Triggers are a part of everyday life for people who have experienced traumatic stress. It is so helpful to be able to recognize when we are activated. So that we can work on tending to our triggers with self-compassion and awareness. Let’s explore what a trigger looks like.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is when our emotional brain (the limbic system) identifies that we are in a dangerous situation, and it puts us in to fight/ flight/ flee response because of an experience. When we have a trigger,, it is usually attached to a stressful event that we have not resolved or processed; our mind and body get stuck in that situation. We can be provoked by any one of the five senses that our brain and body recorded at the time of the actual stressful event. Sometimes we have activation around a particular time of day, a specific scent, a time of year, or when we hear specific words or music.
So let’s break down a trigger into the 5 senses. The senses are the what tells our amydala ( the fierce mother of our brain) if we are safe or not.
- Avoidance of touch.
- Certain ways that people touch you may not feel good.
- Difficulty making physical boundaires with people.
- Specific time of day – the way that the light is
- An environment
- A picture of the a place
- Specific words or phrases
- The sound of a persons voice or timbre of their voice
- The texture of foods
- Specific tastes that are a trigger cause nausea
- Specific tastes of meals or snacks that were eaten at time of the tramatic event
This sense is the most triggering out of all of our fives senses, and it bypasses our amygdala to tell us if we are in danger. The smell hijack is one of the brain’s oldest responses to keep up safe so that we will not eat rotten food.
- Specific scents of detergent or perfume
- Meals that may have been cooking in the environment that the event occured
- Envioment specific smells that remind your brain of the original trauma.
Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing. Healing happens when you are triggered and you move through the pain, the pattern, and the story and walk your way into a different ending ~Vienna Pharaon
What does a physical response to a trigger look like?
- Shaking, quivering
- Overwhelming emotions
- Difficulty Breathing
- Body wants to collapse
- Wanting to give up or die
- Feeling possessed
- Wanting to hurt your self
- Wanting to use substances
- Knees knocking Feeling numb
- Sudden emotional or physical reactions
- Wanting to run away
- Teeth clenching
- Feels unbearable
- Feeling Rage
- Feeling overwhelming shame
- Emotions do not fit the situation
- Actions do not fit the situation
- Clenching or pit in the stomach (Fischer, 2021)
How to use triggers to your benefit
Once you have become activated you can begin to identify what your triggers are. Beginning to keep track of what activates your traumatic stress can help you to learn what you need to watch out for. The more that you gain knowledge and address you triggers you can change how you react to them. Awareness and acceptance of what provokes you can allow you to begin to do work on action towards facing your triggers through your exposure to them. After you practice exposing yourself to them practicing grounding into the present moment is so important.
Do you desire to heal from your traumatic stress? Would you like help ID your triggers? Celine will be running a trauma group in April. Please reach out to them to join the group or reach out to them to work one on one by emailing them.
Fischer, J (2021). Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapist. Pesi, WA.
Ruden, Ronald (2010). When the Past Is Always Present: Emotional Traumatization, Causes, and Cures. Routledge, New York.