Feeling “in trouble” is a major trigger for a LOT of complex trauma survivors. 

It’s a VERY familiar feeling for many of us. It takes us back decades. 

One of the most common triggers to an emotional flashback is feeling “in trouble.” 

It’s also one of the hardest triggers to talk about, because by the time we’re adults we’re supposed to have gotten over that anxiety. 

Adults aren’t “supposed” to freak out at feeling “in trouble.” 

And yet— we do. 

We’re often very good at concealing it, but feeling “in trouble” often absolutely destroys complex trauma survivors. 

Many of us were controlled for a long time with guilt and shame. 

Many of us functioned for a long time under the threat of physical, verbal, or emotional violence. 

Many of us became VERY attuned to the “early warning signs” of being disapproved of. 

Feeling like we’re “in trouble” hits nearly the same trigger button as feeling disliked or rejected. 

We know what comes next— rejection, maybe attack. 

That may or may not be what’s going on in the here and now— but it’s what happened once upon a time, back then…and our nervous system learned to respond to those threat cues. 

Now, as adults, we carry those threat cues around with us. 

We can tell our nervous system that it’s time to give up that hypervigilance— but if you’ve ever tied to have a rational, reasonable conversation with your nervous system, you likely know how that turns out. 

Our nervous system isn’t interested in “rational” or “reasonable.” 

Our nervous system is interested in keeping us as far away from threatening situations and people as possible. 

Over the course of years, our nervous system paid very close attention to the kinds of cues and signals that preceded threatening or violent situations— and it red-flagged them. 

Now, whenever we get even a hint of a whiff of those cues, those red flags spring up— and our nervous system springs into action. 

Feeling “in trouble” can make us feel ashamed. 

It can make us feel young. 

It can make us feel confused and powerless. 

Often, these reactions happen at a gut, instinctual level. They’re not reasoned, thought out, intentional responses. 

That is to say: we may not be able to completely prevent those reactions from happening. 

What we CAN do, though, is recognize what’s going on when it’s going on. 

We CAN learn to recognize the thoughts, feelings, images, and body sensations that go with that “in trouble” trigger. 

We CAN learn to recognize when we’re in an emotional flashback— and from there, the task of MANAGING what’s going on is similar to any OTHER flashback. 

We use our senses to get grounded. 

We talk ourselves through it. 

We use our grounding routines and totems. 

We remind ourselves of who we are, what we’re all about, and when and where we are. 

We breathe; blink; and focus. 

Emotional flashbacks are no fun. Emotional flashbacks are among the most confusing and debilitating symptomatology that occurs in complex post traumatic disorders. 

All we can do is what we can do: recognize them for what they are, and handle them step by step. 

The knowledge and skills you develop in recovery will serve and maybe save you every time. 

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