What if your trauma response is amnesia? Part 1
How to have healthy relationships
“I shouldn’t have to only share happy things with you because I’m worried about triggering a negative response”
I read that text several times and felt worse each time. That comment came on the heels of a conversation that could have been engaging, exciting, and informative by all accounts. It could have been something to celebrate. Instead, it triggered in me a response that, from the outside, didn’t make sense. Hell, from the inside either!
I love to celebrate successes and wins from those in my life that I love (even strangers). So why didn’t I celebrate the good news my friend shared with me this time? Why did I spiral down and completely ruin the moment and opportunity to celebrate something he learned and took the time to share with me?
I couldn’t tell you. I’m still flushing that out. What I do know is, responses like that don’t create an environment for people to become closer, in fact, it creates a little bit of distance at that moment and each time it happens. It’s like withdrawing more than you deposit. And you never know when someone will choose to close your account and the relationship ends. Yes, there are a lot of variables to consider, but I won’t go into them here, that’s for another post.
I hear you thinking, shouldn’t I be able to express myself? Shouldn’t I allow those emotions to flow so I can finally process them?
Bear with me. I hear you. I feel you. I will cover that shortly.
When your trauma response is amnesia, it’s easier to get hijacked by your emotions. You recognize it when your response doesn’t match the situation (as noted in my experience shared above). As such, your response catches you and the other person(s) off guard.
Before I go any further, let me give a disclaimer about what I mean by amnesia. Amnesia, as you know, is defined as a loss of memory. There are several types and traumatic experiences tend to be associated with dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia is “your mind rejects thoughts, feelings, or information that you’re too overwhelmed to handle”. Since I can’t actually diagnose you, I’m referring to situations that are suppressed so deeply you don’t recall them happening.
All that said, when you’re triggered unsuspectingly, it has the potential to make maintaining healthy relationships challenging. My hope is that this article gives you tools to help you navigate those situations with more ease. And that you give yourself grace and space to heal.
Recognizing when you may be over withdrawing will pay dividends. Here are some things to consider. If you can answer yes or maybe to any of the below, there may be room for further self-evaluation (without judgment):
- people in your life sugar-coat tough news
- you only have superficial conversations about the weather, traffic, etc
- people seem to walk on eggshells trying to make sure they don’t share something that may upset you
- when someone shares good news with you, the conversation gets cut short because of the way you respond
- when someone shares good news but change the subject after you respond or you change the subject
- when someone shares good news and sounds deflated after your response
- you secretly feel deflated after hearing good news
If you felt seen, heard, or understood after reading any of those, congratulations for newfound awareness, the first step to shifting. Ideally, you feel a sense of relief and are not beating yourself up for not knowing what you didn’t know. Don’t judge your response, recognize and get curious about them.
I get it, you don’t usually know what’s going to upset you so learning how to navigate when you’re triggered is the key to your sanity and preservation of relationships.
So how do you maintain healthy relationships?
It’s a fact that we were designed to have healthy relationships. There have been many studies that show people live longer when they have a deeper connection with a community despite what their diets looked like. (I’m not advocating for deep friendships and a diet that you feel doesn’t serve you though haha).
Quite frankly, you take responsibility for your role in the breakdown. I hear you, the trigger is a surprise. However, one of my favorite quotes by Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl is “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Scenario 1: Triggered response in a conversation
If you’re having a conversation and your response indicates that you were triggered, what do you do next to minimize any damage your response may cause. I do understand that you have no control over the other person(s) response. The goal is to control what you can, and that’s yourself.
3 steps to take when your response indicates an inner conflict:
- Recognize that your response did not match the situation
- Apologize for the way you handled the conversation. (Note, you’re not apologizing for being you, for being triggered, for having been traumatized. You’re apologizing for inadvertently taking it out on the other party)
- Excuse yourself from the conversation if your emotions are still heightened. Once alone, give yourself some grace and compassion. You may consider journaling, meditating, going for a walk, doing yoga, and breathing. What you choose to do in response really makes a difference in future interactions. (I’ll share more on that in another article).
- Optional: if you feel ready (not obligated), see if the other party would like to re-engage in that conversation or even share what happened. (You have to know who you’re talking to, not everyone is equipped to work through your stuff with you).
Scenario 2: Trigger Recognized
As your awareness grows, you’ll start to recognize when you’re feeling triggered before it hijacks the conversation.
- acknowledge it internally and take a loving breath
- You continue the conversation, and respond how you’d like to be responded to if it were you who was sharing the news. This is not the same as suppressing your emotion because you’re consciously and intentionally shelving the feeling temporarily.
- Once the conversation is done, you can choose to process what happened or wait until later when you have time to.
I know this sounds like a lot of effort. It may even feel like you’re being disingenuine. Let me assure you, it’s the start of your path to emotional freedom. It’s you learning to take control of your mind and your emotions. If you are someone who tends to be run by your emotions in general, you can benefit from these tips as well.
In Part 2, I speak to the person who accidentally triggers a trauma response. How you can help keep the relationship healthy too.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you can add to this. Someone needs what you have to say. Do share!
And thank you for reading.