Triggers for trauma survivors can be everywhere. They can bring up memories, flashbacks, and evoke physical responses like panic attack symptoms. There are the more obvious ones, like people and places directly associated with the trauma. But triggers can also arise in the unlikeliest of places. I recently found myself unexpectedly triggered during a church service.

Despite having gone to a catholic high school, I wouldn’t exactly consider the most religious or faithful. However, I recently decided to attend a service at a church known for being very open and inclusive. For lent, this church was focusing on the body and how we can use our bodies to serve God. The particular service that I attended focused on hands.

However, instead of thinking about how my hands could be used to benefit others, I found myself thinking about all the times that other people, especially my abuser, forced their hands on me. Instead of paying attention to the sermon, I recalled memory after memory of times when I was violated by someone’s hands, when others’ hands were used to inflict harm on me. Now I am not an expert on religion, but I am guessing this was not supposed to be the point of the service.

And I didn’t want it to be the point. So as is often my style, I decided to let these emotions out through writing. Only this time, I decided to get slightly more creative. At the end of the service, they gave everyone a paper cutout hand. I decided to use that hand as a tool to purge all of the pain caused by other peoples’ hands and write down all of those incidents on the paper hand. But on the other side, I decided to write all the amazing things I’m able to do with my hands, as pictured below. In case you can’t read my hand writing, some of these include: cutting up brains in the lab, programming robots, petting my dog, and writing this blog.

At the heart of it, assault and abuse are about robbing a person of one of the most fundamental human rights – the right to have agency over our bodies. Having that agency stolen, whether slowly over time or in a matter of seconds, leaves a profound scar. Even after the abuse/assault is long over, it can still feel like we are permanently damaged or defective. As survivors, it can feel like traces of the abuse are still attached to us, like those hand prints are forever etched in our skin, a stain we are sentenced to wear for eternity. Quite simply, it feels like this is just our burden to bear.

But this isn’t true at all. We are not damaged or stained. And despite what other people may have done to us with their hands or bodies, we still have the power to create something good in this world, to use our own hands to help others and help ourselves (and even play with brains). When we do this, we re-claim agency over our bodies, and shed those feelings of helplessness and defectiveness. And in time, that burden starts to feel slightly less heavy, and those stains start to slowly fade away.

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10 thoughts on “A helping hand

  1. Wow, this really hits home. I can’t say how refreshing it is to read that someone else is going through my weekly struggle of narcicistic PTSD/abuse. There needs to be more people like you who are willing to talk… you’re going to empower so many 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so sorry you’re going through something similar, but I’m glad this post resonated with you. Thank you for reading and commenting! Wish you all the best ❤

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  2. I like this and yes you are so right triggers can happen anywhere. It happened for me at church a few times just because of the profit name from tbe bible. It also happens in movies all the time for me that is. But when it happens wr have to immediately think of something positive. Dont let what we can’t change set your mind back to tbat horrible place. This is a new day and a chance to make lemonade from those lemons. Keep God first and the rest will follow.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! Totally agree that we have to try to re-frame those situations as best we can. Much love – speak766

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  3. I really like how you handled this. I get triggered in the most unusual places and circumstances. It’s hard to know how to ground myself sometimes. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so sorry for what you have gone through.

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