time to heal. The bad part about triggers is they retraumatize us and don’t give us the proper time to heal. So, if you can minimize your triggers, you can give yourself the time and space needed to heal.
Work With A Professional To Heal Your Trauma
As I said earlier, triggers alert us to the fact that something is amiss. Eliminating the trigger doesn’t eliminate the trauma. So, in order to stop being triggered, we need to heal our trauma. That can be done in many different ways.
You can go to therapy (preference given to trauma informed therapists and somatic therapists), work with an EFT practitioner (like me), do trauma informed yoga, or go to support groups. You can also do things by yourself to support your healing like journal, draw, dance, meditate, establish a self-compassion practice.
Establish Strong Boundaries
One of the way to help minimize triggers and retraumatization is to establish healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are important for protecting your health and wellbeing. Boundaries mean eliminating toxic people and situations out of your life. And they are also a necessary first step in prioritizing yourself.
Prioritizing Your Needs
After you establish boundaries to protect your time and space, it is time to prioritize your needs. One of the biggest triggers for moms is the fact that they always put themselves last. They pour out of an empty cup because they feel that this is motherhood. Let me tell you, mama – It is not! The key to healing and minimizing triggers is prioritizing yourself and your self-care. When you spend time nurturing and nourishing yourself, you become the mother you have always wanted to be – patient, loving, caring, empathetic, and most importantly, fun.
Final Words On Triggers and Trauma Boxes
I know this was a heavy article but trauma is heavy. And trauma is present for all of us, whether it’s childhood trauma or something that we acquired in the more recent years. So, take care of yourself. Pay attention to your triggers and don’t let your trauma boxes fester and poison you. Find the help and support you need and start healing.