Therapist Guide

Dealing with TRAUMA TRIGGERS

Today we’re gonna talk about trauma triggers. Since these can sneak up on us, you know, they can be upsetting and often ruin our days. Before We jump into that, I wanna let you know that my book “Traumatized” is available for pre-order right now. In this book, I dig into what trauma is, how it can feel, and ways that we can heal from it. It’s my hope that this helps answer any questions or concerns that you may have about PTSD, and offers tangible options for healing and growth. And the way she’s pretty, I’m so excited, I hope you love it. Many of us are aware of the big trauma triggers. We can identify various of the people, spots and things that damaged us and do our best to stay away them all. For example, if our trauma had something to do with the beach, we can avoid any area with sand or sounds of the beach. We can sit down with our therapist and make a list of all the things that we know trigger our trauma response, or bring us back into those frightening events. But what about the unconscious triggers?

The ones that maybe we don’t recognize and often find upsetting us are pulling us into flashbacks and causing us to dissociate. Those are the ones that I wanna talk about today. The unconscious trauma triggers and how we can identify them so that they no longer harm us. We are constantly taking in our environment. The sounds, the sense, how the outside air feels on our skin. We are like sponges for sensation, which can be great when it comes to enjoying ourselves and assessing our area for threat so that we’re kept safe. But, this can also make us more vulnerable to trauma triggers, which brings me to one of the most common unconscious trauma triggers sent. Over the years I’ve had patients report getting flashbacks or dissociating when in tight or busy spaces like elevator or to work conference and chalking it up to being around a lot of people that they don’t know.

And while that may be the incident, at time when we mine a little deeper, we can search that a spray or cologne worn by someone in the office or in this case he was actually responsible for the unrest. Our other senses could be just as guilty for causing these trauma responses when we’re out in the world living our life. This could be someone raising their voice at us at work because we’re in a heated debate about how to present this thing to our new boss, that small increase in the volume of their voice can cause us to dissociate, lash out, or shut down completely. So check in with yourself after feeling overwhelmed or pushed into a flashback and see if you’re able to recall any of the stimuli around you, like what song was playing? Who was near me? Did they say something in particular? Any smells come to mind, body sensations? What was I eating or drinking? You know, doing this sort of personal research will allow us to be more aware of what’s in our environment and potentially causing our trauma response.

And other unconscious type of trigger are emotional ones. These are situations where the way we feel or respond triggers our trauma response. It could be someone talking down to us or treating us like a child. That feeling of being lesser than, or not as important could trigger us to fight back or leave the situation together. For many of us though, it can even be feeling safe. Experience safety, well, it sounds wonderful and like something we would want, it can actually cause us to feel vulnerable or at risk, which in turn triggers our fight flight response again. Another very common emotional trigger is when we fear that someone may leave us or not want to be in a relationship with us anymore. If we grew up without consistent love and support from our parents or other primary caregivers, maybe a nanny or a grandparent, which in many ways is a trauma in our life. Since when we’re little we depend on others for our health and safety. Therefore the sensation of someone not being there when we need, let’s say, you know, a friend starts to maybe pull away like not being available as often or returning our phone calls or texts. We can be pulled into a full on trauma response.

We can unconsciously fear that what happened to us when we were little is going to happen all over again. And the final emotional trigger that I wanna talk about here, although I know there are many more is the feeling of needing or depending on someone else. This happened with one of my patients. He was in a fairly new relationship and everything for all intents and purposes was going really well. And he was beginning to open up to them about his mental health journey when all of a sudden he came into session said he want to break up with them. He told me that it was over and he couldn’t even bear to see her again. I was shocked ’cause just last week he came in and everything was fine. But what happened was that they both had decided that they would get together every Tuesday and Thursday evening after work. And over the past few months, they had held firm to this ritual, which was for my patient as it helped him build trust and start to feel a little bit okay and maybe safe.

Well, then she had a family birthday last Thursday and had to cancel their date. He’d become dependent on that ritual expecting to see her and he was devastated. That feeling of devastation brought him right back into his childhood and his dad never been there when he needed and being emotionally abusive when he was around. It was extremely triggering and it sent my patient running from that relationship. But luckily we were able to identify that trigger, reframe what happened so that he could make a conscious choice instead of acting on impulse or a trauma response. So the relationship was luckily saved. Since these triggers are unconscious and aren’t things we can simply avoid the best way to combat them is to first work to identify them. Remember we can’t change what we don’t understand. So get to know yourself and your reactions to certain situations in life. Like do you ever feel like you’re overreacting? Be honest and I know that word has such a negative connotation, but all it really means is that our reaction to an event is greater than the event itself warrants.

And noticing when that happens is great information for us to work, to heal. So start taking stock of situations or even arguments we have had where we felt possibly afterward, maybe days later that we had overreacted. That is a huge indicator that we have somehow stepped into an emotional trauma trigger. And once we’ve identified a couple of our unconscious trauma triggers, it’s important that we work with our therapist to reframe what happened. Meaning that instead of letting our mind runaway with negative thoughts about us and those that we are in relationships with can we talk about it as a trauma trigger and explain why it is that we acted the way we did? Can we show ourselves some compassion and understanding? And I know this part is really hard, which is why it’s best when done with our therapist. They can help us come up with some new language to describe that overwhelming experience and urge to react.

And finally working to find other healthier outlets for the fight flight response that our body is giving us. Throughout all of my research for my book “Traumatized” isn’t she pretty? I kept reading about how important it is for our nervous system that we act out fight and flight and not allow ourselves to get stuck in that free state, because it’s believed that it is in that free state, that PTSD is born. If we’re able to run away or fight our body has geared us up to take that action. And if we take it, that energy is out of our system and we feel safe again and can relax, which is why somatic experiencing therapy was created by Dr. Peter Levine and why it is so effective. Moving that energy out we’ll get rid of a lot of the symptoms of PTSD, like hypervigilance or feeling on edge, maybe body memories and the irritability that comes along with all of those symptoms happening at the same time.

Maybe this means that we go for walks or do a full body shake a few times a day, or even join a trauma-focused yoga group. And yes, those do really exist. Any way we can safely move our bodies and let that energy out of our system is fine by me. So cope with a few options and give it a try. It can help to do a quick check-in before and after to see whether or not it’s working for you. Feeling upset or anxious when we encounter something that’s difficult or new is completely normal. But if we find ourselves losing track of time or our sense of self or feeling like our emotional reaction doesn’t make sense given the situation we could have encountered a trauma trigger. And I hope that this article helped you better understand what you may be going through. And some of the tips and tools offered help you overcome them. Have a wonderful week and don’t forget to pre-order my new book “Traumatized” bye.

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