What is a Trauma Trigger and What Does Being “Triggered” Mean?

A trauma trigger can be anything that brings up painful memories or feelings. It could be a smell, sound, image, person or situation. Some of the most common trauma triggers include loud noises, arguments and feeling unsafe or out of control.

Recognizing what your individual triggers are can allow you to develop strategies to cope with them in a healthy way.

Internal vs External Trauma Trigger

Trauma triggers can be internal or external, and they are created through experience and conditioning.

Internal triggers can be memories, thoughts or feelings that create a physical manifestation of the trauma.

External triggers are more tangible and are often things like sounds, smells or images associated with a traumatic event.

Internal Trauma Triggers

Internal trauma triggers are created internally, usually as a result of our own experiences or memories.

For example, if you have ever been in a traumatic situation, you may experience flashbacks or intrusive thoughts that trigger intense emotions.

Memories: Recollections of times, events and people associated with a traumatic experience can bring up strong emotions and cause distress.

Thoughts: Negative or intrusive thoughts can be a sign that trauma is being triggered. This often comes in the form of rumination over past events or worries about the future.

Feelings: Body awareness, physical sensations and intense emotions are all signs of an internal trigger being activated. Anxiety, fear, sadness and anger are some of the most common responses to trauma triggers.

Beliefs: Our beliefs about ourselves and our life experiences can be triggered by certain situations, leading to feelings of insecurity or helplessness.

Reactions: Trauma triggers often result in subconscious reactions such as avoidance, escape behaviors or automatic defenses like denial or repression.

External Trauma Triggers

External trauma triggers are things that happen outside of ourselves, and they can be anything from a sound to a smell.

Seeing someone on the street who looks like our abuser, for example, can be an external trauma trigger.

Sounds: Loud noises, sudden changes in sound, or certain familiar sounds can all be triggers for trauma responses.

Smells: Odors, fragrances and aromas that are linked to a traumatic experience can cause emotional distress when encountered.

Places: A location or environment associated with the original traumatic event can be an external trigger for lasting physical and emotional reactions.

Objects: Certain items, even if not directly related to the trauma itself, can still be a source of distress or fear.

Images: Visuals like pictures and videos can bring back vivid memories and feelings of the original traumatic experience.

PTSD and Trauma Triggers

Trauma triggers can be a major factor in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

If you are constantly being exposed to triggers, it can be very difficult to manage your emotions and stay healthy. Triggers can cause flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms that can be very disruptive to your life.

How to deal with Trauma Triggers

It is important to learn how to cope with triggers, especially if you have PTSD or CPTSD. One way to do this is by creating a safety plan.

A safety plan is a plan that helps you manage your triggers and stay safe when you are feeling overwhelmed.

There are many different ways to create a safety plan.

One way is to identify your trauma triggers and then come up with a list of coping strategies.

Coping strategies can be anything from relaxation techniques to grounding exercises.

You can also create a list of people that you can reach out to when you are feeling triggered.

You could also create a physical or digital safe space.

A physical safe space is somewhere that you can go to when you are feeling overwhelmed.

It could be your bedroom, a friend’s house, or a therapy office.

A digital safe space is an online community or forum where you can find support and connect with other people who are dealing with triggers.

How is a trauma trigger created?

Triggers are created through experience and conditioning.

If we are repeatedly exposed to a certain thing or situation, we may start to associate that with a particular feeling or emotion.

For example, if you were abused by someone with a particular accent, you may start to feel anxious or scared every time you hear that accent.

This is because your brain has associated that sound with danger and fear.

How to Overcome Trauma Triggers

How can we cope with triggers? The first step is to identify them. Once you know what they are, you can start to develop strategies to safeguard yourself.

Acknowledge your emotions: Recognizing and validating the emotion you feel is an important first step in coping with a trauma trigger.

Create distance from the trigger: If you can, try to move away from the situation or object that serves as a reminder of the original trauma.

Engage in a relaxation technique: Deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and other calming activities can help you remain physically and emotionally balanced while managing a trauma response.

Seek support: Reach out to friends, family members or a mental health professional (see treatment options below) who can offer comfort and understanding during difficult moments.

Develop healthy coping skills: Over time, create positive outlets for emotional expression such as journaling, art therapy or exercise that help process trauma triggers in productive ways.

Treatment Options for Trauma Triggers

Treatment for trauma triggers can vary from person to person, but there are a few approaches that may be helpful.

Trauma-Focused Therapy: This type of therapy specifically focuses on processing traumatic memories in order to reduce their impact over time.

Medication: Certain medications such as antidepressants may help reduce symptoms associated with PTSD and other trauma-related disorders.

Final Thoughts

A trauma trigger can be overwhelming, but there is hope. By understanding what triggers are and how they work, you will slowly start to free yourself from these distressing reactions.

It’s important to remember that everyone is different and will respond differently to trauma triggers. Try to find the best approach that works for you; whether it is cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a supportive group of family and friends.

With proper treatment, understanding, and compassion, you can learn how to manage your trauma triggers so they don’t prevent you from living a healthy and fulfilling life.

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