I’m not well-versed at camping. Even picnicking is an organizational challenge for me. I never feel like I show up prepared, with the right equipment. It seems to come naturally for other people, and they appear to have way more equipment than me.
I sometimes feel the same way about healthy, intimate relationships…unprepared and lacking important equipment for a successful experience. I sometimes get hooked by comments that indicate disagreement, or worse, disapproval from someone I love. I think many survivors feel this way. It comes from living in abusive relationships where disapproval and disagreement were used unfairly to control and diminish. I’ve been working on and learning about healthy relationships for years. Still, when someone close to me occasionally tells me s/he thinks I’m wrong, or that I made a bad decision, I feel unprepared and ill-equipped to respond. So, my therapist and I have been working on equipping me for healthier interactions. I’d like to share what’s working for me:
- I ask myself, how would I react if it didn’t feel like an attack? My normal response when I’m not feeling threatened, is humor. So, we practice one-liner responses like, “My choice!” “That’s my job!” and “Too late, already decided!” all said with a smile and a wink. It helps to have some one-liners for those times I feel defensive and might otherwise respond in a way that I don’t feel good about.
- I remove myself from the scene temporarily. If I’m feeling panicky and it seems like an over-reaction I just walk into the next room, or outside. Saying that I have to go to the bathroom works really well for this. Sometimes just a few minutes away from the scene helps me decide how I truly and authentically want to respond.
- I ask questions. “Did I just hear you say …?” Many times, when I react with panic to a comment it’s because what was said reminds me of a past experience.
- I talk to myself in private. I ask myself what is triggering me about this situation? I remind myself that I am safe when I need to. I find it’s really important to actually talk out loud. Trying to work it out silently in my head usually just gets my thoughts caught in an endless loop.
- I touch something in my environment that brings me back into the present. Sometimes rubbing a piece of fabric, touching my own face, or carrying a touchstone can be helpful.
- If it feels like it’s not getting better over time, I reach out for help. Talking it over with a trusted friend, a counselor or the person that wounded me can often help.
Of course, reacting negatively to a situation, comment, or conversation can also be an appropriate response to a harmful event. Trust your instincts, be kind and gentle with yourself, and don’t assume that your reaction is wrong.
How do sort out your feelings in situations that trigger you? What are some of the habits/techniques that work for you?