In the aftermath of abuse, we often have to deal with a myriad of PTSD triggers. Daily life was abuse, now daily life is a reminder of that abuse. What I mean by that is: sometimes, the most normal activities can trigger memories and emotional flashbacks. This means that the most mundane tasks can become very difficult to manage.
Throughout my own personal journey, one of my triggers were bills. I know that bills are annoying to most of us, generally, but for me every bill was an anxiety attack being delivered to the door. Regardless of whether or not I had the funds to pay said bill. So I had two options regarding my response to this trigger. One was hope that I could live life without any bills at all—tall order, I know. The other was to palm all financial administration off to my partner. Neither option was helpful. So I made the decision to start dealing with this trigger. I had to rewrite the script I had been using, if you will. And here is how I went about it.
Step 1: Keep Yourself Safe
I know people often say that you cannot grow if you stay in your comfort zone. I don’t think they are right, or at least not entirely. Leaving your comfort zone, stretching, and challenging yourself are fantastic. If—and only if—you feel safe and supported. For many of us who have endured abuse, we have felt lost and unsafe most of our lives. So those feelings are triggers in and of themselves. So putting ourselves in a position to experience them—unless absolutely necessary—can be dangerous. Especially on our own.
If our aim is to process painful memories and address unhelpful coping mechanisms, we need to reframe staying safe as an incubator for healing. We simply cannot heal without a sense of security in our lives. You are not weak for needing this. It is important to honor the pace of your recovery by not pushing yourself too hard, challenging yourself too much, or chastising yourself when you feel you are not making “sufficient progress” (whatever that may be).
Step 2: Use Your Curiosity
I decided I needed to read about finances and money. Not from the perspective of abuse recovery, but just for its own sake. I sought out some recommendations and ended up getting a book called ‘Get Rich Lucky Bitch‘ by Denise Duffield-Thomas. It’s a really helpful resource about money mindsets, and this seemed perfect for my goal.
By committing to reading a book about a topic that scared me, I started learning how to relate to the topic of money differently. I am a keen learner—as I think many survivors are—and I loved finding out the new information, and being introduced to new ideas and insights. Make use of that curiosity to begin learning new ways to view, deal with, and relate to whatever topic you find triggering.
Step 3: Change Your Perspective
Credit where credit’s due, this one came straight from Denise. She suggests in her book that whenever you receive money you did not expect, or do not spend money you had expected to spend, you take note of it. This exercise deliberately flips the popular ‘money out’ exercise that many financial coaches encourage right on its head. And it is designed to adjust your perspective on money by focusing not on what you spend, but on what you save and receive. This was so helpful for me in terms of rewiring my brain regarding bills, thus causing them to be less of a trigger.
Step 4: Spot the Parallel
As the stress surrounding the topic of money started to subside, even just a little bit, I was able to think about the programming in a calmer manner. My changed perspective gave me just enough breathing room to consider my parents’ relationship with money with a certain level of detachment. I was able to recognise that my triggers were connected to the attitudes and behaviors my parents had to their own finances, and could see how they had influenced me. By realizing that I was repeating their behavior, I was able to unlearn it and begin creating new habits and patterns.
Was it really that easy? Yeah, it kind of was. Perhaps the analysis demystified the trigger, made it lose its power. The understanding of what was really going on made me able to correctly identify the trigger as being relevant to my parents and nothing to do with my present life.
Just because my father believes in the principle of paying his debt with debt (paying of credit cards with credit cards, etc.), does not mean I have to perpetuate that philosophy. I associated the financial stress I’d witnessed from this habit in my home growing up with my own money management as an adult. But, once I realised where it came from, I felt okay. And from here I was able to make my merry way into the future!
It took time, and it took effort. When I feel very stressed, I can still feel triggered by all of this. But the main difference is that, now, I don’t like the world will come to an end whenever a bills hits the front doormat.