Triggers and Healing Trauma


Rebekah (the author) holds the child of a homeless couple living out of their RV and facing a forced move by police from their location on Northlake Way

An excerpt from her new book: “Nothing’s for Nothing” (Rose Hip Press)  by Rebekah Demirel, Contributing Writer

The term “triggered” describes how something happening in the present moment can bring up emotions from a similar time in the past. Not just emotions arise, but bodily sensations connected to stimulation of the nervous system become engaged and suddenly we feel as if we are re-experiencing past stress.

When we are triggered we may experience being frightened, anxious, confused, angry, sad, or many other feelings. Heart palpitations, sweating, dry mouth and digestive irritation are just some of the physical sensations that come with sympathetic nervous system upregulation, caused by stress, resulting in decisions which might not be in our best interest, or we may even strike out at others, verbally or physically.

Certain things can cause a pattern of stress response to become triggered and whether or not we become stressed can also depend on factors like whether we have eaten, rested well, already had a lot of stress that particular day, or are coming down with a cold or flu. The quality of our past interactions with people also affects our responses, as do many other ways we are influenced personally by our environment. All these things impact the way we perceive stimuli and how we interpret what we see, hear, smell and, therefore, think and feel.

The good news is that getting into the habit of checking in, being curious and standing back a bit from responses makes space for change to happen. Our nervous systems need a little room in order to become less brittle and more elastic, and this in turn restores the ability to choose responses, rather than simply falling into the over-stimulated, knee-jerk response of a burned-out nervous system.

I got triggered today. I was walking alone in a bleak industrial area, it was getting dark, I didn’t know where the bus stop was and I thought I was lost. I know it may sound like nothing, but I found my mind and emotions going back to times many years ago, when I would be alone, scared, on the street when it was dark, and I didn’t know where to go. So that is what started coming up for me. I was being triggered.

I noticed what was going on in my mind and emotions, then I tried to touch in with myself. I stopped walking, took a deep breath, felt my feet on the ground, got my wooly hat out of my bag, put it on and kept walking till things started looking familiar. I went into a store to get warm and called my husband to hear a friendly voice. He was so kind, he drove over and picked me up, but not because I was panicked. I never got to that point.

I consider myself a strong, resilient person. I have been through a lot, yet, I am only human and I intend to keep healing the trauma in my life by giving my loving attention to those times I am scared or confused. When I notice strong feelings coming up, I try to remember to find some objectivity between my thoughts and emotions, that way my responses can come from being conscious and aware to what is actually happening, rather than my responses coming from traumatic memories.

Contrary to what we often say or think, people do not “make us feel” one way or another. If we believe “people make us feel,” we are abdicating our ability to choose our responses and heal our trauma. We get triggered because of our unhealed past experiences. Noticing triggers and healing our trauma takes some time, patience, gentleness and, mostly, practice.

And we’re all worth it.

“In her haunting memoir, ‘Nothing’s for Nothing,’ Rebekah Demirel reveals a childhood of adversity and neglect, beginning at age three when her mother fled the violence of their home, through her years growing up in a chaotic and abusive household with her Pentecostal father and violent older brother, until leaving home at age thirteen for an uncertain life on the streets. Rebekah takes us on a soulful journey of heartbreak, loss and grief, her own difficult homeless teen years, and the resiliency gained from those experiences, with inspiring messages of hope, healing, forgiveness and personal transformation. ”

rebekah demirel

Rebekah Demirel is an acupuncturist and East Asian medicine practitioner with a private and practice in the Seattle area. She also draws on her fifteen years of experience as a clinical counselor and former paramedic (and paramedic trainer) in presenting workshops to social service agencies and the general public on a variety of topics, including first aid, meditation, qi gong, stress management and trauma integration.

About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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