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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Abuse & Assault » Something is triggering me, but I can't figure it out

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Author Topic: Something is triggering me, but I can't figure it out
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So, long story short, I'm in school, and Ive been having a massive emotional response to one of my profs since the beggining of the semester. I get angry being in her class, thinking about her class, doing the work for her class... I get nightmares and flashbacks for a full day before her class and another day after it...

But I don't know what the trigger is, other than it's her. but i can;t figure out what she represents for me. why am I reacting like this?

Just some background info: I have PTSD froman abusive relationship tha tI left 6 years ago and I was assaulted and hit my head and got a concussion last spring, after which I hade a bit of flashbacks and nightmares for a while but it mostly stopped before school started. I'm seeing a concussion specialist (ive made and appointment with him for in a few weeks to rule out any neurological damage causing my anger) and I've also made an appointment with a therapist for sometime in the next 2 weeks to talk about this.

I decided to be mature abut it and talk to her about it, hoping that she would not take it personally and that she would agree to transfer me to the other section so that I can salvage the rest of the semester (so far my grade are significantly lower than last year). but first I went to see my advisor, and she totally backed me up and even offered to speak to the prof a make a recommendation on my behalf to change section


so I spoke to the prof todayand She reacted about as bad as my worse case scemnario - worse actually. she took it way personally and said that she didnt want to set a "precedent" whereby students could just change section anytime if they didnt like the prof. I ended up shutting down completely and storming out o fher office and telling her that I regretted talking to her about it and that I felt like she took it personnal when it clearly had nothing to do with her.

now I've been panicking for the past 6 hours. I just need to vent about this and maybe undertand whats happenning to me.

(sorry for the spelling, my hands are still shacky from the whole thing)

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Heather
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Were you able to go back to your advisor about this? If so, what did she say? If not, how about going back to her as a next step?

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I went straight to her office after but she wasnt there. I wrote her an email and told her the meeting hadn;t gone well and asked her to call me to make an apointmet to see her ASAp and I woudl make myself available...
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Heather
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Perfect. That sounds to me like your next best step.

In the meantime, is there anything we can do for you to help you process this?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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yeah, do you know how to help me figure out why I'm reacting to her with so much anger (and more importantly how to stop reacting like that)?

You're usually really good at asking the right questions around here... [Smile]

I really dont think its about the course material. It's not a course that touches on partner violence or anything like that...

If she's reminding me of someone, I don't know who it is...

All I feel is anger, a sort of white cool anger that feels dangerous. no fear, no anxiety, just anger. When I'm sitting in class I can feel my blood pumping through my whole body, and I get really sharp headaches

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Heather
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So, it's not about the subject, it's definitely about the prof, yes? Sure sounds like it, but want to be sure I understand.

Can you perhaps recall the very first time you felt triggered by this person? Was it something they said, for instance, or the way they said it, how she looks, her body language, etc?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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I'm pretty sure it's the prof herself. And I put it in this section because my gut tells me it's related to abuse.

I do remember the first time, it was a bit shocking because I dont usually react like this when I meet new people. I was sitting in class, catching up with my friends about the summer, and as soon as she walked in I sort of froze for a second and felt really uncomfortable. I shrugged it off and went back to the converstion. Then when class started, I just felt really uncomfortable, and byt the time it was over I remember saying that I really didnt like her and that I wanted to change section and I was in a really awful mood.

It definitely wasn't something she said or the way it was said since nothing had been said yet. It might be the way she looks. I dont like the way she looks (as weird as that sounds), it's not that I think she is ugly or anything like that, I just really dont like the way she looks. I also don't like the way she speaks, it feels agressive to me, but like I said this started before she even said a word.

I've also wondered if there might be some reciprocity going on... I get the impression that she didn't want to meet with me when I first approached her about talking to her. It took her three weeks to finally agree with a time I proposed, and then she didn't reply to my email about where to meet her (she doesnt have a set office) so I had to walk around until I found her this morning (luckily its a small building), and then when I did find her she just turned around and walked away from me and didnt turn to face me until we were at the room she had reserved (which clrearly hadn;t been reserved since the professor whose office it was walked in 2 minutes later and said that it was her office hours so she had to be there for students...)
Anyways, I reacted to her before all that, but I think shes reacting to me too...

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Heather
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So, this sounds like it's probably about body language more than anything else to me. Or maybe -- or also -- just the way she's social, her tone of voice, etc.

I think the big question here is what you want to do about this from here. I do think you should see what your advisor says, but of course, there's the bigger question of how you want to manage reactions like this, which you'll probably have with people from time to time when you really just HAVE to deal with it. In this case, that may also include for now, until something else does change, or in case it just can't.

How do you usually deal with triggers when you experience them? What are your typical coping tools?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather,
thank you so much for getting back to me. my mom just called and invited me over for dinner so I'm going to go and talk with her about all of this.
I will come back this weekends probably to talk about coping tools
thanks!!!!!!

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Heather
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Oh, yay! More support for you right now = goodness.

And you got it. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Okay I'm back.

So I had a long chat with my mom about all of this and I feel a lot better (and I'm giving myself points for going to someone other than my b/f for support - for my other thread).

I discovered a few things about my mom that I didn't know. Shes very religious (that I already knew), and I think she thinks that this prof might be um...a bad spirit? or some kind of demon? I'm not to sure what she was trying to say (I don't think she was either, I think she realized it sounded a bit crazy while she was saying it), but the important bit is that for the first time in my life she was completely and unequivocally on MY side!! She didn't even take a second to consider that I might have done something wrong. She basically told me that this professor is clearly a nutcase and that I should stay as far away as I possibly can so that she can't hurt me again.

So now I think my mom is a bit weird, but I'm so happy she reacted that way!

I slept really well last night. Here's where I'm at now:

I think that whatever it was that was triggering me about her, by going and talking to her about it I think I might have disarmed the trigger... What I mean is that by talking to her about it and then with the reaction she had to me, I sort of got to know HER better, which I think made it impossible for me to keep projecting whatever it was that was triggering me onto her. So now I know I don't like her, but I can live with that.

Also, I think she reminded me of my ex's mother, which is a bit funny, because while I generally think that people are inherently good, my ex's mother is the exception. I can't get around it, I think she is a bad person, maybe some kind of demon? (hmmm, maybe I'm more like my mom than I think!)

Back to your question. I don't tend to cope well with triggers when I first identify a new one. It usually takes me a while from the moment I start feeling uncomfortable with something to the moment I figure out it's a trigger (like a few weeks if it's a regular occurance). When I first started having PSTD sypmtoms (about a year after I left the abusive relationship) I started seeing a therapist for a little over a year, and basically everything triggered me, it was like a 6 month long panic attack.

Since then, when I realize I'm being triggered, I have mostly dealt with it by running away. I've quit jobs, avoided certain coffee shops, taken detours, etc just to avoid triggers.

Other than avoiding them, I have two things that I fall back on to help me through hard time
1- increase my physical activity (but I can't do that right now, I'm on a full physical activity ban because of my head injury)
2- journal. I try to write everything out about a situation which bothers me. Who's there, what's happenning, what I'm thinking, what emotions Im having, whats going on in my body, how I felt before and after... That's how I figured out that the prof was triggering me in the first place

But when something is really overwhelming me, I usually end up breaking down like I did this time...

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Heather
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My experience is that support from our parents is always the good stuff, even when they are weird. [Smile] And absolutely, points to you for seeking out support from more than the people you usually do. That's awesome.

So, sounds like one thing you know you need to work on for yourself is developing some more management tools for triggers. After all, we are going to get triggered sometimes, and we can't always avoid triggers. My take on that, too, is that as part of our own growth and healing process, the goal is really to be able to not need to avoid triggers more and more as we go on, that avoiding them is more of what we do temporarily than as a permanent plan.

Physical activity is obviously a coping tool that you won't always be able to use everywhere you are, but journaling sounds a lot more adaptable. By any chance, do you have a very small notebook you can always keep with you? That way, you can always write quickly to manage a trigger in most situations. And maybe part of that process can be 1) writing out what is bothering you, and then b) writing out an affirmation to manage it, so you will also, in that little book, have things you can just flip to sometimes to help you cope when triggered. Know what I mean?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Yes I do have such a note book.

Im not sure what the affirmations to manage it could be though

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Heather
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Well, here's a for-instance.

You get triggered by this prof. You write about it in a venty way. You discover that some of it is probably that she looks like someone else who you had a negative experience with. You also discover that specking up for what you need, even if she won't deliver it, seems to have broken a bit of the "spell" of your trigger for you.

So, maybe the affirmation that can come from that might be something like one of these:

• Looks can make me feel things that are real, but I can hold my feelings without projecting them. Feeling unsafe doesn't mean I am unsafe.
• When I feel scared into silence, I can speak it out.
• Being reminded of people who scare me is an opportunity to become stronger and less afraid.

Just ideas, but the point is to take a positive from the negative that can remind you of where you are strong and how to step past moments of fear.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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okay, I think I get it. I'm going to go write those ones in my book right away, just in case I forget!

Ironic: I was giving a talk about healing from abuse at a shelter and I said that healing isn't a straight line and you have to be patient with yourself and that ups and downs are normal... So much easier said than done!

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Heather
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It's true, isn't it? [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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I added " my mom is on my side"
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Thank for all the help Heather,

I hope I can be as good at my job one day as you are at yours!

Gonna hit the books now

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Heather
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Aw, what a lovely thing to say! And you're so welcome. I'm glad to help.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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