- A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.
- Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people.
- Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response. Our brains create powerful associations between things that hurt us and whatever happened to be occurring when we got hurt.
- Once you’ve been hit by lightning, even though you know that the odds of its happening again are astronomically low, the touch of a single raindrop may send you running for cover.
- A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
- The senses identified as being the most common to trigger someone are sight and sound, followed by touch and smell, and taste close behind.
- A combination of the senses is identified as well, especially in situations that strongly resemble the original trauma.
- Although triggers are varied and diverse, there are often common themes.
Kinds of Triggers
- Triggers can fall into two categories: Internal Triggers and External Triggers.
- Internal triggers are things that you feel or experience inside your body. Internal triggers include thoughts or memories, emotions, and bodily sensations (for example, your heart racing).
- External triggers are situations, people, or places that you might encounter throughout your day (or things that happen outside your body).
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling abandoned
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling vulnerable
- Racing heart beat
- Muscle tension
- An argument
- Seeing a news article that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Watching a movie or television show that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Seeing a car accident
- Certain smells
- The end of a relationship
Triggers usually fall into the following categories:
- Often someone who resembles the abuser or who has similar traits or objects (ie. clothing, hair color, distinctive walk).
- Any situation where someone else is being abused (ie. anything from a raised eyebrow and verbal comment to actual physical abuse).
- The object that was used to abuse
- The objects that are associated with or were common in the household where the abuse took place (ie. alcohol, piece of furniture, time of year).
- Any place or situation where the abuse took place (ie. specific locations in a house, holidays, family events, social settings).
- Anything that sounds like anger (ie. raised voices, arguments, bangs and thumps, something breaking).
- Anything that sounds like pain or fear (ie. crying, whispering, screaming).
- Anything that might have been in the place or situation prior to, during, or after the abuse or reminds her/him of the abuse (ie. sirens, foghorns, music, cricket, chirping, car door closing).
- Anything that resembles sounds that the abuser made (ie. whistling, footsteps, pop of can opening, tone of voice).
- Words of abuse (ie. cursing, labels, put-downs, specific words used).
- Anything that resembles the smell of the abuser (ie. tobacco, alcohol, drugs, after shave, perfume).
- Any smells that resemble the place or situation where the abuse occurred (ie. food cooking ,wood, odors, alcohol).
- Anything that resembles the abuse or things that occurred prior to or after the abuse (ie. certain physical touch, someone standing too close, petting an animal, the way someone approaches you).
- Anything that is related to the abuse, prior to the abuse or after the abuse (ie. certain foods, alcohol, tobacco).
Identifying Your Triggers
- Ask yourself the following questions to identify your triggers:
- What types of situations are you in?
- What is happening around you?
- What kind of emotions are you feeling?
- What thoughts are you experiencing?
- What does your body feel like?
- Because we often cannot avoid triggers, it is important to learn ways of coping with triggers. Effective, healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers include:
- Expressive writing
- Social support
- Deep breathing
- The more strategies you have available to you, the better off you will be in managing your triggers.
- The more coping strategies you have, the more likely you will be able to prevent the development of unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol and drug use.
- Simply being more aware of your triggers can be beneficial.
- As a result of this increased awareness, your emotional reactions may begin to feel more understandable, valid, predictable, and less out of control. This can definitely positively impact your mood and overall well-being.
- One of the most powerful things we can do when we’re triggered is to learn how to come back to being peaceful.
- Slow your thinking down, take a breath, and allow yourself to identify what you are feeling. Give yourself time to acknowledge the feelings, and keep breathing.
- By taking time to notice and allow the feelings, you may find you can release yourself from the habitual responses and reactions you have to those feelings.
- “As you grow more practiced in noticing your triggers, offering yourself kindness, and remembering that the power to heal your life is always available in the present moment.
- Because certain thoughts, feelings, or situations can bring up uncomfortable PTSD symptoms, such as memories of a traumatic event or feelings of being on edge and anxious, one way of coping with these symptoms is by increasing your awareness of these triggers.
- You can prevent or lessen the impact of certain PTSD symptoms by identifying what specific types of thoughts, feelings, and situations trigger them, and then, take steps to limit the occurrence or impact of those triggers.