CHILDHOOD TRAUMA TRIGGERS & HOW TO MANAGE HEAVY EMOTIONS Part 2
by Lisa A. Romano
Deep, unresolved childhood wounds can make regulating and feeling heavy emotions very difficult. In this part, I’m going to delve into each part of the process as you begin to learn how to regulate your emotions better.
Willingness To Change:
I think it's fair to say that in order to be able to master our emotions and develop emotional mastery there has to be a certain level of willingness to do so.
There are people in society that aren't interested in managing their emotions, like narcissists. There are people in society that don't think there's anything wrong with lashing out, devaluing people and reacting angrily. Some people just believe they're totally within their right to do so and that if they're angry at anyone, that person deserved it. So we have to recognize that there's a big difference between someone who has a difficult time regulating their emotions, (as is the case with people who struggle with CPTSD) and someone who is just absolutely disinterested in learning to become more self-aware and self-responsible.
Becoming More Self-Aware:
The next thing that we have to work on is our awareness. Now, what are you becoming aware of? The moment that you start to feel off. The moment that you begin to feel your heart race. The moment that you start to feel like there's cotton in your brain. For me, when I have a CPTSD trigger response, my ears get hot, I almost go deaf, and everything gets muffled, my heart beats erratically in my chest, and my face gets very hot; it's as if I'm arrested in time. The work I've done around awareness has been beneficial and has helped me transform my life.
So I learned to become aware of my feelings when I am triggered. So when someone says something to you that hurt your feelings and you have a full-blown response to what has just happened, you're feeling the trigger come on. You become aware that something has just shifted and that the amygdala has been activated.
Observing How Your Body Responds:
The second thing we need to do is observe how our body responds to this trigger. You may experience things like:
- Your face is getting hot
- Not being able to hear as well
- Breathing becoming more erratic
When experiencing these triggers, say it either in your head or aloud. Start calling out the symptoms, the physical sensations; they are valid. Your body responds to the fight or flight response, chemicals are being produced in your bloodstream, your limbic system responds naturally, and your nervous system is overly activated. It's your job to observe the consequences of that overreaction.
Learning To Be One With Your Emotions:
The next step is critical. I teach this in my online courses; it’s this idea of learning to sit with and be one with the emotions you naturally want to push away from or react to. When you learn to sit with your emotions, you're learning to say, “my body is experiencing these sensations, but I am okay. I am not these physical sensations.”
I find that people define the most challenging step in this process differently. Some people find that observing how they feel is the hardest step; others find it more difficult to call out the body sensations, and then other people find it more difficult to just sit with how they feel.
This is the step that will change your life because when we’re in a trauma response, the chemicals in our body, our habits of thought and our habits of behavior just want to take over but all that does is keep us stuck.
So learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions will absolutely change your life. It's saying, “I'm not going to resist what I am feeling”. So we are learning to become non-resistant to what we feel, learning to acknowledge and say namaste this is how I feel. We're learning to not push away how we feel, not running away with how we feel; we're learning how to sit with what it is that we're feeling. We recognize that we are not our feelings; we are the observer of our feelings. Recognizing that we're not even our bodies, we are the observer of these bodily sensations.
When I was able to develop that space where I was able to say, “Wait a minute the, I am that I am or the observer that I am, the higher self that I am has the ability to observe my body.” I have the ability to have a physical experience to an emotional trigger, and it does not consume me. It became easier for me to recognize the value of breathing through it and keeping a cool mind.
Keeping A Cool Mind:
When you're anxious, your breathing immediately starts to change, your oxygen saturation begins to change, and that's why so many of us start to get a little woozy, and we start to get a little lightheaded, almost to the point where we're going to faint.
When you’re in a trigger, walking through these steps, and you say, “deep breathes, just breathe,” your thinking shifts, and your brain assumes no sabre-tooth tiger is coming after you anymore. Think about it: if a sabre-toothed tiger was running after you, would you have the ability to relax and take a deep breath? Absolutely not. You would be running, trying to escape the tiger. So the next time you feel your emotions getting out of control, whether that's sadness, anger, shame or anxiety, take a deep breath.
Once you've walked through all these steps, you might start to feel everything in your body beginning to get a little bit more balanced; at least, what you might feel is that it hasn't escalated. Now, this is where you really have to become like an emotional Sherlock Holmes. We want to identify who, what, when and where something happened. Who are the people involved? What was said? How did I feel when this person said that? Who does this person remind me of? When did I feel this way in the past? Most of our triggers today, if not all of them, are tied to some experience from the past.
We have a record of the past our body and, as Joe Dispenza says, “[Our body] is a record of the past.” When we suffer from CPTSD, someone could look at us a certain way and remind us of our narcissistic mother, and we can feel so enraged in the moment because we understand on some visceral level we're being judged. This person is trying to control us; they're being unjust, they're being unfair, there's manipulation happening, so all sorts of deep emotions can be triggered in the present just from the way someone looks at you. This is reactivity.
We don't want to be that reactive to things that are happening outside of us because that's where we lose our sense of control. We are giving our power over to external experiences, so there's great value in learning to regulate your emotions. At this stage of the process, you're trying to figure out what happened. What were the events that led up to this actual trigger?
Identify How Your Body Responds:
The next thing that you have to identify clearly is how your body responded. Label it write it out in your journal. For example: when so-and-so said this, my body reacted this way; I could feel my heart beat rapidly, my body began to sweat, my blood pressure went up, etc. So you want to identify how the trigger presents itself and what automatically happens in your body. Why? Because you can't fix a hole in the wall, you can't see.
So if you're highly reactive to someone accusing you of something that you're not guilty of, and you tend to react poorly to that person, whatever it is that happens as a result of you being triggered; unless you see what happens to you as a result of this trigger, you're not going to be able to fix it. So we're building your ability to be self-aware through self-inquiring questions, and then hopefully, you’ll be able to start feeling much calmer.
Decide What To Do About How You Feel:
Now that you've walked through these steps, you're gaining some clarity, identifying how you feel, what the trigger was, how your body responded, and now you want to decide what you want to do about it. This is going to create forward-moving momentum in the direction that you desire.
For instance, if you're in a toxic relationship, here's your opportunity to decide: do I need to have a conversation? Do I need to set a boundary? Am I done? How many times have I been on this roller coaster? How many times have we had similar conversations? So now critical thinking comes in; you use the benefit of contrast with a calm mind space to decide what is best for you.
When it comes to toxic relationships, we have one of three choices:
- We set a boundary - look to change the situation.
- We accept it - we stay right where we are because we can't change the other person.
- We leave it
Those are our choices.
So when we set a boundary, we expect our partners to meet us halfway, and we wait for change to happen. Of course, we have to be fair. By setting boundaries and hoping for your partner to meet them, you buy yourself time to see if your partner has a willingness to change. Some partners don't, so you have to think, does my partner even have the ability to change?
This is the step where you are learning to become a critical thinker. You're learning to become a more rational thinker versus a highly emotional and reactive thinker. You’re trying to make those decisions in this calm and centered space. What do I need to do right now? Am I leaving this situation? Am I looking to change it? Am I setting boundaries? Am I having a conversation, or am I just accepting things as they are?
When it comes to codependency, what happens to us as codependents is that we rely on something external to make us feel good enough, and we rely on others to make us feel better. So if you have someone in your life that has begun to mentally take advantage of your vulnerabilities and know that you seek their approval, then this person deliberately withholds affirmation to play a mind game with you. This might make you feel very uncomfortable; it might make you feel vulnerable and trigger abandonment trauma. This reinforces the trauma bond, the fear that you are the reason this person is hurting you, that you are the reason this person shut down; you’re the one to blame. A codependent will panic, and then in that space, they try to figure out ways to fawn, rescue and ultimately enable a very toxic relationship dynamic.
Cut The Ties
So, we have to learn is to cut any ties that we have to experiences, people, behaviors and even belief systems that have us thinking that we need something on the outside to help us regulate our emotions. Whether that’s drinking alcohol, cigarettes, other people, whatever, we have to become more accountable and self-aware of how we rely on outside things to soothe us.
This is the decision-making process where we are ultimately learning that we can take care of the self. We can make a decision saying, “No, I'm not running to my mother, who constantly abuses me. No, I'm not acquiescing to my narcissistic father for approval. No, I am not going to fawn and subjugate my needs to someone who is emotionally exploitative; I'm not going to do that.” So rather than have someone else take care of you, you’re going to take care of yourself.
What does that look like? You have to decide. What makes you feel better? For me, it’s meditation, a hot bath, walks in nature, sometimes crying, crying and then validating my inner child, journaling. If my heart feels unsettled, I begin my day by calming myself down with a quick meditation. I get out my journal, and I write and write and write; it's amazing what unfolds on a piece of paper. As I'm beginning to speak to myself about the way that I feel and what the circumstances were, I start to become that sherlock holmes detective.
This is the foundation of emotional mastery. The ability to ask yourself the right questions:
- Why do I feel this way?
- What bothered me about this?
- When did I feel like this in the past?
- Who does this person remind me of?
- Where am I stuck?
- Am I seeking approval?
- What happened when this person said that?
- What is really going on here?
- What is disempowering me?
- What is making me feel stuck?
- What can I do next time?
This is an amazing point in this exercise because you’ll discover a lot about yourself if you practice it. You’ll see that your life must change, and, in essence, you'll find ways to become that mother or father that was supposed to validate you when you were a child. You'll learn that the divine feminine or male within you has the ability to witness you, acknowledge you, validate you and have empathy for you, empowering you from the inside out.
As long as we do not do this work, we stay stuck. We continue to be vulnerable people who fear our fear, exposing ourselves to the wrong person and oftentimes become over-sharers. We hide our vulnerabilities with perfectionism, living in fear of failure, being so afraid of getting mocked or criticized.
“At the end of the day, what we're really afraid of is being abandoned and suffering rejection which is really our inner child's wounds.”
It's that part of us that has been so wounded in childhood that we pretend doesn't exist in our adulthood, yet we still react to. Not only do we react to the rejection, but we also live in fear of it, and we develop things like codependency and reactive anger as ways to cope.
When we stop for a minute and learn to heal the inner child, we can begin living our life more consciously. We can begin to deliberately create our new life, and to me, that is what it's all about; to become aware of the wounds within ourselves and develop strategies and skills to heal. It’s about developing ways in which we can give ourselves what we were supposed to receive in childhood and to move forward from there feeling empowered and no longer like a victim of circumstance. That is the potential that we all hold. Dear One, it’s your birthright!
So many of us are taught that we need to fight the darkness, but you really don't need to; you need to embrace and learn to sit with it. The more non-resistant you are to these emotions and wounds, the quicker they have to disappear.
It’s really empowering stuff when you put these steps into practice in your own life!
Namaste everybody, until next time!
If you would like to learn more about childhood trauma triggers and how to regulate your emotions better, watch this video on my YouTube Channel, where I dive into each step of the process.