I had a terrible trigger yesterday. The details are unimportant Ė but I said something that I thought was perfectly neutral, factual, and non-threatening and it was taken wrong Ė twisted and misinterpreted into something completely opposite to my intent.
I found myself subjected to a backlash of anger that I was totally unprepared for and was unable to understand. It took me back to my early life and the worst episodes with the step-father. My gut clenched up as though a fist was squeezing it. My lungs felt pressure as though the air was being pushed out of them by a heavy weight. My head was spinning, vision closing in, and ears ringing. I was dizzy, disoriented, and felt like I was about to pass out.
In the past, that moment would have precipitated an episode of absolute withdrawal and shut-down on my part. Iíd have become disconnected and depressed and it would have taken me days to come back to my ďnormalĒ level of low-grade depression.
This time, I had enough knowledge to stay present and hold on and see it through. I reminded myself of where I was and that I was in no danger. That the events that I was being reminded of were long past and had no power over me anymore. That the others present meant me no harm. That this was a case of miscommunication and that it could be straightened out in time. I slowed, deepened and timed my breathing. I visualized a comforting, pleasant, relaxing time and place that I had previously identified as a good ďgo toĒ memory. I tried to consciously relax my muscles and assume a more relaxed posture. I tried to focus on the words and goals of the other person so that I could understand the true purpose and meaning of their statements and try to understand the underlying fears, concerns, and emotions motivating the misunderstanding (empathize). I was able to stay present and continue the discussion without breaking down or physically or mentally fleeing. Within an hour I felt much more stable and composed Ė actually more so than the other person appeared to be.
The issue is not yet completely resolved, but I was managing my anxiety and functioning at an adequate level. We can finish coming to an understanding when both of us are more calm and objective. The rest of the day I was still feeling shaken and subdued Ė but nowhere near the level of nearly paralytic dysfunction that was my previous pattern after such a trigger.
Just wanted to share a small victory.
We are often troubled, but not crushed;
sometimes in doubt, but never in despair;
there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend;
and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.
- Paul, II Cor 4:8-9