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Trauma Triggers

Trauma triggers are experiences that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory. The trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic and may be only indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident.

And one of the most important tasks in trauma recovery is to start to spot our triggers that lead to various symptoms and behaviours. To start to spot patterns, early warning signals, to look at what was happening in the moments, hours, days beforehand.  It is often possible to go back over a series of events and see how one step led to another and another. Once we have spotted patterns we can find ways to disrupt them, to find alternatives.

Common trauma triggers

Everyone has different triggers, but some common ones are listed here:

Sensory triggers

  • Visual triggers: Could be anything, a colour, a room in a house
  • Sounds: Sudden loud noises, car backfiring, sirens, raised voices
  • Smells: E.g. the smell of aftershave reminds one of sexual assault.
  • Taste: E.g. eating a burger triggers memories of a vehicle accident that occurred shortly after eating in a fast-food restaurant.
  • Touch:E.g. A hug or the physical intimacy of sex
  • Physical: The sensation of movement, tension, or body position such as lying down, closing eyes, strenuous exercise

Other triggers

  •  Particular weather conditions , darkness, night time
  • Confined spaces – tunnels, lifts or elevators, small airless rooms
  • Fires, barbeques, water
  • Particular houses, particular rooms in a house
  • Time of year, anniversary month, seasons of the year
  • Tiredness and exhaustion, low mood
  • Any stressful event – an argument with a partner, dealing with an angry person, criticism from a boss
  • A frightening dream
  • Any strong emotions or certain thoughts
  • Being drunk

Why it’s so important to track trauma triggers

Why is it so important to track trauma triggers? It can help us to make sense of seemingly random events, thoughts, feelings and symptoms, to be able to see how what you feel now is related to the past trauma not the present where you are safe. It can thus bring some degree of control – you may be able to avoid certain triggers, or bring rational mind into play.

What are YOUR triggers?

Take a few minutes to sit quietly and think of a recent triggering episode (something that might have caused overwhelming emotions or thoughts not directly to the present moment). Can you trace back what the exact trigger or triggers were? Was it one of the triggers listed above or something else, unique to you and your past traumatic experiences? It may be obvious, but often takes a good bit of work to uncover exactly what the trigger was. You may be able to eventually compile a whole list of potential triggers, and this information gathering exercise is the first step to gaining control over your thoughts and emotions.

My next blog will investigate this a little more.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!


See also: Coping with Overwhelming Emotions, Safe Trauma Recovery

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