Triggered

Understanding that our husband’s sexual addiction has traumatised us explains a lot. The nightmares, panic attacks, rage and shame all have a reason. Okay, good. Now… what do we do with these out-of-control emotions?

First, it’s important to realise that as we pursue healing for ourselves (with a therapist or coach, a group support, supportive family and female friends) the constant see-sawing of our emotions (even in our sleep) will slow. What begins to emerge is a pattern: we notice that these emotions are most likely to swamp us in certain situations. At those moments we say we have been ‘triggered’.

Outside of new disclosures of betrayal from our husband, common ‘triggers’ include:

  • Sexualised media (from billboards to porn)
  • Women/girls who exhibit sexual brokenness in their behaviour or dress
  • The people, places and things we associate with our husband’s specific instances of betrayal

Avoiding triggers, particularly in the early days of disclosure, can be a key survival strategy. However, sometime we’re going to have to go out into the world again (and sadly, triggers abound in most parts of the Western World). What do we do when we find yourself on the beach or in the checkout line at the store and we see or hear something that causes our heart to skip a beat and that familiar flood of adrenalin to begin?

Getting Grounded

In moments like this, it is important to have some ‘grounding’ techniques to employ. Some therapists recommend finding a way to engage all five senses. A helpful touch technique is to take the index finger of your right hand (assuming right-handedness) and begin to trace your left-hand thumb. Continue down the valley and then up the hill of the index finger beside it. Continue this up and down tracing until you are at the far side of your pinky: then reverse the process.

Visually, we can find something simple and calming to focus on: a colour we like, or a pleasant pattern. We can become aware of what we are smelling and hearing. If they are unpleasant, perhaps we can go somewhere else (not too far) more soothing. What if that’s not an option? We can hum a song, hymn or melody that comforts. We might also consider carrying a small bottle of essential oil or perfume and pull it out at these times.

I have to admit that I’ve not tried all these techniques. When triggered the first thing I do is cry out to the Comforter. Since I am usually triggered by women my husband has identified as his ‘type’, I also pray for that person. I find it helpful to ask God to show me how He sees her. Frequently I am able to move from my perspective (‘she’s dangerous’) to His perspective (‘my poor broken daughter!').

Bringing to memory a verse of scripture, a visualisation from prayer time or a comforting dream (I had a dream last night that I was ice skating with Jesus) can also help. The next time I’m triggered I’ll certainly be trying the five senses ‘grounding’ techniques – while reaching for the hand of my skating partner.

What helps you when you are triggered?


Psalm 61 by Steve Apirana
(with images of clouds, reminiscent of his homeland – the land of the long white cloud -- New Zealand)