Making sense of triggered experiences without curses, psychic freeloaders, or evil– How persistent triggers drive our beliefs.
I’m talking with a client who has some pretty severe symptoms and ended up with a couple of psychiatric hospitalizations. While her diagnosis was pretty straightforward for the hospital staff (manic-depressive with psychotic episodes) this did little to explain to her how to be better and not end up in the hospital again. So, through my lens of traumatic stress, we started by talking about what she experiences when she’s in this horrible state. She feels things are going on inside of her causing her to have difficulty sleeping, maintaining focus and concentration. She is so upset she cannot come to a conclusion or understanding that is helpful or that she can rely upon in directing her actions. When asked directly what is going on at the worst times. She says that she sometimes sees things that others don’t, she sometimes feels things others don’t, she sometimes knows things that others cannot know or relate to. And she recognizes people around her are clueless about what she is sharing with them.
When directed to attend to her experience in her body currently she reports difficulty breathing and an uncomfortable sometimes painful tension throughout her body and despairing sense of being alone in her fear the world gone so wrong. So, while she is trying to make sense of all of this and to explain to her satisfaction what is going on and what she needs to do about it, she turns to a more mystical model of the world. She describes a universe of good and evil forces, of alien being, of ghosts, and of malevolent forces.
While her feelings and experiences may be real to her, they do not serve her in the context of what she desires out of her life. She is explaining what she experiences with references to entities, aliens, and forces of good and evil being played out around her and her roles in setting the universe right. She perceives the universe as a battle of mystic forces. Her model of the world is reflective of how she perceives herself in other areas of her life. For example, the mystic forces that are outside of her, the ones motivating the misunderstanding, the pain in her body, are all processes of behaviors that she does to herself.
As she shared her explanation of what was happening, I invited her to be notice again what she is sensing in her body in this moment, in this shared space, in our connection, and in her triggered responses. Then we tap and/or apply other energy techniques to change her level of fear, pain, and muscle tension. Then we talk about a simpler explanation for her condition and the importance of protecting herself and tending to her physical needs before fixing the external world. Calming her mind and relaxing her body to connect in grounded positive ways without so much talk of the frequencies or entities unseen by normal humans. As we explored her history her experiences and responses to the world appeared more reasonable. Without giving up her mystical belief she was attending to thinking and acting to heal her fears and pain of the past first and making political, social, or cosmic changes only when she is safe.
It is rare that one will find themselves in the extreme conditions I am describing here but in all recovery processes we must make sense of our experience.
A deeper understanding of the impact of triggers is helpful in making sense out of how one ends up with obsessive thinking, or unending manic activity, and in the most severe cases psychosis. When this psychosis interferes with ability to communicate with others or to act in ways others see as the normal real problems can occur. Psychosis can be the result of biochemical imbalances, toxic exposures, or overwhelming persistence traumatic stress.
Triggers take a person out of the moment and sets off physiological and behavioral responses. The sensations one feels and what one does at that moment can be pretty horrible. If we catch this as it is happening, tapping can do a great deal to alleviate this experience. But, if we’ve not been able to manage these horrible feelings and sensations and return to the moment and feel safe, we may jump out of our body by attending to the top of our brain to rationalize or avoid what we feel. We may even resort to extraordinary attempts to at least make sense out of what is going on, especially if our traumatic stressor events started young and continued a long time.
As human beings we all must make some sense out of our existence and experience. The discussion about this need has been around for a long time. When we cannot make sense of something, we begin to make up missing information rather than continuing to work with what we know to be true in the most grounded ways. We need to have an explanation of our feeling and behaviors to feel less out of control.
Once triggered most of us find some comfort in being able to arrive at an explanation of how this horrible reaction came about, as with my client. If our conscious model of traumatic stress is comprehensive and includes an explanation of how we were triggered and what we are experiencing, we can often let go of obsessive cognitive processing and attend to coming back into the here and now experience.
But a common problem is that no matter how we think about something, as long as the triggered reaction continues to be felt in the body we have to struggle with finding a way out. While in the top of our brains we can easily be caught in an abstract loop of modeling and formulating the world to explain what we are experiencing and we just keep going and going and going and going in these thoughts and actions related to this thinking. And being the wonderfully creative and imaginative entities we have evolved into, we can come up with all kinds of explanations and models without having to be grounded in the physical plane we all live in. Empirical evidence is not required.
The purpose of all this unconventional behavior and communications with others is understandable but, a simpler explanation can be found with a careful exploration of ones’ perceptions, nuroceptions, and emotions along with a careful examination of their abstracted formulation of the world and relationships around them. A comprehensive history of anyone’s early childhood development and accounting for unique sensitivities to physical, mental, social, relational conditions, one can understand what is going.
When we can’t make sense of why people do the things they do, or aren’t able to discern a purpose for acting in a negative violent controlling way, we may turn to explanations that invoke evil, malevolent energetic forces, curses, soul stealing, black magic or other such things.
To make sense of our experience is to remember all behavior has a purpose. The purpose is to survive. This simple explanation takes us back to being grounded in our bodies, and a felt sense that our behavior need not to be blamed or shamed, either by ourselves or someone else.