Cilantro, Trauma & Triggers: How the "Response" Isn't Always the Place to Start
Do you ever have those moments when two seemingly unrelated things seem to feel very related, yet sometimes in weird ways. Like when one thing pops up, you automatically think of something else (even if for most people, those two things actually have NOTHING to do with one another).
You might be having an AHA moment or be wondering "what does she mean?" alongside me.
So I'll tell you what I mean. I was in my kitchen last week about to make a new recipe. It had cilantro in it.
I am not one of those people who is averse to cilantro.
But I know some people are. Personally, I quite like it.
This (above) might be your face while eating something with cilantro in it (and is similar to mine haha).
But for some people, it might look more like this:
From the cilantro-haters I've talked to, they told me that the reason why is because they have some sort of enzyme that other people don't have which makes the cilantro TASTE LIKE SOAP!!!!!
(Talk about YUCK!). No wonder it doesn't taste good to them. No wonder they don't like it.
Cilantro and Trauma. What do they have in common??
There's something in them (maybe their tastebuds or BRAIN?) that triggers a VERY DIFFERENT RESPONSE than cilantro does for me and for others. And it made me realize that TRAUMA is a little bit like that.
Especially the "triggers" that trigger that "fight or flight" response.
You could be at a gathering or in your family. Something happens or a word is said, an opinion is shared or a question is asked. An experience is had that somehow triggers this known and learned "fight or flight" response or feeling...yet most of the people are enjoying it, having a great conversation and feel great!
2 out of 3 people are unaffected, are completely at peace in that conversation, and don't even think anything of what was shared. Whereas for the third person, there might be a deep trigger that was touched or "TURNED ON" in that moment.
Just like you can't see the "enzyme" that causes the dish-soap-like response:
You can't always "see" the trigger.
And it isn't easily understood by someone who doesn't "taste" it that way. Just like for someone who hasn't had that personal experience—it might be harder to understand, harder to know how to be there for someone in that moment or what they may need.
They may have trouble expressing it too.
And for the "triggered" person, it can be hard for them to find their words in the moment, asking for what they really WANT and NEED.
That is because "fight or flight" keeps us stuck in that loop in the brain, the amygdala and the limbic system are overfiring (it is kind of like the brain is actually over-reacting) and screaming "DANGER DANGER, I am no longer safe here".
This can happen easily and yet when someone is triggered, it can be hard to find ways to PUT THAT FIRE OUT and calm the storm until the words, the calm, the CONNECTION, and the new response come in.
I bring up connection because I want to share what might most support people (children, parents, adults-alike) when a trigger is hit.
Because it's hard when you're IN IT to remember what will help you THROUGH IT. So stick with me...so you can have more "tools" to use if that response is triggered. And let it be okay if you forget but remember after...that is learning and reminding yourself you can be empowered even when this happens.
While writing a chapter in my book about this recently, I was reminded of "Pavlov's dog" and the idea that a dog could be trained to salivate when a bell was rung. There was a connection in the brain that was learned between a bell and expecting the food to come...which eventually led to salivating.
It's kind of like when a song comes on, you automatically get reminded of an experience related to that song — and how you felt!
When triggers arise, the goal is to create a new connection and replace the response we "expect" with what we really want.
The thing is, most of the time when we are TRIGGERED, we want CONNECTION.
We want to know that even if we are triggered and "feel UNSAFE" — that we ARE SAFE, that this feeling IS SAFE to be in and to be seen, that the people around us are able to connect with and be with us, while this trigger dissolves and we become less sensitive to the "trigger" itself.
And sometimes we hide or we go into the "fight" part of fight or flight. This is why I often speak of the need to move from "fight or flight" to stay and play.
So today, I wanted to leave you with a few easy 1,2,3 steps to take when TRIGGERS arise.
Step 1) Imagine STOP, DROP, and ROLL but we are going to:
PAUSE, PLAY and find a new way.
When you or a loved one are triggered.
Pause, breathe into your heart. And find something FUN to focus on.
When we are triggered, our "go-to" response is to keep focusing on the trigger, the problem, the "WHAT'S WRONG" rather than lean into something else or a new feeling. To PUT OUT THE FIRE (like stop, dropping and rolling would do), we need to TURN UP THE FUN. The FUN guides us through until our brain's response to the trigger changes. It lessens. We instead, begin to build a new neural connection between the trigger, and the feeling of FUN, play and connection. Connect with the people you love and trust this is the thing to change the trigger and lead you to the words or answer you need.
Some ideas: do a puzzle, watch a fun, happy or loving movie, pull out the games and PLAY AWAY, turn up the music and DANCE IT OUT! Or colour a colouring page, draw some pictures, do some art or create something you love. Maybe it is writing, reading, doing anything to bring you in the FUN FREQUENCY until your limbic system and the other heightened centres in your brain turn down. (They will turn down when you turn up the FUN).
Step 2) Let someone hold you and simply be with you through the moment.
This one can be really soothing, supportive, and healing. And sometimes hard to ask for when we are really deeply triggered. Ask someone you love and trust to just listen.
"Can you hug me? Can you hold me? Can you stay with me until this feeling passes?"
You can ask for what you need. Don't be afraid to try new ways of soothing yourself.
If you often soothe yourself, get comfortable asking for others to be there for you. And maybe if you heavily rely on others and have troubles being there for you, this is your time to learn some new "self-soothing" ways too.
Regardless, I encourage you to ask for what you need when moving through the moment. Maybe you hug yourself, you hug a stuffie, or snuggle up in your blankets and turn up a meditation. Let your "self-loving and soothing" method come through you and keep breathing as much and as long as you need.
Step 3) Grab a favourite memory.
This is one of those tips & tools that I learned and leaned on while "rewiring my brain" through trauma, chronic pain, and a brain injury (which btw all trauma really is a brain injury if you didn't know this. It all stems in the brain!).
When you're stuck in that fear response and that loop of focusing on what's happening now.
Let the past bring you back to a moment you felt held, you felt loved, you felt focused ON and IN the moment on love.
Maybe you were at the movies with your family, maybe you were hanging out around the campfire singing songs or maybe it was a trip you went on. Let yourself take a trip and a skip down memory lane, get into the SENSES (how did you feel, what did you see, taste, smell) and most importantly AGAIN:
HOW DID YOU FEEL!? 💖
This turns up the feeling centre in your brain to elevated emotions while turning down the response...and also helps you get out of your head and INTO your HEART and body!
It's like changing the "enzyme" that causes the dish soap response to something new, so no dish soap will be tasted.
Do you want to dive deeper and let yourself be held?
I have a lot more tips, tools and FUN ways to heal the brain, transcend trauma and dissolve disempowering diagnoses THROUGH PLAY, through presence, safety & connection. Sometimes when learning a new way, we can use a guide, support, and encouragement along the way.
If you are ready to dive deeper and let yourself be held (or know someone who might be struggling lately and could really use this kind of support), feel free to send them my way.
Here is a link for a free 30-minute connection session so we can support you, let you feel heard/held, and find out if working together is going to be the next best step in your personal or your family's journey.
Thinking of you and anyone who might be feeling a bit like they have a lot of "enzymes" in them right now. And also wanting to be there for and with those who are easily triggered during this time. Let's collectively stay in the place of love and acceptance when others need it (and when WE need it TOO).