How To Deal With 'Touch' When It Triggers Your PTSD
Just like a burger can come with different sides (onion rings are extra? wtf!?), PTSD can come with a whole goody bag of different triggers.
Have any of these situations ever 'set you off'?
A shopper or random person carelessly walks by, accidentally brushing your hand or shoulder as they pass. You freeze, or feel anger and defense bubble up inside of you.
Or how about...
Your wife or a family member tries to comfort you with a hand on your shoulder and you shudder it off because your skin feels like it's on fire.
You just feel repulsed by even the thought of being touched by anyone.
If any of this sounds like you, you've probably got a 'touch trigger'.
You might be just fine and open to touch most of the time.
But all of a sudden, your body goes north and your nervous system reads anything coming in to touch you as an invader, a threat, or a fucking zombie apocalypse!
This trigger is usually one of a couple things: the consequence of already being triggered by something else (a.k.a a 'perfect storm' situation), or it is a trauma specific trigger.
If something has already triggered you then there's a good chance this one will kick in. Maybe it's every time for you or it's infrequent.
The 'perfect storm' situation would look something like this...
You've been stressed out this particular day. Maybe you didn't sleep well. Maybe you have a migraine and little things have been gnawing at you. Or your mind has been preoccupied trying to 'figure things' out and untangle webs before you get stuck.
Then, someone touches you. BOOM.
It's game over.
You've already been standing on the damn cliff all day long.
You didn't much to push you over the edge.
Just the brush of a stranger. Or the wrong touch (in a certain way or on a certain area of your body) of somebody close to you.
Cancel your evening plans because everything's fucked now, brother.
How long will it last?
The pain. The loneliness. The shame. The guilt. The aggression.
Gas-lighting the people you love.
The yelling. The silence.
The confidence one day and feeling like a pile of shit the next.
The "I'm not talking". The Blame.
And on the bad days... if you were anything like me... the "Who the fuck am I?" reality melt-down question.
It's the experience of cognitive dissonance, not being able to piece your actions and feelings together with your sincerely held beliefs.
So, let's break this down.
We need to help you keep those evening plans.
First and foremast let's tackle the 'when it happens' equation.
If touch aversion happens every time you're triggered, you need to tell the people in your immediate circle that you don't want to be touched.
If your wife is always coming over, trying to touch you or hold your hand when you have PTSD, tell her that it makes it worse. Explain to her that you know she's there for you, but touching you exacerbates symptoms. Try to explain this before you get your next attack so it's already known.
Try and come up with an alternative way that she can be there for you. If that's leaving you alone in silence, explain that. If you don't know what it is, explain that to her and then experiment. If it's talking on the other side of a wall, or on a phone, or face-to-face, then go with it.
I went years before I actually told my wife that touching me when in a full blown attack wasn't a good idea. I didn't recognize the physical pain/discomfort that I was feeling was an actual trigger from PTSD. I thought I was just feeling pissed or broken, so I tried to fight it.
Once I realized what was going on, I told her. She stopped, and guess what? It helped, because it didn't make symptoms any worse AND I didn't have the anxiety of trying to evade touch.
On my journey of healing PTSD those touches became less and less painful and eventually I actually wanted to be touched when having attacks or triggers as a grounding to reality, stability, and love.
So, the way you feel now, doesn't necessarily mean forever.
If you're out with friends or strangers and this happens...
Either keep your distance, or remove yourself from the situation.
If you can take your own car vs cramming in a buddy's vehicle, do it.
It really depends on if it's touch in general, or a certain part of your body.
If it's any body part, it might be best to call it a night, unless there's something motivating you to stay and you feel like you can overcome the current odds to do that.
If it's your knees, you can adjust your chair a little bit away from everybody else's.
If it's your finger tips, you can put them in your pants pocket or greet people with a fist bump instead of a hand shake.
You get the idea.
If it isn't a melt-down situation then you can take it case-by-case.
If it's a 'perfect storm' situation then try to stay in the eye of the storm.
Think twice about going to a crowded place where there's a higher probability of being touched.
You can do everything right and still get triggered.
Standing in the middle of a grocery store or a party can limit your choices...
So when you get triggered... Breathe (learn how here).
And if you think breathing is a silly or weak technique, it's literally the gateway to healing PTSD.
Here are some things that you can do in the meantime, when you're not having an attack, that will help you start breaking the shell that PTSD keeps you in.
Pick something and go for it (Some techniques will bring up PTSD and others will anchor/sooth you. Both have their place. There is a time to push yourself through pain with cold showers or foam rolling and also a time to comfort and ground yourself with yoga or essential oils):
Journal this shit. Try something for a good stint. Give it a fair shot. Some of these might not work for you, but some of them might change your life forever.
Remember, you can become way better than you are right now.