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October 12, 2016

Don’t let the patriarchy get you down: self-care when you feel triggered

This post is for those of you who know what it feels like to be triggered.

This is for you if you’ve experienced past trauma, oppression or other interactions that give rise to the feeling of being triggered. While this isn’t a cure-all for past trauma, what I hope to offer is a selection of practices that might help to support your heart while you’re going through this.

A point of clarification before we dive in: A person being triggered is different from a person being upset. It is the act of having a comment, event, act or other experience that gives rise to particular feelings or sensations related to the actual trauma they’ve experienced. They often mirror the same feelings or sensations they experienced at the time of the initial trauma. It’s very real. It sucks very much.

Don’t ignore that that’s happening, take good care of yourself.

These conversations pervade our social media, our news, our conversations at work, in our families and in our communities. If you are feeling triggered, take good care. Allow yourself to experience what you’re experiencing.

Below are some suggestions for how you might offer yourself some self-care during these times. The underlying theme?

Do what you need to do for yourself. Honor your needs and experiences. You are not alone, nor do you ever need to feel alone.

We are all in this together.

Don’t forget that your trauma is real. This is more than a theoretical conversation.

These conversations may appear lofty or theoretical when they are happening within the context of a national discourse (or on cable news). They’re not. This trauma is real for the people who experience it. For many, discussing sexism, sexual assault, rape culture, and the systematic subjugation of women is all too real. It is, in fact, a conversation about their lives.

Do not forget. What you have experienced, your reactions to it, and your ongoing experience are real. These conversations may feel more potent and powerful, because they are not imagined. They reflect on what you’ve been through

Don’t let minimize or dismiss your lived experience. Don’t apologize.

As a result of trauma, many survivors diminish their own experience. Out of the shame of the experience, we may minimize your own credibility. Instead, decide to own it. It is not for anyone else to say what we have been through. It’s certainly not for them to determine how it makes us feel.

How you feel – your lived experience – is only for you to say. Don’t try to downplay it, hedge or undercut yourself when you’re facing it. Allow it to be what it is. Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Let it be what it is. It is nothing more or less. There is no need to apologize for having a deeply human reaction to something incredibly difficult.

Be gentle. Use all of your tools to take good care of yourself.

If you’re feeling vulnerable, be gentle. Pull out all the self-care stops. Go slow with yourself.

Nourish yourself extra: with food, with community, with movement or rest. Keeping your toolbox stocked with great self-care ideas can help, so that when you need them, they’re at your fingertips. The temptation might be to numb out further, but I recommend finding ways to feel truly *good*. Give yourself what you need, rather than retreating.

This is the time to offer yourself extra compassion, through action and meeting your needs. If you’re having a tough time figuring out what might feel good, try writing down some suggestions for yourself (before you’re in a triggered spot) that you can use as a jumping off point later.

My free workbook, Care for Every Moment is designed exactly for this purpose.

Use mindful isolation – walk away from conversations with unsupportive folks

I’ve talked about mindful isolation before – but in this case, it can be an act of self-preservation.

Don’t feel obligated or pressured to spend time with people who don’t get it. “People who don’t get it” include (but are not limited to:

  • People who make jokes about rape, sexual assault or violence against any group of people.
  • Anyone who thinks being triggered is a joke or akin to being overly sensitive. (It’s not.)
  • Those who are generally acting like jerks toward you. Even if it has nothing to do with the issue triggering you, go hang out with nice people.

You owe those folks absolutely nada. And this goes double for people on the Internet. Just excuse yourself or back away slowly, and mindfully isolate yourself from people and conversations that don’t feel supportive.

Drink extra water, ground and clear energy.

Keep yourself well hydrated is (maybe) self-care rule #1 (if I believed in self-care “rules”). When you’re feeling extra-sensitive or off-kilter, hydration is even more important.

Get yourself grounded, whatever that means to you. Go for a walk, do some yoga, connect energetically with the earth – whatever you need to do to get yourself nice and solid again. Eat nourishing foods (with plenty of healthy fats). Be among some trees. Put your hands in some dirt.

Clear away and release any energy that doesn’t belong to you or serve you. Clearing can be as simple as opening a window or lighting a candle. You might (if you already have a practice) smudge with some sage or palo santo, use a selenite wand, or spritz a little smudge spray.

Connect: recognize that we are not alone, we are not alone

When you’re ready and feel strong enough, find yourself some community that gets it. (And, trust me, there are plenty of people out there who get it and are rooting for you.)

Remember that you are never, ever alone. Being triggered by past trauma as it relates to patriarchy and the oppression of women is incredibly common. There are a lot of people who understand and can relate to your experience (whether you know it or not). Seek those people out.

Allow them to support you. Allowing people who care about you to share and support your experience is a gift – to both of you.

When we care for ourselves in these moments, we are pulling back the veil on this one aspect of patriarchy.

We refuse to be silent. Instead, we can choose to meet ourselves with compassion.

When we do this, we may finally take back the power that is so often robbed from us through systemic oppression. When we use self-care as a tool when we are feeling triggered, we reclaim our humanity. We reclaim our deserving from a society that says we are not good enough.

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