Managing emotions is simple when the stakes are low. We can just shrug it off. However, as a survivor of violence, there will be instances where you are triggered, and the barrage will feel unmanageable.
This place is so incredibly painful to navigate without going to those old familiar places of substances and self sabotage. As a survivor, you know this place. It feels like dread, like panic, like the whole world is one second from falling apart.
In those moments of extreme nervous system activation, we can use these steps to get ourselves into a place of safety.
Notice and name your feelings or experience.
This is mindfulness 101. We cannot change what we are not aware of. The first step to managing anything is noticing, and labelling. This allows you to understand your experience in the moment and most importantly- to choose what to do given that experience.
Immediately start self soothing skills.
Slow and regulate your breathing by breathing in for a count of 3, holding for a count of 3, then breathing out for a count of 3. As you are doing this start rubbing your arms and legs. Focus your mind on the sensation of touch on your body. Repeat to yourself ‘you are safe’. If you are stuck in thoughts or visualizations of a past experience, remind yourself that you are in the present moment and not in that place of danger. Say to yourself ‘you are here, in this room, this is just a memory’.
Stop the story.
Your mind will feed your emotional reaction. Notice the story your mind is telling to intensify this emotional experience. Rather than allowing your thoughts to wind yourself up, use your thoughts to calm yourself down. Tell yourself ‘that is just a story’ ‘these thoughts are not the truth’. You can easily recognize a story by the escalation of drama – ‘my life is over’ ‘I am so worthless’ ‘he was right about everything’. These thoughts are part of a story- they are not real. If you need more support, check out the tool below.
Honor the emotion.
As trauma survivors, we have good reason to be angry, afraid, and heartbroken. Remember our goal isn’t to make our experience go away, but to learn what it has to tell us, and choose our best course of action. Our minds and bodies are not experiencing intense feelings for the hell of it. Rather than running away from our feelings, we need to honor them. Sometimes we need to say, ‘you have every right to be furious.’ Honoring our emotions doesn’t mean ‘getting even’ or ‘I deserve to drink’. Rather, it means transforming our pain into something productive for our healing. We can do this in a number of ways: intense exercise, screaming, crying, singing, painting, writing, otherwise creating, punching a pillow or bag, doing a mentally or physically challenging activity.
I started playing the piano as a way to honor the intense sadness I couldn’t verbalize. There was something about playing the music that allowed me to express what just sat inside of me.
I started learning Krav Maga on YouTube. There was something so empowering a healing about learning how to defend myself. It wasn’t about fighting my abuser, or being violent myself. It was a way letting myself know that I was stepping up to protect my rights and my future. It was a way of saying ‘I won’t be violated anymore’.
Learn to be with discomfort.
A key tool is to learn how to manage discomfort and negative thoughts. Check out this meditation to guide you!
Info-graphic on today’s learning!