Updated: Apr 4
Ironically, physical touch is actually my top love language. I love non-sexual touch – hugging, putting your hand on my leg, holding hands, cuddling. I went to an event a few weeks ago comprised of mostly single people, but the goal of the event was fun and hanging out, not finding your future spouse. Invariably, many singles go to these events and you can expect to possibly get “hit on” by someone of the opposite sex.
A man I met at a previous event came over to chat with me. We talked briefly at the last event and he was intent on getting to know me more. After the first 10 minutes of conversation, he started touching me. He was sitting in a chair next to me and started touching my arm with one or two fingers, to emphasize a point or engage more. I was taken back by this gesture. I was enjoying the conversation but didn’t feel any warm, fuzzy feelings toward him. He started touching me several times in this same way – casually and nonchalant. It was harmless but I started getting annoyed. I didn’t want to be touched. I could no longer focus on the conversation and was instead trying to figure out how to tell him to stop touching me. Every phrase I came up with would have definitely ended the conversation like a scratch on a record player.
“Don’t touch me.”
“I would appreciate it if you would stop touching me.”
“I am enjoying conversing with you but I don’t want to be touched.”
This last statement is not entirely truthful either. Thankfully, the conversation at the table shifted and I started talking to someone else. I left the event feeling irritated by his behavior and disappointed in myself for not speaking up. I spent the next few hours wondering why I hadn’t come up with a nice yet direct statement. It finally dawned on me. I was triggered. I was being violated and even though he wasn’t touching me in a sexual way and it was fairly innocent, I equated this unwanted touch with violating my personal boundaries.
When someone has experienced trauma, they sometimes oscillate between feeling helpless and victimized, and feeling angry and aggressive. I could have asked him to stop, but everything I came up with to say sounded aggressive and over-the-top.
So, how do we stand up for ourselves when we’re triggered? What response is appropriate?
1. Work through this when you’re not being triggered. Your response will be less reactionary and you will be able to think with logic instead of with your brain in fight/flight/freeze mode.
2. Figure out your standard response when you’re experiencing unwanted touch or something similar. Practice saying it out loud in a calm manner. Notice your body when you state it.
3. It’s ok to exit the situation all together if you can’t come up with a safe, empowering response. Recognize you’re being triggered and work through this trigger with a therapist/coach to decrease the intensity you feel when it arises.
4. Give yourself grace and patience. Working through triggers takes time. You might not always have a kind and gentle response when you’re triggered. That’s ok and normal.