Have you ever had a trauma from your past triggered? I have!
“Trauma” may sound dramatic — I wasn’t in a war or abused. As an infant I required stomach surgery to survive. My mom wanted to be with me but wasn’t allowed, so it felt like abandonment.
Recently, emotions I experienced as a baby were triggered when I went to the Neonatal ICU, where my grandniece was recovering from surgery.
I didn’t realize it was an emotional trigger until later that night. I felt like I did as a baby who couldn’t hold food.
It’s cold. I’m alone. I’m scared. I can’t help myself. A dark cloud is swallowing me. Where are you Lord? Why is this happening? I’m losing my will to live.
I couldn’t have consciously formulated feelings as a baby but they were triggered in me now.
Many people say, “Change your thinking to change your feeling.” That may work with surface emotional distress, but not deep, embodied emotions rising up and swelling into a tidal wave.
Bill asked me what I was feeling and I didn’t want to answer. It’s strange, but I felt shame, like I didn’t deserve to live. I couldn’t make eye contact with him. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and go to sleep — forever.
Thankfully, two gifts from the Lord set me free: empathy and a memory.
Bill drew out my emotions and listened with a gentle heart, patience and love. He held me, prayed for me, and fought for me spiritually.
The next morning I remembered my Grandma’s face shining over me as a girl, “Kristi, you’re a miracle! God has a special purpose for your life! Don’t you ever forget it.”
I hadn’t trusted her words. I believed a lie, “I’m not really a miracle. I’m too emotional. I’m a burden.”
But now I absorbed God’s heart-warming love. The little girl in me (pictured on the left) felt hope rising. I reoriented in my belovedness to God! I was breaking free of shame and self-hatred!
By receiving empathy and affirmation I experienced the healing, empowering reality of Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to the Lord are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
You might be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me, I didn’t experience trauma as a child.”
But as a child you may have missed the tender care you needed. I’ve talked with many people who were well cared for physically, but were emotionally neglected. This is called “Trauma A”, in contrast to abuse, death, or tragedy which are “Trauma B.”
When a child’s caregiver is repeatedly impatient with their emotions or critical of their personal needs it can be very hurtful and harmful.
We tend to discount this because we don’t remember early wounds and it wasn’t abusive. But the relational experience — along with the hurt, fear, shame, or anger — are encoded in our bodies as implicit memories, which can be triggered by stress.
Trauma A and Trauma B aren’t the only reasons for emotional trigger reactions under stress. When we repress painful emotions for any reason they’re likely to get triggered at some point. So even if you think you have no experience with trauma or emotional neglect you may still have trigger reactions when someone “pushes your buttons.”
Also, probably we all can identify people in our lives who struggle with emotional reactions and need our patient and tender understanding, along with guidance from God on how to grow in their emotional stability.
God longs to heal these soul-misshaping wounds. You can ask him to shepherd your child-soul through empathy from a friend or therapist, heart-felt meditation on Scripture, or participating in healing prayer from a minister.
Listen to Bill & Kristi’s newest “Soul Talks” podcast:
We love hearing from you!
“Your teaching on forgiveness is the best I’ve read!”
Pastor Bobby Schuller
Hour of Power ~ Garden Grove, CA