Understanding & Managing Triggers When Faced With Betrayal
Without doubt, triggers are a pretty universal experience for women who have suffered sexual betrayal trauma and the related behaviors of lying, gaslighting, and narcissistic behaviors.
Triggers can pop up when you least expect it and in ways you would never have dreamed of. When they do, they can be genuinely paralyzing, distressing and panic inducing. They are also, sadly, unavoidable (for the most part) and so having a strategy or two for dealing with them is a wise move for your healing.
Today we’ll unpack some of the science behind triggers, how and why they happen, and how to recognize them in her individual sessions. She will invite you to increase your awareness of your own personal triggers and the impact they have on you, – the first step to learning how to confidently recognize and face a trigger.
You’ll learn how tracking triggers can help you prepare for unavoidable triggers and anticipate triggering situations (and even prepare for them pro-actively). BTR coaches can teach you simple and practical techniques for regaining your personal power over triggers with effective tools and strategies.
There is no doubt that you will leave these sessions with a clearer understanding of why and how you are triggered, what you can do about it and with new tools in your toolbox to aid and enhance your healing.
Managing Triggers When Experiencing Trauma From Your Husband’s Lies, Porn Use, and Emotional Abuse
We are going to talk about understanding and managing triggers. All of us who have experienced betrayal trauma have experienced triggers on some level so I am so glad you are here to talk about this today.
Common Triggers For Women After Discovering Husband’s Secret Sexual Behavior
Triggers are unpredictable but there are some universal ones that women experience. Depending on what their husband’s sexual behavior and addiction has been, often it is clearly pornographic images or even just the media images we are exposed to now. We can be standing in the que at the supermarket and we can be exposed to very sexualized images. This can be a really big trigger for many in the early stages after we discover our husbands have an issue with sex and lust.
Another trigger women experience is just being around their husband or partner who has been causing the pain that they are in. Even being in the same place as this person can be a big trigger for women.
Anne: Are there also triggers associated with the emotional abuse, the gaslighting, the manipulation, and the lies that are taking place?
We can experience those triggers at the hands of other people, beyond just our own husbands and the people who have been committing the most obvious abuse in our life.
We can become very sensitive to dishonesty, to really any kind of shifty behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable. We can experience it with our husband but also the work environment or in our friendships.
These kinds of behaviors become quite sensitive points for us. Lying is one of the biggest triggers that women universally experience.
What Triggers You The Most After Discovering Your Husband’s Addiction?
Anne: There are so many different aspects to triggers and the way we are triggered related to the lying and the emotional abuse we have experienced.
For our readers, will you please scroll down and comment about your experience. We want to hear about your experience. What triggers you the most?
I was thinking about this and some of the stories I have heard…I have heard a lot of stories related to food. One of the most intense and most bizarre triggers that I personally experienced was over a loaf of bread. As I explain this, what you will notice is that the trigger is actually the starting point for the thought process that comes with this.
I was triggered by a loaf of bread because my husband had gone to the shop to buy bread and when I opened the cupboard, I could see that we already had a loaf. The bread was the catalyst. What followed it was a series of thoughts about why he went to buy bread since we already had some—“We don’t need bread so he must be going to do something else…What is he going to do? Maybe he is going to do such and such…” and I began to tell this story around what he was going to do, who he was going to see…
Although the loaf of bread was a meaningless thing, this loaf of bread signified a much bigger issue when it triggered all of those kinds of fears and concerns. As it turned out, he’d gone to buy a loaf of French bread when we had a loaf of sliced bread in the cupboard. It was a different thing and very innocent but in that moment, the feeling of being in danger was so intense that I actually had to call my husband and ask him what he was doing in the store when we didn’t need bread.
One of my regular clients told me recently that she was triggered by a viennetta. It’s an ice cream dessert in my country. So again, a food item. When she told me the story that was associated, what we discovered was that the triggering item was not the actual sum total of the trigger…it was more about what it meant and what was going on with the thought processes behind it.
So yes, there are weird triggers that just seem to pop out of nowhere. Women have loads of stories to tell of the strange thing, the strange scenarios that have triggered them. They change as you go through the healing process.
Triggers Can Be A Signal That Abuse Is Still Happening
Anne: I think one interesting point to bring out when talking about triggers is that if we are not safe, we may continue to be triggered because we are still experiencing abuse and lies. Our trauma can be a gift to us. We can use it to make sure we are safe. Learning to understand and manage triggers is also part of unpacking, “Is this a safe situation?” or am I being constantly triggered because I’m still in the abuse.
I think there is an important distinction between the two. Sometimes a trigger is an indication that we are not safe and there are some tangible actions we need to do to become safe. If the trigger is alerting us to a physical or emotional danger, then the action we would take on the back of that trigger would be very different than if it was a trigger that was a reminder of a dangerous situation that is no longer happening. So you are absolutely right to make this distinction.
Triggers Can Be Reminders Of Where We Can Still Heal
I think we can look at triggers in a couple of ways. There is some solid advice around staying out of triggering situations and not exposing ourselves to that emotional stress. We know as we continue to heal there comes a point where we need to face some of those situations so that we can re-engage with life.
I do like to think about triggers when they are the reminder-variety rather than the not-safe variety as a bit of an indication. We can look at triggers and ask what it is teaching and what do we need to learn to manage the trigger more effectively; what is it telling us about where we still need to heal?
These two ways to look at triggers are helpful. There are cases where we need to avoid exposing ourselves to them; and there are cases where we can stop and ask what we can learn from the triggering situation to heal.
Triggers Are Powerful
Anne: Absolutely. Why are triggers such a problem with women with betrayal trauma?
There is a such a problem for women with betrayal trauma because triggers cause such an intense emotional response. A trigger can put a person right back in the moment of danger and despair. When a trigger is first experienced, particularly if it has never happened before, it can be super scary. When women talk about having panic attacks and becoming overwhelmed in public places and those kinds of things…if you didn’t know this was going to be a part of it, this can be really scary and overwhelming. The fact that it evokes all of these emotions in us again can be really problematic.
I don’t know about you, Anne, but in the early days when I experienced triggers I would often have an emotional hangover and I would feel the effects of a triggering situation for sometimes days after the event. It can take a little while just to get back on your feet after experiencing a powerful trigger.
Anne: Yes, even with my no-contact boundary that I hold where I don’t discuss things with my ex (all communication goes through a third party), there are still times when something will happen to trigger an argument in my head that I have with him. He’s not even around but I still sometimes have an argument with him just in my own head, which causes me stress! I think ok, now I am safe from the trauma, safe from the abuse, I’m safe from having this argument in real life and here I am, being triggered into an argument with an imaginary person! It’s fascinating! I’m still working on these things.
Internal Triggers Also Create Havoc
What is really interesting about this is that we tend to think that triggers are something that happens outside of us. We see something and we get triggered; or we hear something or see a behavior.
An internal trigger occurs when I look in the mirror when I get out of the shower and I feel a bit dissatisfied with one part of my body. This doesn’t just stop here. I’ll feel something and I’ll say something like, “I’m looking pudgy today” and then the spiral of toxic thoughts come with the original thought that tells me this is probably why he did what he did–because I’m fat or I’m this or that…I can create this all by myself because the wound I experience when he betrayed me is still there and I am still healing. It doesn’t even have to be something that someone does to us. It can be something that we inadvertently do all by ourselves. This is really a shame because we think we’ve done it to ourselves. Actually, it’s the traumatic impact that is working its way through us.
Understanding and Managing Triggers
One of the most important things that any woman can do when it comes to understanding and managing triggers is to increase her awareness of how they happen and where they happen and what it looks like for her. Once we have been able to achieve that, she can think about what she needs to do about them. We are going to spend time in the sessions unpacking what we do to find out more so we can learn what we need to learn from the triggers and learn how to manage them.
Anne: Yes, I think it is important for every woman who has experienced the lies and emotional abuse, the betrayal, the infidelity to understand this because it can wreak havoc on our peace and feelings of safety and confidence.
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Until next week, stay safe out there!