What You Need to Remember after the Memory Trigger has Been Pulled

What You Need to Remember after the Memory Trigger has Been Pulled

I don’t ever want to go back there again, but whenever I drive past the place, a trigger is pulled, and I go immediately to that place and that time when the trauma happened.

It might be a smell, a taste, seeing someone or something. It could be a sound, a piece of music, a word. Experience those things, and you are immediately taken to a memory that you wish you could wipe from the brain.

A trigger has been pulled and like a speeding bullet you’ve gone somewhere else. A different time, a different place, but too well-known none the less. 

What is a trigger? 

In psychological terms, a trigger is ‘something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.’ psychcentral

Based on the five senses it could be

  1. Seeing something
  2. Hearing something
  3. Tasting something
  4. Smelling something
  5. Touching something

A trigger is pulled, and you’re right back there

What you need to remember

In that paralyzing moment, everything can go, and it’s just you and that traumatically loud echo.

You’re alone and full of fear and dread.  You’re there but not there. Your panicked and freeze up like an opossum caught in the headlights.

It does pass, this triggered flashback, but now what?

I suggest you need to remember that you weren’t alone.

You weren’t alone then. You’re not alone now, and you won’t be alone with the memory in the future.

God is with you.

God was with you when the trauma happened, is with you now, and is committed to being with you if and when the trigger is pulled again.

You could well say that ‘Well if God was with me then why didn’t God stop it from happening?’ And it’s ok to voice your anger. Another topic for another time.

Going through it

God once breathed out these words to a prophet called Isaiah.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)

In this beautiful passage, we find three repeating themes within the context of being held.

  1. When you. (written two times)
    It is not ‘if’ trauma hits us, it’s ‘when.’
    It’s to be expected that tough times are going to come. It is part of our human experience of living in a broken world. Don’t be surprised by times when it feels like you’re being swept away or when the blow torch of life is licking its flames over your existence.
  2. Through. (written three times)
    That word ‘through’ speaks to the reality of a beginning and an end. A passage of experience. This flashback will not last forever and with time and help these memory tracks will heal. You’re going through it not setting up camp.
  3. Shall not (written three times)
    Whatever your going through it will not overwhelm you, burn you, consume you and eat the life out of you. It’s a promise.

And there’s more

Also, there is vastly more about the traumatic event that you don’t know, and God does.

I was once talking with a psychologist about how to help people experiencing triggers and flashbacks, and he suggested that they need to add to the picture. Add to the memory aspects such as the color of the room, time of day, whether it was sunny or not.

God knows it all and a dangerously good prayer to pray is to ask God to reveal more about the narrative of the story that you don’t know.

After the trigger has been pulled

After the trigger has been pulled and the flashback has been experienced it’s important to take your mind to grounded present-day reality and let the brain rest and take shape off it.

The brain and all it fascinating circuitry will be molded by what you allow, permit, invite, and train it to take rest on.

  1. Breathe
    Take some nice deep gentle breathes.
  2. Sip water
    Unless this is a trigger for you, then take some sips of water to just ground your body back to something tangible and real. 
  3. Acknowledge the reality of having a triggered flashback
    It happened, acknowledge it, own it, and know that it was real. 
  4. Acknowledge the normality of having traumatic flashbacks
    Having triggers and flashbacks is common for people who have had traumatic events. You’re not alone in this experience.
  5. Invite a sense of Gods presence to be around you
    Ask that you might feel the warm presence of God around you like a nest, a place of healing, security, protection, and comfort. 
  6. Read a passage of the Bible that brings you comfort.
    Perhaps it could be this one
    When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
        and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
    when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
        and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV) 
  7. Meditate on the passage.
    Let this passage work its way into the core of your thinking.
  8. Prayerfully ask God to heal
    Ask God to heal those neural pathways in the brain that fused to that time and place. That the healing will be in Gods timing and Gods ways. 
  9. Talk about it
    When you talk about these flashbacks to someone safe, say a therapist, then you know that you’re not alone with terror. Someone else knows and cares.

These triggers and flashbacks don’t mean you’re going crazy. It’s normal when you have experienced a traumatic event. There is a way through this fire, but it will take time and learning to retrain the brain to rest and recover.

Quotes to consider

  • I don’t want to remember that incident because it’s too painful” means that it must be recalled in order that you may ‘think again’ and reassess old conclusions. D. Riddell
  • When you next over-react in anxiety, rejection or anger, try to distinguish between present reality and the echoes of past experiences. D. Riddell
  • We cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness Richard Rohr
  • We do not pray so that we can get God’s attention. We pray so that God will get our attention. We pray so that, as our attentiveness to God increases, our souls may be shaped by the reality of God’s constant, loving, self-revealing presence. David G. Benner
  • My feelings may in fact only be leftovers of another time, another place, another person; but have those feelings ever been told that it’s over? (That was then, this is now.) D. Riddell 

Questions to answer

  1. Do you have triggers, flashbacks? What helps you?
  2. Everything drags us to self-reliance, an ‘I can handle this all by myself.’ Everything in God calls us to have a God-reliance – ‘We can do this together.’ Why do we neglect this invitation?
  3. What passage of the Bible helps you when you have a trigger? Why?

Further reading


11 Suggestions on How to Chew on the Bible with Mindfulness

Give your Mind the Spiritual Gift of Stillness

Barry Pearman

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

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