A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

I just hate feeling like I am back at square one when some of these triggers come

A survivor friend wrote to me recently:

Today I got a card from one of my ex’s relatives and she wrote inside it, “Jesus died on the cross for ___ and He loves him too!!” It really triggered me. She left a voice mail on my machine two days ago that said, “I am sorry I have been such a bother to you. Just tell me what to do and I will change my mail.” That felt like manipulation. I don’t know why her card triggered me that way, but I am going to send it back to her. She also enclosed a check made out to me, but I am returning it as well.

I just hate feeling like I am back at square one when some of these triggers come.

I wrote back to my friend:

Dear ____,
it might encourage you to know that when my second husband assaulted me in 2012 (ending the marriage) and I applied for and was granted a protection order against him, I was so triggered for days that I could hardly believe who I was! I was hypervigilant. Being out in public, going shopping in the main street of my town . . .  it was like all my antennae were sensing danger everywhere. Every person in the street, even people a long way away from where I happened to be standing, seemed potentially extremely dangerous to me. It was as if every nerve in my body had been set on edge and spun out into hyperspace by a different squeaky nail down a different blackboard. If they had all be set on edge by the same nail on the same blackboard, it would have been easier, but it felt like they had each pinged off into different dimensions of hyperspace.  I was so jumpy. . . I was acting and speaking so oddly that I’m sure people who saw me in the street thought I was mentally ill.

I could barely recognize myself.  I was shocked how intensely and rapidly I had reverted to old behaviors and feelings — things I hadn’t experienced since 2001 when my first husband did a horrible thing.

It was like part of me was watching me, noting my responses and explaining them intellectually to myself as trauma responses, and the other part of me was so emotionally “ga ga” that I felt like all I was was nervous fear and panic.

So I suggest you don’t worry too much about how quickly you were regressed to that panic state. I guess it’s normal for people like us. I guess it’s fairly common for people who have been reiteratively abused in their lives to severely regress when triggered. . . and find themselves in a state of internal tumult, that spinning cacophony of panic.

But we can come out of it a lot more quickly than we used to!  Praise the Lord.

45 Comments

  1. Becky

    I think this person was just trying to be helpful and godly, but there’s something that people aren’t getting. There is a difference between unconditional love and unconditional relationship and they like to intertwine the two, like this friend is. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, but does He love everyone or does He love those that follow Him and His word?

    Christ calls us to love our enemies, but He doesn’t call us to have an unconditional relationship with everyone.

    You can more selective in who will remain as your friends. You are in a healing process right now, people like this aren’t helpful.

    God bless.

    • joepote01

      Becky –

      Yes, I’ve been thinking about this word ‘unconditional’ lately…along the same lines you’ve discussed here.

      It may be possible to have unconditional love, but it is not possible to have unconditional relationship.

      Jesus told us to love our enemies, and Romans 5:6-11 makes it clear that while we were enemies against God, Christ died to rescue us. So yes, God’s love is unconditional and He calls us to also love unconditionally.

      However, there is a huge difference between love and intimate relationship. I can love my enemies, but I cannot have relationship with them while they are still working against me. Similarly James 4:1-10 makes it clear that friendship with the world makes us enemies of God.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

        I love the thought of unconditional love verses unconditional relationship. That is so clarifying!!

  2. Catherine

    I agree, after trauma we become hypervigilant and see danger even when there isn’t any. But in your friend’s case, I believe there was danger that the relative was trying to manipulate her emotions in a harmful way. The relative sent a note that seemed to be asking her to forgive her ex — and then sent a note that seemed to accuse her of being oversensitive. Yes, I may be reading more into those notes than is really there, but I also know how emotional abusers talk. Your friend’s ex’s relative fits the pattern. If I were in her shoes, I also would have been triggered by those notes.

  3. Isaiah40:31

    I also found the relative’s comments to be manipulative, and I think she did well in sending the check back.

    Triggers are odd little creatures. I didn’t trigger much in the first couple of months, maybe because I was so focused on things like making sure we were safe, and trying to create a ‘new normal’ for the kids. But after about 3 months I started triggering over everything – big things, little things – everything was a trigger and it was fairly overwhelming. That hyper-trigger phase lasted a month or two before calming down.

    • Isaiah40:31, I think your experience there may be fairly common. When we first leave the essentials of safety, housing, and other basic necessities take such a big place in the foreground. Then, when some of those things get a little sorted, we start to come down from the adrenaline and start to un-numb. Ooohhhh! that means we start to feel! Yikes!

      All the emotions that we didn’t have space or time to feel before because it was just too unsafe so they were sequestered in the other part of our brain with their iconic memories, start to come to the surface, especially when something happens in the here and now which is similar to something that we suffered under the coercive control of the abuser. This is part of healing. It often feels like things are getting worse, but they usually aren’t. It’s just that we are becoming less numb and can start to emotionally work through (process) the trauma. It does get better, gradually, and if we have good trauma counseling that can help.

      Judith Lewis Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery talks about this. We strongly recommend that book. Here is our Amazon Affiliate link to it:
      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0465087302/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=0465087302&link_code=as3&tag=acrfoju-20

    • and Isaiah40:31 sorry if my comment above sounded ‘teachy’. I guess you probably know all that I wrote there, so please forgive me if it came across as patronizing. I guess I was writing it for readers who may not have traversed the un-numbing place yet.

      • Isaiah40:31

        Barbara, not patronizing at all! I appreciate all the help. I actually recently purchased “Trauma and Recovery.” It’s next on my list (just finished Crippens book, and ‘Sociopath Next Door’), then your book is next!

  4. Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

    I was so excited that I was “getting better” . I had even been able to go to a movie at a movie theatre and enjoy it. I had not been able to enter a movie theatre ( or even watch them on TV) for almost 7 years. I was excited and feeling victorious and then the ex-idiot lost his job, neglected to tell me, the child support that I had fought for in court for two years that had just re-started was suddenly cut off and I am again floundering to borrow, beg, cut things out to make ends meet. Major trigger and I can’t even watch TV shows that I had been waiting to come out on DVD. Angry at him, angry at myself and want to give up.

    • StillScared/Cindy ((((((hugs))))

    • NotHeard

      Still scared/Cindy: I feel your pain! Two steps forward, one step back is still progress. Please don’t be hard on yourself, it is part of the journey. Please find a way to redirect some of the anger energy so that you don’t store it all in your body. Behead some weeds, or a power walk in a place that you can see God speaking to you in his creation. Anger is a difficult emotion to sit with, but it’s not a bad emotion, it’s a God given emotion that is sending our body a message to be on guard, and be cautious. Listen to it, don’t try to block it, and definitely don’t give up: that would give the abuser power. Praying for you.

  5. Lighting a Candle

    Is it a trigger to be really angered by that comment? Because I am too! It is profoundly insensitive, scolding, self-righteous, and plain old obnoxious. I hate the mindset that when there is conflict in a marriage, it is the result of one party’s lack of forgiveness. Not only does she have no empathy for what you have experienced, she is subtly blaming you. False comfort with a few barbs thrown in is no comfort at all.

    Your feelings of anger and the perception of danger were right on.

    This is the same type of person that will slander you to everyone because you sent back the check. She is able to slip in those comments – oh so subtly- no ones sees it but you. It IS emotional manipulation- the covert type.

    Maybe we are triggered often because manipulation and emotional abuse is disturbingly common. And we have no desire to fall into it again!

    For me the challenge is discerning garden variety manipulation and indirectness that is more common and the other type, that I lived, based on evil intent. (Complete control of my life and power). I am also hyper-vigilant. It’s exhausting!

  6. Oh, do I have a love/hate relationship with triggers. I hate the fear that swallows me. I hate the helpless rage they unbottle. I hate the spinning head, the inability to think clearly or form cogent thoughts. I hate the trauma they unleash!

    But I appreciate the strength I gain when I do allow myself to be angry, replacing righteous anger for feelings of helpless victimization. I appreciate the reminders that he really is as bad as I’ve realized; the triggers remind me that he isn’t safe, that I must reject the sweet and loving overtures. I appreciate how the triggers send me sprinting to my support system for help, strengthening the community I’ve begun to build for myself and my kids.

    I wish the valley of the shadow of death were safe, but at least the Great Lion who walks with me and guards me is Good.

  7. healingInHim

    “back at square one” 😦 … all family feels ‘we love both of you; don’t want to pick sides’, etc … trigger, trigger

    • ‘We don’t want to pick sides’ actually means “we will give you no justice.”

      • Lost

        That was manipulative. You’re radar is right on. This post and these comments are so helpful. These things are happening in my life right now!

        Red flags?- Take note and Run! My mother is like this and will sneak comments in and I always fight it or hang up if necessary. Her first question was “what did you do?” As in “what did you do to make him do that?” Yeah. And there’s always such an excuse if you expose her. It all comes back to how I took it or heard it and of course she thinks she’s off the hook. Or how about from the pastor “if he was so bad then why did you go back to him?”

        I’ve noticed very many people are like this. They’re NOT well meaning. They serve themselves and i can sometimes hear it fairly soon. Their lips betray them! Spits and spurts, even so, but I can hear now! They give out of guilt to feel better about themselves. Leave a manipulative comment and confuse her with a gift. Hey Phonies- we’re sending it all back. Literally or figuratively.

        What about the lady who helped me until I asked her for a favor to which she said “yes” then cancelled last minute. she then lied and tried to confuse me and lie more then add some “it’s about what you need, not me” phony concern. All this crap instead of just saying “no.” Guess what? yes or no- I CAN deal with it! She hasn’t contacted me since. Real friend, huh?

        I’m finding if people don’t respect you just one time and REFUSE to admit it and make things better- they’ll do it again and again and again. I shall stay AWAY! I think it’s totally a snowball effect – it grows by disrespecting more and more and thus getting bigger bit by bit and then it’s rolled you right over and they’re smiling because you are stuck to the pavement and they can freely step on you without guilt. They’re so happy they have that power over you.

        Thank you.

      • Lost, if you haven’t yet seen it, I think you might also like this article of mine
        Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People

    • AJ

      😁 don’t want to pick sides!!! Oh that one gets me every time. And then when you decide you are not emotionally capable of maintaining friendships with people who are supportive of him you are labeled.

      I know we have talked about EMDR on this blog before but I have found it very helpful with the PTSD triggers. Anyone else?

      Blessings

      • healingInHim

        “And then when you decide you are not emotionally capable of maintaining friendships with people who are supportive of him you are labeled.”
        “Labeled” and being made to ‘feel very guilty’ for ‘cutting myself off from family’ … So, what is a family??? AND as for friendships; now I wonder if ‘the friends’ were ever ‘my friends’ ??

      • NotHeard

        Can you explain EMDR?

      • NotHeard,
        Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.

        Here is a link to a post we have that further explains it: EMDR — a therapy for the trigger reactions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

        Hope this helps.

      • Valerie

        AJ, I used to feel it was my weakness that did not allow me to spend time or talk with those who weren’t supportive when I spoke out against the abuse. But I learned it wasn’t me being emotionally incapable that led me to not speak with them, but actually it was my emotional STRENGTH that knew I didn’t need or desire to spend time with people who were so insensitive. If you’re going to be “labeled” the true label IMO is that you are STRONG when you do this, not weak.

        Healing from abuse is an opportune time to do some spring cleaning in all our relationships. Many survivors have recounted that once their eyes were opened to the abuse, they began to become aware of all the other unhealthy relationships they’ve hung on to that the abuse had made them immune to their destructiveness. I read another survivor’s words of wisdom that have stuck with me. She stated the truth that you know you’re stronger when instead of asking yourself, “Do they like me?” you begin to ask yourself, “Do I like THEM?”

      • You know you’re stronger when instead of asking yourself, “Do they like me?” you begin to ask yourself, “Do I like THEM?”

        Valerie, thanks for the great sound bite! I’m putting it on our FB page. 🙂

    • Valerie

      To not take sides is to take the side of the abuser. To want to remain neutral in abuse is not neutral. Abuse is not a neutral experience any more than other traumatic life events such a death of someone close or being involved in another kind of violent crime. To not take the side of the one who’s been targeted is to say the abuse is not bad enough for them to take a stand. It is a cowardly cop-out for those who who are too indifferent enough to be educated about abuse or too emotionally and spiritually cold to suffering.

      To say you don’t want to take sides is to be worse than the priest or the Levite- it is to walk up to the man bleeding on the road, stare at his wounds and then look at his wounded eyes and tell him you hope someone comes to help him then proceed to step over him and continue walking.

      • Amen! Preach it, sister!

      • Very well put, and exactly true!

  8. downtheroad

    Hi Barbara, i would say also to your friend that it may be instinct too and, she may have unconciously thought that the relative may have been used by the Ex to manipulate her,well done to her for returning the card and check, she is making it clear she will tolerate no contact, and cutting off a potential” loose end “the Abuser could use,Excellent advice as always Barbara, bless you and your wonderful ministry,and for the wonderful help you are to so many People.

  9. Katy2

    Why are there such “double standards” allowed in the life of the abuser, where the abuser does the very things he does not allow his wife to do? I am growing number and number as I witness my “faithful church going, Bible reading” husband do all of the things he has verbally attacked me for wanting to do all of these years.

    So like the “submissive wife” does just to maintain some order of peace, I have backed down because of the yelling, put-downs, and guilt crazy- making behavior to just stay home and “do as he says” all the while he allows himself to participate in public activities.

    I feel so hurt and so alone within these prison walls….and so tired and used in doing the labor of a man all of these years. If I did not know Jesus Christ as my personal LORD and Savior, these double standards I see in so called Christians, would be even more difficult to endure. I do not see Jesus in my abuser, nor any of his “church going family (my-inlaws)” for that matter. Funny, how people can go to church every Sunday, yet exhibit such hatred towards one another.

    Just plain tired of living in this numb state. Please pray for me and all those who are living like this for there are many.

    • Dear Katy2, I do pray for you and those like you, often. We know there are many abuse victims quietly following this blog, just reading and taking it in as they are able, while still living under the close coercive control of the abuser. I say ‘close’ to distinguish them from the ones who have left their abusers but are still under coercive control (post-separation abuse) though it’s not so close.
      Thank you for expressing where you are at; I’m sure that it voices the thoughts and feelings of many.

    • Praying for you Katy2. Keep reading when you can to grow your knowledge of how abuse works.

  10. It is the thought of a post separation abuse rom both my husband and his mother, as well as custody issues etc., why I have stayed this long. My husband is an abusive alcoholic, and his mother is an abusive narcissist that practices domestic abuse by proxy to my children, and my husband allows it. I hope I can survive, physically as well as mentally, for the next seven years.

    • mendingthroughchrist

      I have often thought of my husband and his mother as a “set.” She and I are both guilty, tho, of being major enablers of my husband. She took it the hardest out of all his family when I finally said I want a divorce. She blamed me for not going to couples counseling and not giving him more of a chance, esp. when he suddenly seemed to “repent,” but I think it is just buy back. I do hope he changes, but it doesn’t matter after over a quarter of a century of abuse. I’m finally seeing it as that, and I have to fight the guilt every day and stick to my decision.

      This is my 3rd separation, and when I went back the other two times nothing got better. I have no reason to believe it will again. I get triggered by his harshness and condescension, and quickly go into the scared puppy state, emotionally feeling crouched in the corner. It’s amazing that as an intelligent, professional person, I can suddenly feel like a naive child. He thinks because he is very sorry that he has changed, but I finally see the cycle of abuse, and that it takes years of counseling for an abusive personality to change, and I am exhausted from it. I’m done, but the road ahead is going to be hard as the divorce occurs over the next few months.

  11. StandsWithAFist

    I think in regards to the triggers that sometimes come by way of what I call “bystanders” or “accomplices”, there is a certain kind of empowerment that comes with recognizing it for what it is & refusing the bait. Bait usually comes with a hook, designed to reel you back into some kind of relationship with those who either do not understand/recognize abuse, or the “moralizers” who equate forgiveness with reconciliation. Bait demands a response…but it is unprepared for “no contact”. If cards, gifts and checks are returned, that is a response–and you are still playing by their rules. Gifts (especially money) are often a tool to manipulate, so it is empowering to utterly ignore them–do not return them, trash them. Do not return checks, shred them. You did not ask for them, you do not want them, so you are not obligated to accept them, return them or even recognize them. Unwanted & unsolicited phone calls & messages can be blocked so you no longer have to hear them or deal with them. You can block email, phone numbers, social networking, etc., and you can usually have “private” access only. Those people who coddle abusers & condemn the abused are themselves not worthy of a response. They don’t get it, will never get it & don’t want to get it. Anna Valerious once said on her blog, “I do not desire the esteem of evil people or their accomplices”. Once you realize who the bystanders are, then THAT is the real gift, because now you know who to avoid. So, triggers can be the impetus for empowerment & taking back your life. It is liberating.

    • Jeff Crippen

      StandsWithAFist – good stuff. Thank you. I did that check shredding thing some years back and it really was the best thing to do. I thought about marking the envelope “return to sender” but as you say, that gives them a response from me. So I looked at my shredder and thought “hey, there’s the answer.”

  12. brenda

    2 Timothy 3:1-5
    But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

    Have Nothing To Do With Such People

    Forgiveness is necessary, but reconciliation demands repentance.

    • healingInHim

      …”Have Nothing To Do With Such People” Forgiveness is necessary, but reconciliation demands repentance.
      Bb Davis – 2 Tim 3:1-5 has become a reality check. Thank you for confirming that I am not the only one who sees this in Scripture. So many keep claiming that I can be such a good witness for Christ by allowing family to be abusive while I “turn the other cheek”. It’s almost like they enjoy the ‘drama’?

    • mendingthroughchrist

      I have forgiven, but now that he knows I am leaving, he says he has repented and will never do it again. He has made some tangible changes, and I credit him for that, but it’s at the 11th hour.

      I’m sure it wasn’t meant like this, but “reconciliation demands repentance” puts guilt on me that if he repents, I have to reconcile. After many, many years of abuse, even if he repents, and praise the Lord if he does, I do not want to reconcile the relationship. I cannot place myself under his authority and leadership again because trust has been breached. Is that wrong of me? I don’t want to reward him with my heart that has been stomped on by him all these years. There are consequences to his choices.

      He reminds me of the vows I made, and promises me all kinds of wonderful years ahead. He broke the vows, and now he expects me to be the bigger person. I was for many years, but I can’t do it again.

      Then when people ask me to give him another chance, it discourages me. The scary thing is I may never find love again, and will be alone for the rest of my life. But I’d rather be alone than in an abusive relationship. I am kind to myself and there is peace and love in my apartment. No more house, fewer finances, but peace.

      • Hi mendingthroughchrist 🙂
        I understand how the phrase “reconciliation demands repentance” was triggering for you.

        I am pretty sure Brenda meant that if an abuser wants reconciliation with his victim, he MUST repent…AND keep on maintaining a repentant heart…AND show many fruits of repentance.

        But I am confident Brenda didn’t mean that if an abuser does all of that, the victim is required to reconcile with him.

        You are quite right. And you are not alone! I wondered the same kind of thing when my first marriage broke down for the final time. “What if he actually does really and truly repent? Does that mean I’d have to reconcile with him? Yikes! I don’t think I would ever ever want him back as my husband, not after all he has done to me… even if he changed into a truly non-abusive man, the damage he did to me is so great, he broke my trust so badly, he shredded me for so long, that I never ever want him back. And if people put pressure on me to have him back, I don’t think I could stand it!”

        Let me assure you that a victim is under no obligation to reconcile (wife to husband) with her abuser even if he has reformed. She can move on with her life, grateful that he is reforming, glad he is not likely to hurt any other women, glad that she can extend forgiveness to him from a distance, but never having to feel that her forgiveness must be accompanied by relational reconciliation in the form of marriage.

        You might like to read the posts we have on this page: https://cryingoutforjustice.com/what-about-reconciliation/

        And these posts will probably be helpful too:
        https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2015/06/26/sin-destroys-relationships-and-sometimes-the-destruction-is-total/

        https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2014/10/23/thursday-thought-does-repentance-ever-come-too-late/

        https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2012/02/10/the-abusers-ploy-of-confessing-his-past-abuse-by-jeff-crippen/

      • mendingthroughchrist

        Thank you for affirming me in that. I have been most terrified at this thought. I’m so glad you understand! When my husband found out I couldn’t go back to him, he was so sorry and talking so sweet to me and told me EVERYTHING I wanted to hear for 27 yrs of marriage. He went to counseling and told our counselor this, and I was sure my Christian counselor would say, “Well, we have to see how this plays out. I wouldn’t advise you to leave (divorce; I’m separated) just yet.” But no, he instead said, “This doesn’t change anything. This is at the 11th hour and he has shown no signs of love toward you or repentance or even acknowledgement that this was abuse in these months of counseling. God gave you peace, follow that peace.” I was crying so bitterly thinking he was going to “make me go back” and he didn’t! I couldn’t believe it!
        He said he doesn’t hold that kind of power to make me or not make me go back, but that has been my biggest fear since separating 11 months ago, was that someone was going to make me go back. GUILT would make me go back. ME – I’m my worst enemy. I can still feel the relief in my heart when my counselor and my closest friends who know the situation better than anyone said this doesn’t change anything. I am eternally grateful for that freedom!

        And finding this site has been an answer to prayer as I try to process what has happened to me all these years and am finally finding the courage to stop this crazy cycle and find freedom from oppression and a dead marriage.

      • mendingthroughchrist

        Oh, and thanks for the links. I’ll definitely check them out!

  13. brenda

    I have prayed for many years for wisdom to deal with abusive family members and I agree that scripture can be twisted to enable abusers –

  14. Katy2

    Thank-you for the prayers, the encouraging words of wisdom, and the support I find on this blog by people who genuinely care. The Body of Christ knows no boundaries when it comes down to ministering to others. I praise our LORD for all of you and for the opportunity of using the internet for the good of those who truly love Him.

    In prayer for all of those who are in need of love and healing through Christ. Love to all of you.

  15. mendingthroughchrist

    Katy2, I feel the same way! I don’t wish to be bitter or angry but I need help processing all of this. This site is a God-send because we all love the Lord and want to understand this, as it is going on in our Christian homes. And we are so misunderstood. We have believed we have been in bondage for so many years based on teachings in Scripture. Barbara’s book “Not Under Bondage” is so good, so detailed, as if she knows my own story. It has helped me understand what has been happening to me all these years. I’ve been in church most of my life and never understood this. We need to change that. We are all in a place of being able to hopefully disciple others as we see the signs. This is an education.

  16. Finding Answers

    Spent the day offline processing fear that nearly buckled my knees. So many things at once…

    Harder, too, because I am in new territory – the old methods of coping are being replaced by new ones, and I don’t know where God is leading me.

    Sometimes I get so tired.

    Debilitating fear drains my capacity to process coherently.

    I research. I read. I pray.

    The trigger manifests a little differently each time, the resolution is equally varied, they haven’t diminished with time.

    Post Title“I just hate feeling like I am back at square one when some of these triggers come.”

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