Childhood trauma leaves a mark, and most that have endured it will work diligently throughout their life to mend these wounds. These wounds can be ripped back open at a moment’s notice, if a flashback is triggered, and that is why it is so important to understand how triggers work.
Children and adults who have been traumatized develop trauma responses. Those can include disassociation, self-sabotage, hyper-vigilance, or emotional instability. A major part of trauma is teaching the traumatized person how to develop new responses, and how to cope with their wounds from the past.
Trauma is something no one should ever have to endure. And while everyone’s trauma may be different, most traumatized people have triggers. Triggers are outside stimuli that are reminiscent of the traumatic situation that causes a person to have a flashback to their original trauma. They are typically activated through our senses, and in most cases, a survivor of trauma will try to avoid situations they believe could trigger them.
While you cannot avoid all triggers 100%, it does help to understand the many ways you could be triggered, so you can prepare accordingly. And if you know or love someone who has been traumatized, you need to know these triggers as well.
Seeing someone else being abused, or aggressed towards can bring up unresolved trauma caused by abuse. The reason behind this is that if you are healing from violent abuse, you will become hyper-vigilant. Hyper-vigilance is when you are hyper-aware of your surroundings, and constantly observing everyone to avoid being put in a traumatic situation again. In turn, if you sense that someone may be amping up to fight with someone else, or even about to engage in a heated argument, it may trigger you and give you a flashback.
2. Sounds of pain.
Hearing sounds of pain can be triggering because it can take you back to the time in which you were in pain. Sounds of crying, whimpering, screaming, can all bring you back into the moment in which you were dealing with those complex emotions.
3. Sounds your abuser made.
Hearing sounds that happened during the abuse can bring you back into the moments of abuse. A flashback is basically where you are taken back into your trauma and have to relive the trauma entirely. If your abuser made popping noises during the abuse or tapped their foot, hearing these noises outside of the situation can pull you back in.
4. Smelling something that smells like your abuser.
If your abuser smoked camel lights, you may struggle the rest of your life when you smell a camel light. If your abuser wore a certain cologne, for a long time after the abuse, you may have a difficult time being around anyone else who wears that cologne.
5. Seeing the object used to abuse you.
If your abuser used a belt on you, you may not ever want to see another belt ever again. Anything your abuser used to abuse you will now likely be a trigger for you.
6. Seeing someone who resembles your abuser.
While you may not ever have to see your abuser again (God willing) seeing someone who resembles them can bring back bad memories of the abuse. Unfortunately, you may not be able to avoid such triggers, but a psychologist will help provide useful tips to cope with them.
7. The time of year the abuse happened (if it was an isolated incident or time.)
One of my most unexpected triggers that takes me back to a horrible and abusive situation is the time of year in which it happened. Even now, when that time of year comes around, I struggle and have to use my coping skills to make it through.
8. Certain physical touch.
Physical touch can be a trigger, and it can be anything that happened before or around the time of the abuse. Even someone brushing your shoulder on accident in the supermarket can be a trigger if it brings you back to the abuse.
Since triggers are unique to the situation, hundreds of them can exist. With that being said, counselors are skills in helping people overcome complex trauma and one of the best things they do is provide coping skills for trauma. If you are dealing with triggers that are making it hard for you to heal, I highly suggest reaching out to a counselor for help.