This is pt 1 of our series on triggers / activators . This post is more educational and directed towards people who have not experienced triggers or do not understand how they work. We are not experts on this topic whatsoever and speak only from our personal experience with PTSD as well as our personal research on PTSD in survivors of assault.
For those who haven’t experienced any sort of trauma, the word “triggered” might be taken lightly – as a joke, perhaps.
In reality to those of us who have them for real, they can be detrimental to our healing journeys. Being triggered can throw you off for days, even weeks – regardless of how “small” the trigger is.
It’s important to understand the difference between being triggered and being uncomfortable, so let’s break it down a bit.
Being triggered is more than feeling uneasy or having something “rub you the wrong way”. Everyone’s got their “fight or flight” response to different situations, but for those who have to deal with trauma, their reactions are far more intense than that.
Triggers are an unpleasant reality of all who have gone through a traumatic event(s). PTSD is “triggered” when your body or mind is reminded of a past events and the feelings of being in the traumatic space resurface.
When a person with PTSD is “triggered”, they may snap (fight) or run away (flight), freeze like a deer in headlights, disassociate or separate themselves, become extremely distraught, become overwhelmed with anxiety or paranoia, or all of the above. Triggers can also cause invasive flashbacks of the event that are near impossible to stop.
To put it short – when triggered, a person is thrown back into the traumatic event, which is VERY difficult to come back from or function through.
It’s very difficult sometimes for us struggling with PTSD to communicate our triggers, especially when they are in the midst of happening. Once we’ve been triggered…it’s likely too late to let you know how to help us. It’s good for those close to us to know our triggers ahead of time, if possible, and know what grounds us to help make our episode(s) more manageable. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t even know what this is ourselves. For some of us, once we’ve been triggered, the only thing that helps is time, peace and quiet, and being alone for a little bit.
Triggers can be brought on by ALL 5 senses. They can be rare and uncommon, like the smell of a specific perfume or the taste of a certain alcohol… OR they can be extremely common, like having a person walking behind you or hearing a phone ring.
Some common triggers include, but are not limited to:
the anniversary dates of trauma
Having too much to do, feeling overwhelmed
Friction or confrontation
Being left alone / abandoned
being judged, degraded, or teased
People standing too close or anyone not cleared as “safe” touching you
Specific smells, tastes, and noises
Although triggers are not fully understood scientifically, the generalized understanding is that when you are triggered, your body is thrown into “survival mode”. Your body becomes solely focused on keeping you alive and safe.
The “unnecessary” functions essentially shut down so that your body can prioritize the functions that it needs to get you through your trauma (which your body is convinced is present and happening NOW). Functions that are put on hold could include digestion, sleep, short term-memory, and many others.
When a person is triggered or living in survival mode.. They might seem:
Zoned out / Unfocused / Not present
Forgetful – They might ask you to keep repeating yourself if you are talking to them. They might not remember something you said or did a couple minutes ago.
Highly reactive / emotional
They can’t think past what’s immediately in front of them
Neglecting of themselves. Not eating, sleeping or brushing their teeth.
They may overthink and pick apart every little detail
Overwhelmed by tiny tasks
Impulsive : When they decide they need to do something – It is URGENT!!!
Discouraged. Everything they need to do feels impossible.
Uncomfortable vs trauma
Often, when someone watches a horror movie or sees something horrific on tv, they will say that they are “triggered” when that’s often not the correct term to use. There’s no doubt these topics can be unpleasant, offensive, or distasteful. But it’s important to understand the distinction between discomfort and trauma. For a lot of people, these topics won’t cause the flashbacks, dissociation, or other distressing emotional experiences, only discomfort. It is important not to water down what real triggers are and what real trauma is, as a massive sum of people struggle with it daily, whether it be sexual trauma or not.
We really appreciate all the loved ones of survivors who are trying to understand trauma and PTSD in attempt to be better supporters.
Although it’s impossible to be a perfect supporter at all times, educating yourself on what survivors go through on a day-to-day basis will help you drastically in how you are able to love and walk alongside the ones you care about. This, in turn, will also help them to heal better! Be kind to yourself and keep learning ❤
-R+K + the NO community