What To Do When You’re Triggered By Sexual Assault In The Media
It has been an eventful year for survivors of sexual violence. Loads of perpetrators have been publicly called out, and many women have found solidarity in amongst other survivors. We saw the rise of the “Me too” movement. We heard lewd, violent remarks from leaders in our country. We watched time and time again as celebrities told their own stories of sexual harassment in the TV and film industry. Not to mention 13 Reasons Why hitting television screens last year.
The increased awareness of this issue is incredibly valuable in furthering the cause of preventing sexual violence. However, being bombarded with news stories and social media posts can send survivors with unprocessed traumatic material into a tailspin. Everywhere you turn, it may feel as if there is a new trigger, reminding you of your own traumatic experience. It can be hard control the intense reactions these triggers may provoke.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with triggers in the media, consider practicing the following.
1. Set boundaries with media: my clients joke that it ALWAYS comes back to setting boundaries, but often times it does. Consider setting boundaries with how often you engage with media. Meaning turn off the news, only allow yourself a certain number of minutes a day, or deactivate your Facebook temporarily. Have enough self-compassion to recognize when you are pushing yourself too hard to continuously interact with triggering material. Remember boundaries can change depending on where you are in your healing journey. Perhaps after processing your sexual assault or sexual abuse with a therapist, you feel fine to surf Facebook for hours! Check in with yourself to know when you’re pushing yourself too much and when you’re able to take more on.
2. Set boundaries with friends and family: We can’t always assume that others realize we may be uncomfortable talking about certain subjects. If your friends and family are discussing something triggering, practice your assertiveness skills! Let them know you feel uncomfortable and to save that conversation for when you aren’t present. A simple “can we talk about something else” may do the trick. And remember, you never have to stay stuck. Get up. Leave the room. Change the subject.
3. “Face your fears” with a professional, not on your own: This goes along with having self-compassion. Yes, a common symptom of trauma is avoidance. But we do it for a reason. Avoidance is a protective measure we take to ensure our safety. So “facing your fears” by listening to triggering audio again and again, or reading details of another survivor’s story and allowing yourself to be overwhelmed with anxiety, anger, sadness etc. is really just retraumatizing yourself. More to unravel during therapy! Do yourself a favor and respect that you may not be ready to be inundated with these stories. Of course it will be helpful to talk about what you’ve been through and process through your trauma, but it’s important to do so with a professional who can help you pace yourself and stay present.
4. Ground, Contain, and Cope: Presence yourself after being triggered, meaning remind yourself that you’re right here, right now. Take a look around the room, feel your feet on the ground beneath you, and notice the sounds around you. If you’re with friends or busy going on about your day, practice containment of any trauma reactions and revisit them when you have time to do your coping skills. Remember containment is temporary! Eventually we have to deal with what’s bothering us and actively cope.
Remember, Dallas Healing House counselors are here when you’re ready to start the healing process. EMDR can be a great way to lower distress around some of the aforementioned triggers. Imagine experiencing something that used to be triggering for you and feeling neutral about it! See more about EMDR here.
Authored by Anna Zapata, LPC, RYT