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The Nervous System, Triggers & Glimmers!

Triggers have become part of our societal vocabulary as trauma becomes more openly spoken about. However, glimmers are new to my personal vocabulary, and feel extremely key to the conversation around learning what activates us, both into states of survival, and of safety.


Glimmers are essentially the opposite of triggers!


If a trigger brings us into a survival state, and is also known as a cue of danger,, glimmers are what bring us back into our window of tolerance and safety (cue of safety).

To fully understand where glimmers take us in our nervous system, it’s important to outline the branches of it. The nervous system has the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch.


The sympathetic is our fight or flight response, it’s our nervous system’s call to action. It calls us to fight back, or run away, depending on what feels like is going to be more successful, or what has worked for us in the past. This is also known as a hyperaroused state, a state of the body with more stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and suspending our appetite so we are more ready for the fight to to run. This can also show up as anxiety, anger, not being able to sleep, loss of appetite, and so on when we get stuck in this state.


The parasympathetic branch has two separate parts, the dorsal vagal and the ventral vagal.

The dorsal is our submit/freeze response. It is where our nervous system goes when we have perceived that fight or flight isn’t safe. It is the “giving up”, hopelessness, “if I am so still maybe no one will see me response”. It’s like the hurt animal we try and help on the side of the road who is listless and we can’t even tell is they are alive. It’s playing dead.

The ventral vagal is where we go when we feel safe and connected. Our glimmers take us here. It is the feeling of being known and understood, seen and validated. It is feel cozy and safe and secure, in a space or with a person.


As Deb Dana talks about, our goal is to not be here all the time. We are meant to fluctuate between states, with flexibility. It’s when we get stuck in a survival state, and can;t access the safe & connected place that we need help coming home to the ventral vagal state.

So back to triggers & glimmers,Certain smells, places and people and so on activate us into a sympathetic response (our fight or flight response) or the parasympathetic response connected to the dorsal vagal (our freeze or collapse response).


Certain smells, places and people and so on can activate us into our ventral vagal, the safe and connected zone of our parasympathetic nervous system.


Those are our glimmers!


Some questions to ask yourself:


What people, places, feelings, smells, sensations glimmer me back into feeling safe and connected?


What triggers take me into a survival response?


What glimmers are most effective when I am in a survival state? Which ones get me home from fight? Flight? Freeze? Submit?


What do my states feel like in my body? How do I know I’m triggered in my body? How do I know a glimmer is kicking in and taking me home?


What does a glimmer feel like, what sensations does it bring up, what feelings?

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