I once threw a shoe at Jeff’s head. Although I desperately wish I could tell you this was an accidental mishap in a wild cleaning frenzy, sadly, that is not the case. The shoe was thrown in rageful anger that stemmed from heartbreaking pain. Although heartache was the reason for my assault, I want to make something perfectly clear: pain is never an excuse for rage. There—I said it. Let me say it again for the people in the back: pain is never an excuse for rage. My younger self did not see things that way. In fact, at the time, I don’t think I even apologized for what I did. Appalling, I know. Although you’ll be happy to know my husband was not physically injured by the flying shoe—likely due to his finely-tuned reflexes as a fighter pilot—the emotional pain suffered (by both of us) lasted far longer than any bruise to the skin would have. I could just weep for this younger version of us: we were absolutely dedicated to each other but were oblivious to the maladaptive coping mechanisms that we brought into our marriage. We didn’t understand the impact trauma would have or how the lack of attachment would affect us as a couple. I didn’t understand what a trigger was or what it meant to be deregulated. I’m not convinced that understanding all that would have changed much because healing doesn’t come through learning; I needed revelation, inner healing, deliverance, and the ongoing process of sanctification by the Spirit of God to get to where I am now. However, I still have a ways to go. I want to get to the point where my triggers don’t trigger me! Although I sometimes wonder if a trigger is more like a permanent disability that needs to be managed rather than healed, I expect that “trigger healing” is covered under the “nothing is impossible for God” promise. However, there is one small but significant caveat: you need to invite Jesus into the process.
Before moving on, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. When I use the word trigger, I am referring to a stressor that causes an intense emotional reaction that can often seem disproportionate to what is happening at the moment (oh, say, like flinging shoes at your husband’s head). When your body recognizes a threat (real or perceived), your brain and autonomic nervous system react quickly, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to help you fight or flee. In other situations, you may freeze (shut down) or fawn (people pleasing to stay safe.) Although I have experienced all of the typical trigger responses—fight (see shoe example), flight, freeze, and fawn— I am aware that I’m particularly well rehearsed in the fawn response. I read this article with fascination as I recognized myself in print:
“Giving up your personal boundaries and limits in childhood may have helped minimize abuse, but this response tends to linger into adulthood, where it often drives codependency or people-pleasing tendencies.
- agree to whatever your partner asks of you, even if you’d rather not
- constantly praise a manager in the hope of avoiding criticism or negative feedback
- feel as if you know very little about what you like or enjoy
- avoid sharing your own thoughts or feelings in close relationships for fear of making others angry
- have few, if any, boundaries around your own needs”
I wonder if you recognize yourself in any of the above? Or do you tend to be more of a fighter, freezer, or fleer?
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” (Prov 29:5)
So, how does healing work? Well, it depends. (How’s that for a helpful response?) In my case, I first needed to become aware of and sensitive to the ways my body responded when I felt scared, overlooked, unloved, or ashamed. You see, I had engrained patterns of behaving and responding to unrecognized triggers that I wasn’t aware of. I just assumed I was put together a certain way and never considered that my way of thinking and behaving had roots in my childhood. Although having an awareness of what’s happening inside of me has helped me tremendously, healing didn’t happen until I intentionally went after it. That process, for me, is ongoing.
Just this morning, I became aware of a subtle trigger that caused me to feel slightly anxious and potentially combative. As Jeff and I were packing up the Airstream—our home on wheels—to hit the road at our agreed-upon time, I began to feel some fear pop up as I sensed his rushing around to get things done. I immediately assumed I had done something wrong; I worried that I wasn’t moving fast enough and had a sinking feeling that I was in trouble. I quickly checked my watch, looking for assurance that I wasn’t late, but this didn’t stop the trickle of biochemicals that were already flooding my system. My heart rate was up, and my fear began to morph into irritation. For one quick second, I thought about asking him what his problem was. (INSERT SNIPPY TONE HERE.) Of course, this would have confused him because he didn’t have a problem. He was working quickly and efficiently; I was the one who had a problem. As I tried to stay open and curious as to what was going on, it slowly dawned on me that Jeff’s rushing around reminded my body of what happened when my dad began to move quickly around our house; an outburst was forthcoming, and that is why I tensed up. My body felt the fear long before my mind caught up to what was happening. I was being triggered.
Recognition of the trigger didn’t immediately make me feel better; my body was already on high alert. As I suggested in last week’s post, I put my hand on my chest, which helped me feel more grounded and calm. Tending to my body was critical since it’s almost impossible to think yourself out of a trigger. (Keep in mind the “thinking” part of your brain—the pre-frontal cortex—goes offline when you’re in fight or flight mode.) Once I felt calmer, I was able to ask Jesus what He wanted my scared little heart to know. Let’s pause here for a minute because I want you to get this: I encourage you to invite Jesus to minister to your traumatized self. Why? Because it’s His presence that brings healing. Here are a few suggestions of what this might look like:
- Take a few deep breaths and then ask Jesus to come to the scared/angry/ashamed little girl or boy who is reacting right now.
- Ask Him what He wants you to know about your situation, and listen for His response.
- Ask Him if you are believing any lies right now.
- Ask Him what His truth is. Write it down and say it out loud.
As my fearful little girl spoke to Jesus about what was going on this morning, I sensed His loving presence surrounding me like a shield. The truth entered the room, and I felt Him set me free