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  • Writer's pictureKatie Maloney

All Your Shit Is Being Triggered: A Trauma Survivor’s Guide To COVID-19

Updated: May 13, 2020

Your mind and body love you so much - SO much that anytime you’ve ever experienced pain or suffering of any kind, your mind and body have memorized every detail of that experience in order to try to protect you from that same type of pain or suffering in the future. Even if you don't consciously remember the details of the trauma, your body has stored those memories in its cells. Some of the memories your body holds are the feelings you experience during trauma.

When you experienced trauma, you may have felt a loss of control. You may have felt that your choices were stolen. You may have felt that no one could protect you and that you were trapped.

With the new restrictions and living situations arising with COVID-19 you may be feeling a loss of control, or that your choices are limited or that you’re trapped at home. The uncertainty of the circumstances may also have you feeling unprotected or unsafe. See the similarities?

Because your mind has already memorized these feelings as signals that you’re experiencing trauma, any lack of control, fear or uncertainty that you are currently facing is going to convince your mind that you are experiencing your past trauma all over again - and all your shit will be triggered.

The good news is, you can recognize and lovingly work through your triggers. I want to help you do that. So, here is my shit, along with some tips on how to lovingly work through your own:

Fear of Being Trapped

As a kid, I was often trapped. I was trapped in an abusive life, I was trapped into doing things I didn’t want to do and I was often literally trapped in places in our house such as basement back-rooms. As a result, I developed a deeply-painful and fundamental fear of being trapped.

This fear was so pervasive in my life that, for years, it caused me to sabotage relationships, job opportunities, friendships and anything else that required me to be in certain places or with certain people for extended periods of time. Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to accept, work through and ultimately heal this fear. But, as word spread that we were restricted to our homes due to COVID-19, I found my fear of being trapped creeping its way back in.

How to lovingly work through it: Remind yourself that you have a choice.

First, Thank yourself. Any of the triggers that are coming up for you are actually your mind lovingly trying to protect you by reminding you of past things to “stay away from.” Although being triggered sucks, thank your mind for loving you enough to work so hard to protect you, and take some time to accept any emotions that come up for you before rushing to try and “fix” them.

Now, back to reminding yourself that you have choices. The core belief associated with the fear of being trapped is “I don’t have a choice.” When we experienced trauma, we didn’t have a choice. Our ability to choose was taken away from us at that moment. As a result, circumstances that place any type of restrictions on our ability to choose can trigger past trauma. Remind yourself that you do have choices. Yes, they are different, probably more limited, choices but you still have the ability to decide how to live your life. You and I are lucky enough to have an abundance of choices available to us that many people around the world do not currently have. You can choose how you spend your day, what you make for meals, when you eat, where (in your home) you eat, when and how you move your body, what you’re going to watch next on Netflix. To be totally honest, you can decide to completely abandon all regulations and throw a giant house party where you burn masks and touch everyone’s faces (not suggesting that). My point is, you do have choices and it’s important to remind yourself of that.

Fear of Discomfort for an Indefinite Period of Time

I remember holding my own hand, as a little girl, and comforting myself after being abused. I knew that, someday, I would be safe and living a totally different life but at six, nine or even 16 years old, I didn’t know when that day would arrive. Although I am absolutely in a safe and happy living environment currently, the feeling of being stuck in uncertain circumstances for an indefinite period of time pulls me right back into those experiences of being abused as a kid and not knowing when it will end.

How to lovingly work through it: Remember Where You Are

Yes, you are uncomfortable. All of the routines you lovingly placed into your life are either totally jumbled or temporarily gone. You miss your friends, you miss your loved ones, or if you’re like me and the only other living thing in your apartment is a houseplant, you miss human connection and physical touch. The worst part is, you have no idea how long all of this will last. This experience is pretty freaking uncomfortable, and traumatic in its own right. But it’s nothing like the trauma you’ve already survived. Remember that you are in a home where you are safe, with (or in virtual contact with) people you love and who love you back and want to support you. Remind yourself of where you are currently. Also, do everything that you can to stay present - even if you just sit in silence with your eyes closed and breathe for a few minutes a day. When you find yourself hyper-focusing on the future and spiraling into a panic of what-ifs, bring yourself back to the present and focus on today.

Fear that "I am not safe"

This is one of the most common limiting beliefs that we, as trauma survivors, develop. And with new regulations coming out everyday, no known cures, uncertain financial situations, and isolation, it’s obvious why this fear would be triggered during these times.

How to lovingly work through it: Release the Lone Wolf Identity

Many of us were either betrayed or left unprotected during the trauma. As a result, we developed the belief that no one can protect us. So we adopted a lone wolf mentality and took on the world alone. We told ourselves that asking for help meant that we were weak or a burden. Release those beliefs. Do not try to do this all on your own. Ask for what you need from coworkers, friends, family, and apply for any aid that you need. Most importantly, allow yourself to RECEIVE the help that is offered. People want to help during this time, even more so than they have before, so give yourself permission to ask and receive.

Being Constantly Busy Is A Trauma Response

Most frequently, trauma occurs when we least expect it, when our guards are down and we feel safe. Or, the trauma is reoccurring so we are never able to let our guards down or to relax enough to feel safe. Either way, we develop the belief that if we stay alert, then we can keep ourselves safe. We believe that, if we allow ourselves to be still and quiet, to slow down, then we will be caught off guard either by something bad or by emotions we’ve been avoiding. As a result, we get busy AF. We work 60+ hours a week, we constantly try to turn hobbies into new business ventures, we fill every spare moment with exercise or cooking or friendship time, or meetings, all in the name of being “super busy.” In actuality, we’re just running. We’re running away from the deep fear of being caught off guard again. As someone who, for years, refused to stop moving, I have had to do a lot of work around feeling safe in stillness and slowing my pace.

How to lovingly work through it: It’s going to be difficult at first, but be still

This is probably going to be one of the most challenging of the tips I offer. If you’re like I was for the first two weeks of isolation, you probably started filling your day with non-stop activities to help you pass the time or feel a little more normal. Once you stop, all of the triggers you’ve been avoiding are going to have the space to present themselves - and you’re going to feel them. You’re probably going to feel ALL of the emotions for a few days. It’s okay. All of these feelings will pass and the waves of ups and downs will start to steady. But you have to unleash the wave first. Every day for the next week - set a timer for 5 minutes. You can totally do more, but five minutes is the minimum. Sit or lay down and close your eyes. Take three deep breaths in and out. Then simply talk to yourself. Ask yourself, ‘Gurl, how are you feeling right now?” And let yourself answer. Ask yourself questions just as you would a best friend. Self-trust is a huge theme during this time, so you need to commit to practices that remind yourself that you’re here for you.

I’m Not Enough

I wasn't enough for healthy love from my parents, I'm not enough for healthy love with a partner because of the trauma I experienced, if I don't do more I won't be enough for this or that, blah, blah, blah, I'm not enough. Ah! It's exhausting just writing these old beliefs. These were thoughts I dealt with for years as a result of the trauma.They are beliefs that, again, I thought I had healed and was done with. But, in comes coronavirus. For a time when we’re all feeling more limited than we probably ever have, there is somehow still so much pressure to do all the things! As soon as we were all isolated, the social media advice came pouring in: “Now is the time to prioritize health and fitness, now is the time to prioritize growing your business, now is the time to prioritize deepening connections with your friends and reaching out to people you haven’t talked to since high school, now is the time to start new hobbies, or try online dating, or catch up on reading, or spend all day watching Netflix and relaxing.” I suddenly felt compelled to try and do all of it (which is impossible) and I felt inadequate when I couldn’t. That old feeling of “I am not enough,” that I’ve done so much shadow-work around, showed up again.

How to lovingly work through it: Make Fun Of Yourself

Normally, I wouldn’t advise this but, hear me out. You are putting enough pressure on yourself already, you don’t need to delve deep into your past trauma and feelings of not being enough (Although, if you want to, that's great too). For now, let’s just start slow. Whenever those thoughts of inadequacy start rolling in, all you need to do is laugh and say, “Okay Self, well, the next time we’re experiencing a global pandemic, I’ll be more prepared. I’ll be ready to rekindle my guitar-playing hobby while starting a non-profit and checking in on the kid I lived next door to in high school. Right now, I’m going to focus on making my grocery list.”

Taking On Other People’s Shit

It is almost impossible not to pick up on the fearful energy of the world right now. Simply going to the grocery store can be an energetically draining experience. I was standing in the frozen vegetable aisle last week just trying to get some spinach when I found myself wanting to cry. I quickly realized that I was picking up on the emotions of everyone else around me and it was overwhelming!

How to lovingly work through it: Ask yourself, “Are these feelings my own, or someone else’s?”

Between social media, the news, and differing opinions from everyone you speak with, it can be really difficult not to start absorbing the energy of everyone else. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by emotions, stop and ask yourself, “Are these feelings my own, or other people’s? If they are yours, gently talk with yourself the way you would a friend. Ask yourself questions about your emotions. Ask yourself about what would help you feel better. If the emotions are other people’s, then take a few moments to recenter yourself. Breathe and imagine a ball of light starting in your chest and then gracefully expanding as you breathe until you are completely surrounded by a protective shield of light. Only your own energy and emotions can exist within this shield, no one else’s can get in. Breathe and feel into the safety of this light.

Final Tip:

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this entire experience is weird and uncomfortable and even scary. That said, we are living at a time when the entire world is being asked to slow down. This global change in pace is unprecedented in our lifetimes and can truly be an incredible opportunity to deepen your connection with yourself. When I say that, I don’t mean “this is a great time to work on fixing yourself,” although growth may be something you choose to prioritize during this time. What I do mean is that we are all being asked to deal with our shit while also holding space for others to do the same, and we don’t have any distractions that can enable us to avoid this process - if there was ever a recipe for connection to the self, this is it! You now have the opportunity to allow yourself to feel everything that comes up, and to trust those feelings. Trust that they are coming from places that aren’t scary. Trust that you can move through them and find a far deeper connection with yourself through the process. You are doing a great job, remind yourself of that daily.

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