Let’s talk about triggers. Do you know when you are triggered? Are you able to identify a trigger in your body? What triggers you?
These are all important questions to answer during restoration and healing, because a trigger is an exposed area that needs more healing. When this activation occurs we can feel it in our bodies: stomach pain, light-headedness, sudden sweating, nausea, feelings of panic/dread, and shortness of breath. In her blog, Lindsay Braman states, “Triggers are like a trapdoor in the brain of a trauma survivor”.
We often don’t know why we feel upset, what it was from or that we have even been triggered, but we do know that we feel numb OR we are sweating and crying profusely.
As I build my voice, capacity and boundaries, I noticed I am able to recognize that I am triggered, take some time to calm and identify the implicit memory and distorted belief influencing my reality. Then, with some help from others or coaching myself, face each trigger as they come… most of the time, with my personhood fully intact. This is very exciting when I come to a victory like this. It is validating to know I am practicing new and opposite behavior! The more I practice facing these fears and triggers, the more I lay the foundation for a new neural pathway – and eventually, it won’t be such a process to choose to move through it.
When we are triggered, something happens in the brain. Have you heard the saying “I’m going to flip my lid!!?” Well, literally speaking, it’s what happens when you are triggered and it may be the reason that you feel “disconnected” from God. Triggers don’t just affect our physical body – they also affect us spiritually and relationally.
Let me explain: Your limbic system is held in a tight hug by your prefrontal cortex. The Prefrontal Cortex is the place where you make all of your adult decisions. You have self-control, impulse-control, you can rationally move thru- out your day. Essentially, you have access to the adult version of yourself. “No Rochelle, you don’t need to eat another donut from the staff lounge. You are okay, you will get food today.”
When this hug – or lid is down over your limbic system – you can recall memories of the ones you love, you can laugh to build joy capacity, you remember all the ways the Lord has been faithful to you on this long journey. You notice and catch the little moments of goodness thru-out your day. You feel connected – at peace – experiencing true Shalom. You remember you have people who have good intentions toward you. These are called memory maps. You have a map of God and others through relational and emotional experiences.
When the lid flips – it completely exposes this limbic system. You have gone primal and the only thing that matters in that moment is: being right, being heard, validated, or seen. The brain will seek SAFETY at all costs. These are old neural pathways: adaptive behaviors that helped you survive in childhood. That inner child will emerge and make all the decisions in this triggered state. She may isolate in fear and shame(flee), fight and yell back when she’s desperate to be heard, or she may freeze in terror unable to discern her reality.
Dr. Karl Lehman describes this as, “External Locus of Control from the Age of our Original Experience” That’s a fancy way to say: when you were little you had experiences which led you to believe that when there is pain, others should fix it. This is a good belief to have when you are 1 years old! If you had a poopy diaper – someone would change it, crying because you stubbed your toe? Someone held you, kissed it and put a bandaid on your boo – boo. These are developmentally appropriate beliefs for a child.
HOWEVER, when we experience a trigger of any shape or size – these implicit memories from childhood and any beliefs tagged with that experience come forward into our waking memory in the present. Our brain will make up a story based on those implicit memories, NOT on reality.
I might make a snarky remark at my best friend because she’s triggered a belief that I’m not good enough. My brain says “FIGHT!!!”, my implicit memory leaks into the present and pretty soon I am defending myself rather than listening to her heart.
Remember that developmentally appropriate belief that others will fix your pain? Well, in this scenario that belief would cause you to feel that it is intensely subjectively true that it’s your friends job to fix your pain and fix your trigger. SHE should make you feel better, rather than you doing the work of coaching your child-self back into the adult seat.
In my triggered state I want to be as isolated as I can be. I often will say, “I want to crawl in my hole and die now” That little girl inside is afraid and completely paralyzed by fear and lies, in those moments I have no access to the adult version of myself to meet my own needs or advocate for what I want.
I give up and literally hide in my bed. (Flight and Freeze) I am disconnected from self and others while my altered reality swims in a pool of lies and drowns my soul in falsehoods.
Ironically, the thing that restores my soul is healthy isolation and time to regroup in the quiet and healthy solitude. In those moments, I have access to my adult self and I am CHOOSING self-care, rather than fleeing.
All of this chaos in the brain, streaming both past and present on ‘livestream’ will cause a major disruption to our reality.
In these moments my Shepherd feels so far away. I do not have access to him, I can’t remember that he is good, I think he doesn’t love me or care about me, I feel alone, and worthless. My childhood belief says, “God doesn’t like me.” I have learned my implicit memory dispenses fear and shame, disconnecting me from God and community. I forget that there are people who love me, care about me and will walk through the dark valley with me. I forget that my Papa and Redeemer are laying next to me, collecting my tears.
When the lid flips – we lose access to our relational circuits, because the prefrontal cortex has been let loose by its hug. When this area of the brain is “hijacked” we cannot connect relationally to joy, appreciation, goodness, life, peace and others.. Our brain has momentarily forgotten its relational memory maps.
Look here, Isaiah states::
“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me. (because I got triggered!)
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? (Not when I’m scared! )
Literally! You can’t remember any of these things when you are triggered! So the prophet goes ON to remind the reader of His memory map of God, the way He is so trustworthy and never leaves us alone! (You can read the entirety of that passage in Isaiah 40:28-30)
Why is this important for the unbecoming to know? Because you have been betrayed by people who told you they spoke for GOD. These people have completely disregarded the way God designed our big, beautiful brain for connection and Shalom. They act like the brain operates separate from God and is something of the ‘flesh’ to be condemned.
Spiritual pharisees shame and manipulate us to believe we are:
“A doubting Thomas”
“An unbelieving heart”
“A hard heart”
“Sinning because we don’t have faith”
“Not honoring to God because we don’t read our Bible and believe it”
“We ask too many questions”
“We don’t have the “joy” of the Lord”
“We are disobedient”
NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE TRUE!!!!! These people taught you this because it is ALL THEY KNOW. Perhaps they haven’t done the work of understanding the betrayal that has taken root in their lives. They bought the party line instead of digging into their childhood hurts and wounds. They understand the Scripture intellectually – but have never made an emotionally connected memory map with their RESCUER JESUS! They may not have beautiful, emotional experiences with their brother, friend, Redeemer, and Creator.
So as betrayal trauma survivors – we are going to flip that script!
My Dear Sister,
When you feel you cannot connect to God, there is a LOGICAL, NEUROLOGICAL reason – and it can get better! Relational circuits CAN be turned back on after we have been triggered. Let me validate you:
- You are not sinning, doubting or disobeying
- Your CREATOR designed your brain, therefore, He of all people would know that you need to go through this process every time you are triggered. He understands!
- You actually have THE BIGGEST faith of anyone I know, because you continue to press in, even when you don’t feel relational. That takes bravery, tenacity and grit!
- You seek truth and answers for how to feel connected to God: this is another act of faith and believing that He will heal and fulfill
In their book, “The Joyful Journey Listening to Immanuel” Dr. Karl Lehman writes, “Many Christians fail to recognize that turning our RC’s back on is essential for restoring peace. In fact, it is our first priority. One of the first things to happen when we lose our peace is that our RC’s turn off. We become focused on problems because we do not know it is possible to restore our RC functions. Our solution to solving problems with our relational circuits off is to do the right thing rather than restore relationships. Doing many right things with your RC’s off can lead to doing very wrong things when it comes to restoring relationships in the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:20 describes the Pharisees as doing exactly this)
If you are wondering if your relational circuits have been turned off and you may be stuck, isolating yourself and staying an arm’s length away from God and community, here is a quick test:
- I just want to make a problem, person, or feeling go away. (I don’t want to deal with this)
- I don’t want to listen to what others feel or say
- My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting
- I don’t want to be connected to __________________ (someone I usually like)
- I just want to get away, fight, flight or freeze (vs. Calm and Connected)
- I more aggressively want to interrogate, judge and fix others
Our healing work is to catch this in our bodies and to deliberately notice when these circuits have shut off. We must learn to notice and catch!
Do not condemn or shame yourself today for feeling isolated from your Rescuer and friend. He always waits with you, He stays near to the broken hearted. He will be there to provide more special memories with you, and a track record over time of dependability, provision, validation, kindness, empathy, mercy and some happy surprises! Just you wait and see- keep watching my love, because He knows you are SO WORTH IT!
You are not alone.