In relation to trauma, a trigger is something that calls to mind a previous traumatic situation and may provoke a flashback of the event. Therapists suggest that triggers can vary person to person, and are dependent on an individual’s personal, and often private, experiences. It may be hard to predict what may be a trigger for you or a loved one, however, the more attention you pay to identifying triggers, the easier it may become to predict, control, or manage their effects.
Types of triggersTriggers can be divided into different categories, including those based on our senses. Common categories of triggers may include:
Managing TriggersThere are various approaches to managing triggers. Although everyone’s triggers may be different, there are common tips that can be used to deal with them in a healthy manner. These include, but are not limited to:
By Evey Krammer-Carlson
I make a conscious effort to be careful about what I read and listen to on the news. It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know what’s happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my own opinions and have thoughtful conversations.
When my symptoms were at their worst, and I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule,” meaning I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens. That “rule” helped me minimize being triggered at a time when most of my days were spent experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and fear.
I stayed away from intense news and was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. Most of the time, I watched lots of comedy. Admittedly, there were times when I broke the rule. I sometimes sought out programs with violence that in some way mirrored my own abuse. Or I would pay attention to sensationalized cases in the media that were hard to avoid. Inevitably I would get triggered.
As I began to manage my symptoms and felt some sense of safety the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.
Recently, there was a news story that I had done my best to avoid. When it first came out, people were outraged, and then the news cycle changed. I understand why that happens. There is so much out there every day, and each event is shocking and sad, and sometimes incomprehensible. But because my trauma is sort-of similar to the aforementioned news story, I was on high alert when I scrolled past it. I had a definite curiosity about the details but hadn’t read anything besides the headlines.
Until the other day!
The other day the headline changed and I knew that the very thing I feared when I first heard the story did, in fact, come true. I knew this person would never be convicted. I felt sick that even with awareness, this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist.
Then I got triggered.
I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was far enough along in my healing journey that I would be okay. But PTSD doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this person had absolutely nothing to do with me. I had never heard of him. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is altered because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.
After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear, and shame. I closed the computer, went to yoga, had lunch with a friend, and remembered that today is a day when I’m fighting the tiger. Any shame over being triggered dissipated as I repeated my metaphorical mantra of support to myself.
Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of see? I’m not making this up! When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma seems so “out of the ordinary” that it’s extremely rare that I felt validation.
But, my job on my healing journey is knowing that my truth is validation enough.
I suspect there will be other times when I get triggered by the news. The intensity of my response will probably vary depending on what the triggers are, the time of year, and the present stressors in my life. I know what to do when the skeleton hands of the past pull at me, and I’m confident that I’ll remember that I will fight the tiger and win.