It’s Narcissist Friday!
In the new life, you expected freedom. You thought you were finally away from the dragon, without the worries of unexpected threats. But you find yourself jumping at sounds and movements. And some people make you very anxious. Certain things set off your defenses and move you to unwanted actions and feelings. How do you overcome these triggers?
I have only seen this on television, but there are such things as police training centers and ranges where the targets pop up. The idea is that the officers must make almost instant decisions. If a threat, perhaps the cutout of an enemy with a gun, pops up, the officer will shoot with the idea of saving his own life or the lives of others. If, however, a child or another innocent pops up, the officer has to hold back from shooting. I can only imagine how difficult this must be, especially under the pressures of time and performance.
After the narcissistic relationship, you may find that certain words or actions or facial expressions trigger more than bad memories. They trigger feelings, remnants of pain and fear. You find yourself reacting to these triggers with almost the same intensity as you felt from the original attacks.
People who have not gone through the extreme abuse of a narcissistic relationship may not understand your triggers. They might even have their own but still find it hard to relate to yours. What that means is that you usually have to deal with these triggers by yourself. Those who do understand may be able to intervene from time to time, but no one can control the whole outside world. No wonder many victims of this abuse want to hide in caves!
Triggers are more than frustrating. If they come unexpectedly, they can cause you to react in ways that are dangerous to you and others. And these happen in real life.
I think we can learn some things from the police tactical range. First, we have to acknowledge that these triggers pop up unexpectedly. The whole point of the range is to prepare the officers for sudden and unexpected decisions. When to shoot and when not to shoot. When to respond with power and when to hold that power back.
When your triggers pop up, how do you respond? Do you find yourself beating up the people around you, maybe yelling at them or cutting them off? Do you cringe in debilitating fear? Do you spend or smoke or eat or gamble or cuss—things that you really don’t want to do? How can you escape the power of these triggers?
Another thing we can learn from the police range is the need to prepare. Triggers are all around us. You never know when one will pop up. And you can’t live the rest of your life hiding in a cave. So, learn from your triggers. What are they? Why do they affect you so strongly? Is there something you have yet to work through? Great topics to work on with a good counselor.
You see, the memory stores more than facts. It stores hints of danger, reminders of the things that brought bad things into our lives. The smell of rotten eggs should signal the possibility of a gas leak, for example. The words, “don’t tell your mom/boss/husband” should signal a threat. Our mind stores warnings and supplements those warnings with memories of our pain. We don’t want to forget the things that caused our pain, because we don’t want to experience them again.
Some triggers are warnings. Others are not. The tactical range would be much easier if the pop-up targets were all bad guys. But that isn’t how it works in the real world. In fact, most of what you will experience in the world after the narcissistic relationship will be benign, not a real threat. You have to pay attention, but you also have to control your reactions.
So, prepare yourself. If the triggers are unavoidable, the only option is to identify them as they pop up and decide how to deal with them. You will fail, perhaps many times. But you will learn. Each time you find yourself triggered, ask what it was and what it meant. Was it really a threat? Then, the next time it comes up, you will be more ready. Again, it might take more than once or twice, but each time you will be better prepared.
Teach yourself to walk through life as though you are in one of these tactical ranges. You will find that most of the things that jump up at you will not be dangerous. You will be ready for the narcissists and narcissistic behaviors you encounter along the way. You will protect yourself from more abuse. But you will not be controlled by the triggers. Instead, you will expect them and deal with them.
And you will find more and more freedom and peace.
Whenever I make suggestions like this, I expect people to pray. Ask the Lord to lead you through this process. Imagine learning to listen to Him as these triggers hit you. If possible, take a moment to simply ask, “Lord, is this a danger to me? How should I respond?” Listen for His answer. The more you do this, the more you will find the control you need.