Witten by Natasha Burke
November 9, 2018
Do you have triggers? What are your triggers? What do you do when you are triggered? Do you have coping skills to use when you are triggered?
You might ask, what is a trigger? A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashbacks bringing the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.
Triggers are real. Different things trigger different people. A person may avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks may trigger a flashback.
Triggers are old painful feelings. Once you recognize your trigger, I invite you to look at that trigger. See where it originated so that when you do get triggered, you will be able to assess what is going on in your body and will be able to use your coping tools quicker.
I think about how many people in the world have trauma, PTSD and triggers. I am writing about this topic as I was triggered yesterday.
I was triggered from the shooting in Thousand Oaks. My grandson’s best friend’s sister died in that shooting. My heart goes out to their family. My heart goes out to our family. Once again a senseless act of violence that affects so many people. Family members of loved ones, here one day, gone the next.
This hits so close to home for me as it brought me back to the trauma of last year, my daughter being in the Las Vegas shooting. The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg and now the shooting in Sherman Oaks triggered my daughter. She told me she feels like she is reliving the trauma of last year. Triggers are real.
Another trigger was the Camp fire in Butte County. I live in Santa Rosa and the smoke is so bad here. It reminds me of when the fires happened in my own city last year. I have family that live in Paradise; they are evacuated and not sure if they will have a home to return to. So many fires this year have affected so many people.
A year and a half ago I began the journey to go deep with PTSD and triggers. I really didn’t know what PTSD was until one day I looked at this flyer and it described symptoms. I thought to myself, wow, all these years I felt like something was wrong with me. I always felt there was a hole. I didn’t know what it was but it got worse and I knew that it was time to address my issues. This was the start of my deep work with EMDR and Somatic Therapy. I am learning where the triggers originated from. I pay attention to what triggers feel like in my body. This is very new for me. As a survivor of childhood and adult abuse, I wasn’t fully in my body. I was numb most of my life.
In the past when I was triggered, I have spiraled deep down a dark hole, which paralyzed me for days. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but at some point I realized that it was a trigger. What were my symptoms? Anger, I have been angry for many years. I didn’t know where that stemmed from, I just felt angry. I have anxiety, lots of it. I feel it in my chest (like I can’t breathe or I feel tightness), and stomach area (feeling nauseated). I have felt out of control, my head spinning. The external triggers are shootings; fire and certain movies can trigger me. It could be something someone said to me. It’s so interesting to me how something can trigger an old trauma.
I am grateful that I can finally pay attention to what triggers me. It’s now easier figuring out what is going on with me that caused me to be triggered. The big cue is paying attention to what is going on in my body. I don’t spiral for days and feel out of control. I look at what is triggering me, and I use some of my tools that I have learned to cope. This is a process but I am getting better at handling triggers. What I do to cope is to breathe, deep belly breathes, 3-5 at a time. I check in with my body and notice what I am feeling. I move, this really helps me get grounded.
I wonder if my triggers will every go away, or whether I will just handle them in a healthier way.
Here is a list of internal and external triggers.
Feeling out of control
Seeing a news article that reminds you of your traumatic event
Watching a movie or television show that reminds you of your traumatic event
Seeing a car accident
The end of a relationship
A specific place
Seeing someone who reminds you of a person connected to your traumatic event
It can be challenging to identify what your triggers are, but by knowing what they are, you can understand them and use tools that will help you cope better when you are triggered.
With practice, emotional triggers can subside, but they may never go away. Because we often cannot avoid triggers, it is important to learn ways of coping with triggers. Effective, healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers include:
Being more aware of your triggers can be beneficial. When you have awareness, your emotional reactions may begin to feel more understandable, valid, predictable, and less out of control. This can positively impact your mood and overall well-being. If you do have triggers, I hope you can recognize them as they are debilitating. It’s rough going through the process of healing, but you are worth it!