We often talk about triggers as if they are catastrophic events which leave us (and everyone in our vicinity) reeling from the retraumatization. Many believe that a trigger has to be something so closely linked to our trauma there is no mistaking the pattern in place. This can lead us to the false belief that trigger avoidance is a feasible strategy for life after trauma. This also leads us to the false belief we will know when our past trauma is triggered.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some huge triggers in my life. When my children’s father abandoned our family, the resulting emotional wreckage was clear and intensely painful. While I didn’t have my memories back yet, I knew the impact on my life was significant. I knew it was a reminder of something. I just didn’t know what.
But most of my triggers are not the proverbial “baseball bat from the universe”. They are whispers. And they leave me with a general sense that things aren’t right. They leave me with the sense that I am trying to fix the unfixable, to live a life that wasn’t mine to live. Most of my triggers seem to be saying, “You are fighting a losing battle.” In reality, I am not fighting a battle at all. But my inner parts don’t know that. They believe this life is all about the fight. They are fighting to stay alive. They are fighting for resources. They are fighting to get the love they want.
And when a series of things goes wrong or doesn’t work the way I planned, the feeling sets in. Why are they fighting so hard when it doesn’t work? Why are they exhausting themselves for nothing? The world is against them. It would be better to give up.
While the sentiment is wrong, some of those questions do need to be asked. Why are we fighting so hard? Really. Is life supposed to be a fight? I struggle with this one all the time. From everything I read, it seems letting go would be a better approach. At the very least, it would be much less exhausting. But those exhausted parts are the first to protest when I consider that possibility.
What would happen if I stopped worrying? Something important would be missed.
What would happen if I let the universe work for me? The universe will betray them.
What would happen if I stopped fighting? Death.
To my inner parts, death is the only real outcome of letting go. Although they are sure it will be preceded by betrayal and failure. So they fight against all of it. They fight against life. They push and push to get ahead of this horrible adversary they face, the adversary without a name or a face. And when something goes wrong, they immediately assume the adversary is winning. They are losing. The resulting feeling overwhelms my entire system.
That feeling is hopelessness. We don’t have what it takes to succeed. We might as well give up. There is no winning for us. No matter how hard we try, we won’t make anything any better. The world and the universe will never support us.
The loss leaves me in a place of paralysis, depression and burnout. But in reality, I was fighting against something that didn’t exist. I am losing a one-sided battle. An invisible, non-existent adversary is winning a battle it isn’t fighting. I am feeling devastated at the possibility of surrendering to a foe that was created out of thin air.
There used to be a foe. And that foe was horrible. But that enemy is long gone. They don’t control me anymore. Of course, that message hasn’t reached my inner parts yet. So my job is to help them understand the fight is over. We get to stop battling now. That war ended long ago. But that job is not easy. They don’t believe me and they don’t want to take any chances.
But they know something else. They know how hard this fight is. They would love to live life without the fight. They would love to rest from the painful struggle. And that is my way in. I must appeal to their exhaustion. I must reiterate that life is only worth living without the fight. I must tell them I think it is okay to take a risk for the purpose of finding a less painful path through life. They may not believe it is possible, but they are motivated to learn how to believe it. And I can help them get there.