Understanding Trauma Triggers
Outsiders often don’t understand trauma triggers. How could a slamming door or an image on TV cause a panic attack? However, a traumatized person associates these seemingly innocuous stimuli with terror and abuse.
HOW TRAUMA TRIGGERS DEVELOP
People associate memories with each of their five senses. For example, a girl who went fishing with her parents might associate the memory with bright sunlight, a rocking boat, and the smell of lake water. Getting into a boat or smelling lake water again could stimulate the memory, making her think about that time.
Traumatized people have similar associations. If an abuser screamed at them, they might flinch when one character on TV yells at another. Likewise, they might panic when they smell an abuser’s cologne or hear a similar voice. Virtually anything could become a trigger if the individual associates it with the abuse they experienced.
EXAMPLES OF COMMON TRAUMA TRIGGERS
Common sensory trauma triggers include:
- Loud, unexpected noises
- Explosions, such as fireworks
- Sudden movements
- Swear words
- Physical touch
- Sexual remarks
These emotions often bring up trauma:
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling rejected
Some groups of people are more likely to experience certain triggers. For example, fireworks and TV violence often cause flashbacks in war veterans.
Identifying Personal Trauma Triggers
Learning how to deal with triggers from trauma starts with identifying the source. Afterward, individuals know what to expect from this stimulus. They also find some relief from fear as they start to understand their anxiety.
Strategies for Identifying Personal Trauma Triggers
Avoidance is one of the most common signs of a trigger. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the individual avoids places, people, and events that remind them of the abuse. They might decline to go out for drinks with friends because someone assaulted them at a bar or avoid someone who reminds them of the incident even if that person was not involved.
Mindfulness helps people learn how to deal with triggers from trauma. An individual might have encountered a trigger if they feel rising panic, the urge to escape, intense anger, or physical sensations, such as sweating and nausea. Practicing mindfulness means accepting the current moment with no judgment, which makes it easier to identify emotions that arise.
Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness Techniques
People can ask themselves these questions when they find a suspected trigger:
- How do I feel right now?
- What do I associate with this feeling?
- Which senses did this stimulate?
- Have I reacted like this in similar situations?
Journaling about the incident can help people look at the situation objectively. They can also discuss the incident with a third party, such as a friend or counselor.
Coping With Trauma Triggers
Many trauma triggers never completely go away. An individual can’t avoid loud noises, arguments, certain songs, or holidays without isolating themselves from the world. However, they can learn how to deal with trauma triggers, so they can process their feelings and move on without interrupting their day.
TECHNIQUES FOR MANAGING AND COPING WITH TRAUMA TRIGGERS
One common technique is exposure therapy. Avoiding a situation intensifies the fear because the individual sees the trigger as a horrifying, unstoppable monster. Gradually exposing themselves to the stimulus may slowly reduce their fear until it no longer affects them.
Some therapists also recommend mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, or grounding exercises. When a person feels triggered, they can stop and analyze their feelings instead of compounding their panic with more fear. They can observe their bodily reactions and ask themselves if they’re thinking logically.
Practicing self-care creates a relaxed mental state, which makes the brain less likely to go haywire. Self-care also builds confidence as the individual connects with their mind and body again. Popular techniques include journaling, going for walks, seeing a therapist, engaging in hobbies, and visiting friends.
Seeking Professional Help
Most people can’t cure themselves because they can’t break out of their own thought patterns. Counselors look at situations objectively and point out new perspectives. For many, therapy means the difference between being stuck in depression and moving on with their lives.
When to Consider Professional Help
An individual should seek professional help when their issues interfere with their life. They might notice they can’t attend certain events, drive past a location, leave the house, or hear a noise without flinching. If they live like this for too long, they may stop believing they can find a way out.
Types of Therapy for Trauma
PTSD survivors often undergo the following treatments:
EDMR therapy: Clients use rapid-eye movements to process their trauma, easing the intense emotions.
Supporting Others With Trauma Triggers
Therapy can change a person’s life, but it only goes so far if they lack a supportive household. Loved ones need to assist them on their journey, making changes even when it inconveniences them. Otherwise, the person might have to leave the environment altogether.
Strategies for Supporting Loved Ones
Ways to support loved ones with PTSD include:
- Respecting their boundaries
- Encouraging them to speak out when they’re uncomfortable
- Listening without judgment
Friends and family members can encourage them to seek help without pushing too hard. Instead of blaming or threatening the individual, they can point out the benefits of therapy and recommend local counselors. Counseling becomes a positive step instead of a punishment.
Ways to Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
Friends and relatives can practice the following:
- Removing triggers from the environment
- Reminding guests to respect the individual’s boundaries
- Avoiding loud noises and sudden movements