How Training Helps a Shelter

Shelters Provide Basic Short-Term Needs

Shelters provide an amazing service to those in need. Every single one works a little bit differently, but the heart to help is their unifying mission. Shelters generally provide the following:

  • A Safe Space. Safety is a shelter’s priority, both for you and any children who come with you.
  • Confidentiality. Your situation and information is yours, and will be kept private unless you grant permission for that information to be shared.
  • Food, Clothing, & Toiletries. Shelters generally provide these necessities for you and your family.
  • Transportation. Most shelters will provide transportation to get you to the shelter. Many times, bus passes are provided to help you get to any appointments or a job.
  • A Place to Sleep. Shelters will provide a bed for you and your loved ones. This may be in a common room or a shared bedroom, but it will be warm, clean, and dry. 
What Shelters Provide

Often these things are provided on a short-term basis. Safe housing programs are typically available for 3-7 days. Homeless shelters can be for up to 6 weeks. Transition programs can last much longer.

Shelters Can Provide Long-Term Assistance

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs acknowledges that our basic needs must come first: food, water, clothing, and shelter. Once these very base needs are met, our safety needs come next: personal security, emotional security, health and well-being, and financial security. The final three layers of the pyramid of needs are belonging, self-esteem, all of which culminates in self-fulfillment. Shelters provide basic needs, and often provide some physical safety.

But what if a shelter could go beyond the basic provisions, and provide tools that could help sustain people for the rest of their lives? What if this could be done without overtaxing the already exhausted shelter workers? What if there were a training that actually helps these workers avoid compassion fatigue and instead helps them build resilience?

Our free Live a Brighter Life curriculum can do just this. In six classes, students will learn to do the following:

  • Set boundaries and define personal space
  • Say no by saying yes differently
  • Uncover self-respect by letting go
  • Uncover a self-compassion that leads to resilience
  • Stand in divine power
  • Reclaim self physically and emotionally by being present

These 6 principals will not only help shelter workers bring their best selves to work each day, it will help them establish firm boundaries that are loving and compassionate to both themselves and to those around them. And these foundational truths will help them learn to rest, refresh, and value themselves in a way that allows them to become their best selves. Live a Brighter Life reshapes perspective. When all workers in a shelter are focused on these principals, decisions will be easier to make, organization will become easier, and because of the overall lift in emotional and physical health, your internal culture will shift.

How Training Helps a Shelter

In turn, shelter workers can pass this knowledge on to all those who come through the doors. Our Train the Trainers program will help your advocates provide the tools to help those in your shelter to learn to stand in their own power, respect themselves first, and teach their children to be their best as well. 

And in turn — step by step — we’ll begin to change our communities and change our world. 

How to Be Strong While Still Being Gentle

When we think of a gentle person, we envision someone who is kind, amiable, and without rudeness

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as true strength.” St. Francis De Sales

When we think of a gentle person, we envision someone who is kind, amiable, and without rudeness. 

A gentle person makes no abrupt movements or declarations. He or she is courteous, polite, and soothing to be around. There is no need to be hurried, to be harsh, or to act with violence. A gentle person exudes a quiet confidence. This is a confidence borne from being okay with the world and with what comes your way. It is derived from a calm, quiet mind. The ability to handle those things denotes an inner strength that is often overlooked. This gentle confidence is also evidence that there is a firm awareness of what is right and what is not.

We are gentle with our children — we nurture, educate, and come alongside them with compassion and empathy if they scrape a knee. Yet this gentleness will stand strong in the face of anyone who tries to hurt our children. We have a confidence that standing for them is the right thing to do, and something that we must do. It is born of love, but also conviction that protecting children is worth the effort.

An Example of Gentle Strength

St. Francis De Sales said, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as true strength.” For years, he went about the countryside trying to bring people back to the church. These same people slammed doors in his face and threw rocks at his body. Yet his conviction led him to continually reach out. Eventually, he went to the children. It was his kindness and gentleness with the children that won over the parents and opened the doors of communication. But it was also his persistence in pursuing his beliefs. Wherever we stand on faith, we probably all agree that this quiet man who cared for children was a strong, dedicated man.

Gentleness can be our greatest strength when we are aware of our boundaries and are willing to enforce them. There is safety in knowing where the edges of our boundaries rest. When we’re able to stay within these boundaries, we are gifted with a sense of safety and peace as a result. This boundary enforcement can be gentle while still being firm.

Establishing Boundaries

So how do we establish boundaries? In what areas should we create boundaries? Boundaries exist in all areas of life. Consider the following general categories:

  • Physical
  • Mental 
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Professional
  • Fun

If we find we’re overwhelmed in any of these areas, there’s a good chance it’s because of a boundary issue. True strength is being able to gently remind ourselves of our own worth, our own needs, and the knowledge that when we honor these things about ourselves, we’ll be able to bring our very best selves to the world. Boundaries might mean taking 10 minutes when we get home from work to sit quietly and write in a gratitude journal. It might mean taking a walk every evening after dinner. It might mean setting time aside to put together a puzzle or practice yoga.

The first step on the path towards true strength is learning to be gentle with ourselves. Complimenting ourselves our own best attributes. Honoring our bodies. Creating a safe space for ourselves. And making room for joy. This is the path that leads to gentle strength.

Educating Others About Domestic Violence

Many around us have an image in their heads of what domestic violence looks like: black eyes, broken bones and shuttered windows. Many believe they could spot an abusive person fairly easily: the raging person who is uncomfortable to be around. But domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, or relational abuse) takes many forms. It often looks very different than what you’d think.

18% of teens experience domestic violence by someone they are dating

Who Experiences Domestic Violence?

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “a pattern of behavior used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.” It is not discriminatory — no matter the socioeconomics, age, gender, race, orientation, or religion. Consider these statistics straight from Janedoe.org:

  • Primarily Women. 90% of all domestic violence victims are female and most abusers are male.
  • LGBT. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals are abused at approximately the same levels as heterosexual couples, but the abuse may be exacerbated by social isolation caused by societal oppression and discrimination.
  • Elders. 11% of individuals 60 or older reported experiencing abuse within the last year.
  • Children may be victims of domestic violence, hurt by being exposed to the violence and battering of a parent, and are sometimes used by perpetrators as threats of means to coerce their victims.
  • Teens. 18% of high school females and 7% of high school boys report being physically hurt by someone they are dating.
  • Immigrants. Domestic violence within immigrant and refugee communities can cause victims to be isolated socially and legally with complications due to documentation status and access issues due to language and culture. Abuse may be exacerbated by social isolation, language barriers, and lack of familiarity with local laws and services.
  • Men. 17% of men in relationships report violence committed against them by their partner.
  • Disabled. People with disabilities experience higher rates of domestic violence than the general public, often by the hand of caretakers or power relationships.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence can take many forms. Most media portrays it as physical or sexual, but this violence can also be financial or emotional. Abusers will use any means to control their partners in the relationship. They choose when, where, and how the abuse happens, and are often viewed by the general public as upstanding, dependable, well-adjusted people. Domestic violence can take on any of the following forms:

Physical

Physical abuse occurs when physical force is used against you in a way that injures or endangers you. It doesn’t suddenly happen overnight. There’s typically a slow escalation with verbal putdowns, veiled threats, and a gradual isolation from friends and family. Once the isolation

Questions to Ask if You Suspect Physical Abuse

  • Does your partner hit, push, slap, choke, kick, bite you or pull your hair?
  • Does your partner damage your property?
  • Does your partner burn you?
  • Does your partner refuse to let you or someone else leave?
  • Does your partner leave you in unfamiliar places?
  • Does your partner attack you with weapons?
Domestic Violence takes on many forms

Sexual

Sexual violence includes any action that hinders your ability to control your sexual activity or your ability to choose when, where, and how sexual activity happens. Anything other than consensual sex is an act of aggression and domestic violence.

Questions to Ask if You Suspect Sexual Abuse

  • Does your partner force you to have sex against your will?
  • Does your partner make you dress in a sexual way?
  • Does your partner refuse your request to use condoms or birth control?

Financial

When a partner controls the money and cash flow in the home, it could be a form of domestic violence. Removing access to finances can ensure that you can’t leave. It asserts power and control over your day-to-day life, and makes you subservient to their wishes and desires.

Questions to Ask if You Suspect Financial Abuse

  • Does your partner keep cash and credit cards from you?
  • Does your partner take your ID, money, or property without your permission?
  • Does your partner put you on an allowance and demand you justify every dollar you spend?
  • Does your partner keep you from working whatever job you want?
  • Does your partner sabotage your job by making you miss work, be late for work, or call constantly)?
  • Does your partner steal money from you or your friends and family?
  • Does your partner withhold money for basic needs?

Emotional

Emotional abuse affects how you feel about yourself. This is not just in the moment of intentional, overt abuse, but also how you feel about yourself and the world around you. Emotional abuse diminishes your feeling of self-worth and independence, making the world feel like an unsafe place.

Questions To Ask if You Suspect Emotional Abuse

  • Does your partner intimidate you?
  • Does your partner accuse you of having other relationships?
  • Does your partner threaten you, your children, family members, or pets?
  • Does your partner continually put you down or make you feel bad or stupid?
  • Does your partner keep you from contacting your friends and family?
  • Does your partner yell at you?
  • Does your partner blame you for abuse?
  • Does your partner have an unpredictable temper?
  • Does your partner withhold attention or affection?
Ways to help domestic violence victims

Ways to Help

Victims of domestic violence are often confused and scared. They second-guess themselves at every turn, apologize continually, and make excuses for their partner. They can sink into depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. If you suspect someone is being abused, speak up! Express your concern. Mention the warning signs you’ve observed. Ask if something is wrong rather than waiting for them to approach you. Listen to them, but don’t pressure them. Don’t give advice. Instead, just offer help. Support their decisions. Be the friend who initiates and be persistent.

Additionally, educate yourself on domestic violence looks like. Read about it. Gather resources like the Power and Control Wheel. Listen to podcasts. Share encouragement. Know the local shelters and other supports for victims of domestic violence. It’s far more prevalent than most believe, so the more people who know how to be a support, a resource, and safe place for those who need it, the more chance we have in stemming the tide of domestic violence.

Could you be diagnosed with Burnout? The World Health Organization thinks so.

The WHO (World Health Organization) is bringing to light a truth many of us may be familiar with: work-related stress can bring on burnout. The new definition defines burnout as a “syndrome” related to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Currently it is not considered a medical condition but an “occupational phenomenon”.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout results in the following:
1) “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”

2) “Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job”

3) “Reduced professional efficacy”

Burnout was also previously included in an older version of WHO’s disease handbook, but with less detailed components. The current updated definition brings more light and nuance to a situation those in a variety of fields face. The new definition also brings more legitimacy and a step towards bringing greater access to help and support.

The new definition also requires mental health professionals to rule out anxiety, mood disorders, and other stress-related conditions. This distinction and specificity could lead to more targeted research and resources for both treatment and prevention of the condition. WHO plans to begin the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being for the workplace.

The Indrani’s Light Team is excited to see how this new definition, through awareness, research, diagnosis, and support program development impacts the lives of domestic violence advocates. For more resources to combat work-related stress and burnout, check out ILF’s advocate resource page.

7 Questions to Ask to Jumpstart Recovery

to jumpstart recovery recognize how trauma has affected you physically

For those healing from domestic violence, abuse or trauma, the first thing to realize is that recovery isn’t linear.

No one can outline the way recovery will progress and expect every person to follow that path step-by-step. Recovery is messy and complex and looks different for every single person. But recovery does have a few things in common, no matter the story. There are some questions that once someone is able to answer, will be able to jumpstart recovery. These are helpful to those in the process of recovery, but also helpful for those coming alongside these courageous survivors.

 

How has this trauma affected me physically?

This isn’t about broken bones and bruises, although those definitely come into play. This question is more about the changes this trauma has made on your brain and your nervous system. Our brains change throughout our lifetime, and this is a natural occurrence. But changes stemming from trauma can lead to PTSD, depression, substance abuse, personality disorders, and health issues. The sooner you’re able to identify these changes that come following trauma, the sooner you can seek treatment for them. And assure yourself that you’re not imagining things — you’re recovering from trauma and these symptoms are your physical body’s natural response.

 

Am I crazy?

Trauma can have a profound effect on so many areas of our lives. It can make you hypervigilant, panicky, and make your emotions go from 0-100 in a heartbeat. It can make you depressed and lethargic. And trauma can make you swing like a pendulum between the two. In short, it can make you feel very unlike yourself, and question your sanity. You can feel numb, and want to do something risky just so you feel something. Your memory might be unreliable. These can all be a result of the trauma you’ve experienced.

 

Will I always be a victim?

You aren’t a victim, you’re a survivor. Just this shift in perspective can help you regain much of your sense of control. Viewing yourself as a survivor will help reduce any shame that often accompanies trauma and abuse. It will remind you of your strength and resolve.

a support network will jumpstart recovery

Is there hope?

Yes, there is always hope. Optimism can still be part of your daily life, but it may take time to grow this perspective. It doesn’t mean looking at life through rose-colored glasses. Healthy optimism involves taking a brutally honest look at what has happened, where you are as a result, and then taking constructive action from that place. This type of optimism can reduce your sense of helplessness and direct you towards your next steps.

 

Do I have a strong support network?

Gathering people around you who will support you is paramount to recovery. Educate yourself on what you need. Be brutally honest with yourself in this process but keep your focus on the future, not the past. Remember that asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak — it means you’re courageous and willing to move forward.

Let your people know that you’ll need them to be proactive in their help because there may be times you’ll need them but struggle to ask for their help. Last, push yourself to respond to them when they call, text, or email. Sometimes this is easy, but there are times it will be difficult. Connection is a lifeline in the recovery process.

kids who experience trauma need support as well to jumpstart recovery

Will my kids be okay?

Kids who experience trauma or abuse need support as well. Make sure they have resources for their physical well-being. Help establish a support network for them. School may prove difficult for a time, so if there’s a school counselor available, make sure they’re introduced. Ask questions and fully listen to their responses. Parents often assume they know what’s going on in their child’s heart and mind. By giving your child space and time to share their story, you’ll gain sight into what their triggers may be and what sort of support they most need.

 

Will I even find good things again?

Gratitude plays a role in the recovery process. Challenge yourself to track the good things in your life right now. Make a list. Write down something every single day for which you’re thankful. This list will buoy you when you hit a rough patch. It can remind you of your progress and your own strength and resilience. And it will be anchor if life feels overwhelming.

when you jumpstart recovery you'll be able to find good things again

Recovery can be a long road, but one worth the effort. Give yourself time to heal and grow, and be gentle with yourself. And if you’re working with someone in recovery, be generous with your patience and encouragement.

Recognition feels amazing, but isn’t worth worrying about

On May 3rd 2019 Indrani was recognized as a champion of gender equity and justice for both her global work to lift women and girls out of poverty, and her domestic work to improve the level of care for domestic violence survivors by teaching front-line advocates resilience against compassion fatigue and burnout.

Indrani was so excited to receive her award from Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler.

After the event Indrani recorded this video for you to talk about how it feels to be recognized, whether that recognition is something small or something big, and to encourage you to take a tiny step forward with whatever goal or dream you are envisioning.

Now it is your turn to answer Indrani’s questions:

What is it you want to do?
Why do you want to do it?
What are a few first steps you can take right now?

Leave a comment below with your answers to these questions so Indrani and the ILF Team can share your journey.

Sakhi for South Asian Women (Sakhi), New York City’s first South Asian American women’s organization and an award-winning nonprofit that combats domestic and sexual violence in NYC’s South Asian community, celebrated 30 years of service and advocacy at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at its gala ‘Honoring the Power Within’, on May 3, 2019.

4 Ways Meditation Can Help You Stay More Balanced

Studies have found that meditation can help you stay more balanced in many areas of life

Does your to-do list seem twice as long as your days? Are you worn out trying to keep up with all life throws your way? Between work, family obligations, relationship care, and other activities, it can be difficult to squeeze in self-care. Even 10 minutes of meditation a day can help keep you balanced in astounding ways.

Studies have found that meditation can help you stay more balanced in many areas of life.

And if you’re working a high-stress job, juggling home life, and all your other obligations, meditation can help you stay balanced, healthy, and content.

 

The Science of Meditation

How does mediation work? Is it just the latest self-care fad? Johns Hopkins asked the same thing in 2013, and published their research findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their conclusion was yes, studies definitely show some evidence that meditation improved things like anxiety and depression.

 

Meditation Improves Physical Health

Believe it or not, meditation can boost your physical health. In fact, one particular study showed that even folks with brand new meditation skills and only 8 weeks of practice developed more immunity against illness than those without. Additionally, the study showed that those who meditated were scientifically happier and healthier than those who did not. Who doesn’t need that promise at the end of a busy day?

Meditation also helps calm your mind, which allows you to handle stress differently. If you have chronic pain or inflammation, meditation can help decrease these symptoms as well, as much as 57%!

The benefits of meditation include physical health

Meditation Improves Mental Health

Studies show that meditation actively disciplines the mind to focus. Even just a little bit of meditation can help in significant ways. Meditation can improve your working memory and help you organize, plan, and complete tasks more efficiently and effectively. Attention — that discipline of focusing on one thing despite the myriad of other things that continually bombard our minds — can be much improved by meditation as well. Try it for a week and your boss will most likely be thrilled with your improved job performance.

 

Meditation Improves Emotional Health

When you add meditation to your routine, you’ll begin to experience more joy, more satisfaction, more resilience, and more optimism. Meditation helps you connect to the present moment and appreciate what’s going on in the right-here, right-now. It trains your mind to observe rather than react. And because positive emotions compound over time, meditation helps expedite this process.

The benefits of meditation include better emotional health

We all tend to relive moments from the past. This replaying, or ruminating, can often make us feel anxious or depressed. Meditation can help us learn to stop ruminating, thus leading to a happier, more contented outlook. Incredibly, even just 8 weeks of meditation has long term benefits— people continue to feel better years later, experiencing less panic and anxiety!

 

Meditation Improves Relationships

Meditation can build emotional intelligence, which is your ability to perceive, understand, and manage your emotions. It also helps you feel more connected to the people around you. In fact, even just a few minutes of loving-kindness meditation increase feelings of social connection and positivity. The result is an increased ability to see ourselves and others with more empathy and compassion. Can you imagine what would happen if your whole family or work team began meditating together? Our world would be such a positive place!

Many of us know we should give more attention to our self-care routine. Now that we know how meditation works in the body, perhaps we can use that as a springboard to start a meditation habit. Meditation doesn’t need take a lot of your time each day for you to begin experiencing some pretty radical benefits. Most studies confirm that even people who are new to meditation can experience profound benefits on physical, mental, emotional, and relational health.

Meditation improves relationships by helping you manage your emotions

If you’re new to meditation, consider a few of Indrani’s YouTube meditations:

Whatever option you pursue, you, your loved one, and your coworkers will benefit from your increased ability (and desire!) to be present, solve problems, and empathize with whatever they’re going through on any given day. And you’ll appreciate the ability to crawl into bed each night a little less overwhelmed and a little more at peace.

Updates from the Team: Philadelphia Training Recap

As part of our “Caring for the Caregivers” Program, our team travels to domestic violence-focused organizations and shelters to provide in person support and training around compassion fatigue and burnout. In March, our team was delighted to travel to Philadelphia to train over 50 Caregivers from multiple domestic violence organizations. Our founder, Indrani Goradia, was also able to attend one of the training days, providing more insight and care to our training participants.

Throughout the week we worked with staff in various arenas: medical advocates, hotline staff, legal advocates, administrators, therapists and housing advocates among others. We had lively discussions about the extraordinary situations staff encounter on a day-to-day basis and subsequently, how the pervasive stress leads to burnout and compassion-fatigue. Many of the staff shared that this stress has had an impact on their capacity to take care of the needs of their friends and family.

Our trainers actively listened and validated the Caregivers experience. We taught numerous tools designed to support staff with recognizing and setting boundaries, a fundamental practice of self-care. One staff person who has been in the field for two decades said of the boundary tools, “This has changed the way I look at everything.” We received consistent feedback that the visualization exercises were immensely helpful in preparing for having difficult conversations. An administrator commented “This exercise has helped me both personally and professionally.”

We take great joy in knowing our trainings are supporting Caregivers as they continue to do their work. For more information about our resources and support, visit our Caregiver Resources. We’re looking forward to our next training!

What a Career in Domestic Violence Really Looks Like

what a career in domestic violence really looks like

There are many roads that can lead to a career that works to end domestic violence.

Some pursing a career to end domestic violence grew up in homes that openly and actively supported human rights. Others were influenced by situations in the home or the community that highlighted the need for greater social justice. And some working to end domestic violence are survivors themselves who want to help others trapped in abuse. No matter what the impetus, most want to help others get to a place of greater freedom and confidence.

You can advocate for and support survivors in a myriad of ways.

A career to end domestic violence could range from case manager to shelter worker, social worker to strategic planner, law enforcement officer to legislator. The opportunities are endless. Additionally, work is greatly needed, deeply meaningful, and intensely rewarding. But working a career to end domestic violence is not easy.

 

Consider the following truths when pursuing a career to end domestic violence:

Days can be long.

No matter what type of job you pursue, some days are long. When you work with those affected by domestic violence, your emotions get pulled in a million different directions. Your heart can break and then become elated At the end of the day, it’s hard to leave your work at the office. If you’re a case manager or shelter worker, every single day looks different than the day before. Most of the time you’re in a reactionary mode rather than working as instigator. All this can wear down your body, your mind, and your heart. It’s difficult to remember that you get a fresh start tomorrow.

Days can be long when pursuing a career to end domestic violence

Circumstances can be difficult.

You’ll need fortitude and creativity to navigate effective solutions. There are times you’ll wish you could sweep away all hurt and trauma. People will make decisions you don’t agree with. Lawyers will find loopholes for perpetrators. You’ll want to take people home with you and let them sleep on your couch. Kids will cry. Shelters will run out of extra space. Much will be out of your control. As such, it’s difficult to remember that your job is to take the next best step forward.

 

We’ve found that a few simple practices can help you avoid burnout when working against domestic violence.

Most individuals working a career to end domestic violence find the task to be all-consuming. If you’re not careful, after a few years into your career, you can easily find yourself experiencing burnout. To avoid this, we recommend a few simple practices:

Boundaries need to be enforced.

While we can’t always leave work at work, time on the clock after hours should be the exception, not the norm. When you’re with friends and family, be fully present with them. Be intentional about what fills that time and space. Remember that working with survivors is your profession. This means you get to conduct yourself as a professional, not a charity. Emotional intimacy with clients is tempting, but maintaining a professional boundary allows you to sustain yourself and your career for years to come.

selfcare is vital when pursuing a career to end domestic violence

Self-care is essential.

Working in a career to end domestic violence generally affects every piece of your heart. Most who pursue this career have deep passion and feel every setback personally. But passionate work must stem from the overflow. When you keep yourself healthy both physically and emotionally, you’ll be much more effective in your work. Exercise. Eat good food. Drink lots of water. Pursue hobbies. Schedule down time. Build your relationships with friends and family. These habits will fuel your work and help make you more buoyant and flexible on a daily basis.

Gratitude must be daily.

When you’re working with survivors, you see a lot of evil. You’re daily in the trenches with trauma, and studies show that second hand trauma can have long-term consequences. The good news is that you get to choose your perspective and focus. A daily gratitude practice can keep you positive and enthusiastic. Start a gratitude journal. Make it a dinner-time discussion. Keep the good things at the forefront of your mind and you’ll find much more satisfaction with life in general, not just in your career choice.

 

Whatever path you follow to pursue a career to end domestic violence, the choice means being part of positive change.

This career choice means you get to be part of the solution. And you get to witness survivors bravely moving forward towards thriving. With healthy boundaries, consistent self-care, and a daily gratitude practice, you’ll truly be able to thrive.

Recognizing Triggers and Learning How to Manage Them

Removing yourself from a violent relationship doesn’t mean you’re suddenly better.

The road to recovery is long, and along the way survivors often experience what experts call “triggers.” These triggers can cause anxiety, depression, sadness, and panic.

Learn to cope with your emotional triggers

What are Triggers?

A trigger is anything that consciously or subconsciously reminds you of your past abuse. It’s almost like a sudden flashback, or a recording playing in a survivor’s head. These traumatic triggers put a survivor right back in the middle of terror. Triggers are terrifying, and survivors are unable to control their emotional and physical responses in the midst of such fear.

Triggers can be internal or external. Internal triggers occur in our minds and promote the urge to relive a particular moment. External triggers are environmental factors that accost us suddenly and often without warning.

 

What Causes Triggers?

Triggers can be caused by a multitude of sounds, smells, sensations, and environments. As each abuse situation is different, so is a survivor’s particular traumatic triggers. Below are a few more common triggers:

  • Seeing a fabric pattern, familiar shirt, or passing a familiar location
  • Hearing the sound of breaking glass, revving of a car engine, a balloon pop, or particular quality of voice
  • Smelling a particular cologne or food
  • Experiencing a particular holiday event or celebration
  • Feeling a hug, a friendly pat on the back, or a gentle hand on the arm

As you can see, triggers can come as the result of good things, not just scary things. In all these instances, a survivor may be physically safe, but mentally and emotionally returns to a moment of danger. It may take some time for survivors to identify their triggers. And it may take even longer for them to confide in those around them. The sooner these two things happen, the sooner a survivor and all supporters can learn to cope with these triggers in a healthy manner.

 

Coping with Triggers

Domestic violence survivors are strong individuals. Many go on to advocate for those still trapped in abusive situations. Even in the midst of helping others, these survivors are in the healing process themselves. Many find themselves working in domestic violence shelters. Whatever path they choose, chances are they’re still dealing with triggers.

Sometimes we can avoid triggers. We can choose to refrain from driving by a particular location. We can remove items from our homes that remind us abusive situations. Here are a few tips to help cope with the traumatic triggers we can’t control:

Learn to Recognize Your Triggers

When you can learn to identify your triggers, you’ll be able to start working towards a means to cope with them. In the process, don’t disparage yourself for them. They’re aren’t foolish, dumb, or inconsequential. If seeing your abuser at your children’s school events causes you to freeze inside, have friends save a seat for you. Tell them what’s going on so they can help you through it.

Catch Triggers Early

The more you know what your triggers are, the better chance you have of catching yourself early in your response to them. When you’re able to catch your response early, before your emotions snowball into a big scary manner, you can manage it more easily.

Don’t Run Away

The natural instinct when we’re experiencing a traumatic memory is to run. To get away from what’s causing the pain. When we do this in the middle of a traumatic trigger, we don’t learn to make it through. We don’t learn to overcome. When we choose to stand with ourselves in the middle of the panic, we can begin to assure ourselves that we can make it through. That we aren’t in danger like we were before. That we are built to be survivors.

Talk It Out

Find a trusted friend to talk through your triggers. When you talk about your thoughts and feelings, you can actually gain more mastery over them. Additionally, you can develop a mantra or two to help you with your particular triggers. That way, when you’re at the beginning of a traumatic trigger episode, you can talk yourself back down onto solid footing.

Find a Positive Sensory Experience

Finally, consider a comforting smell or texture that you can keep in your purse or pocket. One that makes you feel like you’re wrapped in safety. It may be an essential oil (smell), a smooth stone (touch), or a favorite song (sound). Any of these can serve as a grounding for you when you feel your panic start to rise.

However you choose to cope, be gentle with yourself. Seek support from trusted people around you.