You might be shamed— by yourself or others— for avoiding something that triggers you.
You might tell yourself, or be told by others, that the ONLY way to neutralize a trigger is to expose yourself to it.
To “white knuckle” your way through it. That you can’t run away from a trigger forever.
It’s true that there ARE triggers out there in the world, and there’s NO escaping some of them.
It’s also true that indefinitely AVOIDING certain things keeps them stuck in our heads as threatening or overwhelming, because we don’t get a chance to NOT be threatened or overwhelmed by them out in the real world.
Here’s the thing: coping with triggers takes energy. Sometimes a LOT of energy.
Discovering and designing ways to COPE with our triggers takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time.
It’s just not a practical strategy to go out into the world every day and DEMAND that you white knuckle your way through EVERY trigger in your path.
We have to pick and choose.
Sometimes making a strategic decision to AVOID a trigger IS the intelligent decision.
We don’t have to go down the rabbit hole of shaming ourselves for choosing to avoid certain things at certain times.
We have a limited amount of focus and energy. Managing that focus and energy intelligently is our BIGGEST job EVERY day.
There’s no shame in strategically avoiding certain triggers— certain situations, certain people.
There is also no upside in intentionally confronting certain triggers, situations, and people before we’re ready.
I deeply understand the impulse to NOT want a memory or a trauma reaction to control you.
I completely understand WHY some survivors very much WANT to revisit certain physical places in order to “prove” they can be exposed to them without dissociating or otherwise decompensating. And there are times in the healing process when something like that CAN be helpful.
But very often the juice is not worth the squeeze when it comes to intentionally exposing ourselves to certain triggers if we can avoid them.
I don’t want ANYONE to feel like a trigger or a memory is controlling them. I am 100% on team “let’s rebuild your nervous system such that you’re NOT controlled by anything you don’t want to be controlled by EVER again.”
But in the course of healing and rebuilding your nervous system, we’re going to have to make some decisions about time, focus, and energy.
We’re NOT proving anything by charging into a triggering situation without a realistic, comprehensive coping plan (not to mention multiple backup plans).
We’re NOT supporting our healing by placing our stability at risk just to prove a point to ourselves (or anyone else).
The trick is knowing when we’re INTELLIGENTLY avoiding something we may NOT have the skills or tools to handle right now— versus when we’re avoiding something we MIGHT actually NEED to confront.
This is one of the MANY decisions in trauma recovery that ISN’T straightforward.
I know. It sucks. I wish it was more straightforward, too.
Something that we KNOW about recovery from depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, or trauma (and trauma very often underlies depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders) is that it asks us to be very REAL with ourselves.
We need to be REAL with ourselves about WHY we want to avoid that trigger.
We need to be REAL with ourselves about whether it’s SMART to avoid that trigger (and not let fear or trauma reflexes unduly influence our judgment).
Recovery asks us to be thoughtful and patient with ourselves as we sift through this.
Yes. It’s a hassle.
But you are worth the hassle.