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#MeToo / Health

How to Thrive in a Relentlessly Triggering Time

The news cycle is relentless, and it's almost always upsetting. Whether in victory or discouragement, the over saturated media landscape makes trauma ever-present.

Introduction and Interview by Kat Lloyd

Images by Marina Manoukian.

The term “trigger warning” is thrown around casually these days, sometimes mockingly. In recent years, the disclaimer has become synonymous with the right-wing narrative that paints the left as over-sensitive snowflakes, out to censor the world. For sexual violence survivors, this is not the case.

To specify, a trigger is a reminder of past trauma. Triggers are extremely personal and differ between individuals. For many with PTSD from sexual abuse, a trigger will cause one to go into a fight or flight response, a mechanism the brain and body use when fighting to survive. Putting trigger warnings on media empowers those who have experienced trauma the opportunity to brace themselves, or avoid the content altogether.

While we’re still experiencing sexism and misogyny in our real lives, online we’re bombarded with more and more media that can be triggering. Another news cycle outs another pervert, and we’re reminded, again, how unsafe we really are. In a time where many of us are online 24/7 – the triggers can begin to feel relentless

While we’re still experiencing sexism and misogyny in our real lives, online we’re bombarded with more and more media that can be triggering. Another news cycle outs another pervert, and we’re reminded, again, how unsafe we really are. In a time where many of us are online 24/7 – the triggers can begin to feel relentless.

Since 2016, some powerful predators have been taken down – and most importantly, our silence has been broken. But still, we watch many walk free while others suffer, and we experience the push back from those who want us to stay silent. The news cycle is relentless, and it’s almost always upsetting. Whether in victory or discouragement, the over saturated media landscape makes trauma ever-present.

So how do you get through it? Trying to maintain work schedules, social lives, and romantic relationships is difficult enough without the burnout from panic attacks, tears, and nausea. With daily practice and awareness, it’s manageable. To help navigate these triggers, I consulted Shanée Smith, a clinical social worker and therapist whose work is trauma/healing-informed. Here, Smith helps give us some pointers on how to thrive in a relentlessly triggering time.

Whether in victory or discouragement, the oversaturated media landscape makes trauma ever-present.

Images by Marina Manoukian.

Salty: When there are so many triggers around, what can one do to work through the trauma on a day-to-day basis?

Set boundaries for yourself. If you have access to content warnings before consuming media, prioritize assessing your own emotional capacity. Some questions to consider: What feelings come up for you when considering these warnings? Will you be consuming this media alone? Who is producing this content and what information do you know about this particular source/outlet? Do they tend to sensationalize survivor narratives, take part in intentional or unintentional victim blaming, or exploit survivors who have given testimony?

Feelings of judgment when choosing not to engage with particular types of media can come up for individuals who have survived, experienced, or witnessed sexual assault. Acknowledge these feelings as they arise. Understand that refraining from triggering content (whether this looks like taking intentional pauses to reground or skipping out on content altogether) is a completely personal and completely valid choice. Working and moving through trauma can bring up a range of familiar and unfamiliar emotions (i.e., powerlessness, guilt, rage, shame, etc.) whether in partnership with a clinician, loved ones, or with oneself. In my time as a clinician, I’ve learned and relayed the statement “It often gets worse before it gets better.” This is because we become hyper-exposed to the emotional and psychological impact of our traumas before moving to a place of deep reflection, understanding, and healing. When we are not verbally processing through therapy, it is important to consider the ways that we can continue the work in our day-to-day lives. Whether working through prompts, journaling, or engaging in mindfulness practice, we can continue to ground ourselves in our own healing.

Understand that refraining from triggering content (whether this looks like taking intentional pauses to reground or skipping out on content altogether) is a completely personal and completely valid choice.

Images by Marina Manoukian.

Salty: When a trauma survivor is triggered in a social or work setting, what is the best way to handle it?

Triggers are extremely nuanced in that they can show up in a number of ways, depending on the person or people involved in a particular interaction; the time, location, and duration in which the experience occurred, alongside a number of other important factors, all make a difference. More often than not, triggers occur unexpectedly and without warning. Although this information can feel discouraging, there are ways our bodies work in collaboration with our psyches to alert us and the people around us that we are feeling unsafe. For some, this can look like pacing back and forth, while for others, it can look like dazing out. Being aware of our body’s early responses to triggering situations can help us assess the most appropriate ways to navigate both in professional and social contexts.

Although it could feel extremely vulnerable and even exhausting to express when you are hurting or are being impacted by someone else’s actions, it can serve as a way to effectively communicate your own boundaries and diminish the likelihood of future triggering interactions.

It is understood that your foot tapping in the middle of a meeting with a condescending supervisor can feel extremely different than feeling your face heat up as you and a couple of friends scroll through a pages-long social media debate. In each of these scenarios, identify your allies and consider reaching out for support. Although it could feel extremely vulnerable and even exhausting to express when you are hurting or are being impacted by someone else’s actions, it could simultaneously serve as a way to effectively communicate your own boundaries and further diminish the likelihood of future triggering interactions. In moving through a world where we are constantly being exposed to triggers, consider keeping certain objects close that bring you back to a state of grounding, even if just for the time being. Some may include, but are not limited to, healing stones, crystals, sensory objects, and fidget toys.

Images by Marina Manoukian.

Salty: If the trauma is repressed, but the triggers are all around (social media, news, TV), how can one recognize the physical symptoms of PTSD?

Trigger responses (whether physical, verbal, emotional, etc.) can be difficult to recognize, especially if you have not been able to process the experience and/or event that has had a traumatic impact. If you find that you are experiencing difficulty identifying the experiences that have contributed to particular trigger responses, it could be helpful to explore this in greater detail with a clinician.

In a time where many of us are online 24/7 – the triggers can begin to feel relentless.

Images by Marina Manoukian.

Salty: What are healthy ways to deal with the mental and physical exhaustion of sexual trauma?

Find solace in routine (and if this seems daunting, start small). Individuals who have lived through sexual assault may need to unlearn and relearn particular narratives surrounding self-care. The idea that it’s a luxury is completely untrue. Prioritizing the ways in which we care for ourselves can allow us to regain a sense of control and autonomy in our lives and also serves as one of the foundations to our overall commitment to healing. Just as I discussed taking time to pause from heavy media content, taking time to pause throughout your day can be completely life-altering. So go ahead: Practice your mantras in the mirror, write yourself love-notes, jot down your small victories, and give yourself that loving embrace. You deserve it.


You can learn more about Shanée Smith’s approach here and follow Kat Lloyd on Instagram.

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