Monday, March 27, 2017

Triggered At The Movies

(by Survive, Thrive And Conquer, Matt)

As invalidating and frustrating as being triggered is, I also find it a bit fascinating to explore why these memories happen and what circumstances can cause them to pop back up.

My blog normally involves topics surrounding being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and narcissistic abuse, but I also explore relationships the struggles that survivors often have. After all, being a survivor and simply a member of the human race means that we are involved in all types of relationships.

Triggers can hit at virtually any time, especially early on in recovery and also as we continue on and explore more of our past.  One of those places that can be particularly troublesome is watching a movie or TV show.

One such recent event struck me out of the blue, and although looking back I might have seen it coming, but as always, it’s important not to shame ourselves for what we could have or should have done. Those shoulds and coulds are dangerous waters for survivors.

Anyway, I’ve been triggered before while watching TV or at the theater, and while it’s always a bit of a predictable experience, I have learned to sit with the feelings, not stuff them, and validate myself what I feel. It will usually pass in a relatively short period of time.

This recent experience last a bit longer than recent past triggering events, but the deeper part of this event was that I triggered feelings of past relationships. Specifically, a marriage that ended about 3 ½ years ago,.  While it’s been awhile, I admit, it’s still fresh in mind more often than I care to admit.

This was a situation that I shared with a trusted friend when I felt those familiar feelings of guilt, sadness, and wondering what will become of me in the future relationship department.

Sitting in the theater with my popcorn and diet coke, nothing really took hold in my mind until near the end of the flick. As the final climatic scenes unfolded, the flashbacks of what once was also began unfolding.

This was the same type of movie that I would have watched with my wife; the kind of movie that she would have had to convince me to go see. I would have come up with every excuse not to go, in fun of course, knowing full well I was going to see it anyway. It was a game of sorts, a tradition that became part of who we were.

It was something we would laugh about and became part of who we were as a couple. Those types of memories aren’t easily forgotten.

As the movie ended, I felt overwhelmed with emotions as I quickly exited the theater. Part of me wanted to stay, while the other part of me wanted vacate that place at the speed of light.  Making it to the car, I sat there in the quiet darkness reflecting of how things would have been if she were there with me.

She would be crying at the end, halfheartedly trying to hide the tears, while I sat there trying to act like it was no big deal. I’d look over and give her that predictable look and say:

“You aren’t crying, are you?”

“No”, she would say as she began to smile and laugh.

“What did you think?” she says…

“It sucked” I replied.

“I knew you would like it” she would say.

Of course, I usually did like it, but I always played along because it was our thing.

I couldn’t sit here and tell you that I wasn’t affected even if I wanted too. I’m not ashamed one bit to admit it.  I miss those times, and even though they are long gone, I still fondly remember things just like that.

This particular trigger will likely pop up again in a similar situation. It reminds me of a time when things seemed good, normal, and safe. Even though the marriage ultimately ended, it’s one of the many good memories that I will cherish. They aren’t tainted because of the ultimate outcome, and it wouldn’t be fair of me to think that they should be.

Movies and TV can affect us as survivors, not only in relationships, but also causing memories of past abuse, invalidation, fear, and loneliness. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for, it’s part of who we are. Stuffing them aside won’t solve anything, and will only cause them to hit us harder the next time they resurface.

No matter what you get triggered by, know that it’s okay and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you are taking a step back in your healing journey, nor does it mean that you’ll never feel peaceful and fully whole again.

The ebb and flow of life as a survivor of abuse, a survivor of a relationship that didn’t turn out, or anything else, is part of what shapes until the person we are becoming, post trauma.

No matter what friend, you’ll make it through that next trigger whether it’s the result of a movie, or any other situations. Sit with it, validate the feelings, learn from it, and use it to help yourself and others in the future.

If you would like to join Matt on his Twitter weekly chat, just watch for his announcement around 10:30am on Sunday mornings.  @SurvivingMyPast

-Matt (


Matt is a regular columnist on Mind Body Thoughts.  He writes Survive, Thrive and Conquer monthly column.  This article is written by Matt.

To learn more about him and see all his other articles, go to Matt's Page, Survive, Thrive And Conquer.

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