Friday, February 1, 2019

Trauma Triggers

When someone has suffered from past emotional trauma, there can be certain events that can set off symptoms of re-traumatization. A simple example would be to think about a physical wound that isn’t fully healed. To reintroduce a new traumatic event to the injured area could easily bring about enhanced physical distress. To put this in even simpler terms, imagine having a wounded leg and then getting accidentally kicked in the shin again and how much that could bring back the pain from the previous injury.
However, a trauma trigger in itself does not have to be something traumatic, hurtful or frightening. Quite often, a trauma trigger can simply be a subtle or even subconscious reminder of a past trauma. It can be anything that stimulates a traumatic response such as a smell, or sight, situation or person that “awakens” a past traumatic memory or reactivates a present trauma response even if a specific traumatic memory is not fully realized.
When someone has unresolved trauma, there are environmental and emotional triggers that can quickly bring about emotional distress tied to the past trauma but experienced in the present. Most people are well aware that traumatic responses have varying degrees of discomfort and distress ranging from a mild anxious reaction to a full blown panic attack. Let us consider three categories for trauma triggers: Avoidable, Unavoidable and Unexpected

Ø Avoidable/Preventable – When a person knows ahead of time what can potentially set off a distressful emotional reaction then it is important to ascertain if these triggers can be circumvented simply by avoiding them when possible. For example, if an individual knows that he or she is sensitive to loud and aggressive people then that person could attempt to prevent re-traumatization by staying away from places where loud and aggressive people may be more likely to be present. A person in this scenario might, for example, avoid bars, contact sports, and other places where there may be crowds of loud people. Avoidable trauma triggers are obviously “best case scenarios” as there are many situations in life that are unexpected or unavoidable, which leads to the next two categories. Of course not all potentially traumatic places and people can be avoided but it can be helpful to know what kinds of places and people you could successfully avoid without compromising your overall life goals.

Ø Unavoidable – There are some trigger situations and people that are unavoidable. For example if a person is aware that a close family member can be a source of stress that can trigger a traumatic reaction then that person may often find themselves stuck in unavoidable family scenarios at times.  Also if someone works or goes to school or has any other required affiliation with an area or place that has known trauma triggers then they may not be able to avoid these places especially if they are part of one’s regular routine. There are other unavoidable triggers that can be connected with other essential life events such as going to the doctor, being stuck in traffic, stressful work scenarios, or any other situations that can be triggering and difficult to prevent, circumvent or avoid.

Ø Unexpected – Unexpected trauma triggers are those which may feel like they came out of nowhere. It is unfortunate that in spite of the best laid plans, sometimes someone who is suffering from trauma can be triggered by something that was impossible to anticipate ahead of time. As stated earlier a trauma trigger can be very simple and very subtle therefore at times completely unpredictable. Often the timing of unexpected triggers can be quite challenging due to the surprising nature of these incidents
Group Discussion – As a group try to come up with examples from each category, whether from your own personal experience or if you do not have experience, come up with some ideas from your imagination based on what you’ve read:
·       Avoidable -
·       Unavoidable -
·       Unexpected -


  1. Sometimes we have to pause to listen to what we are telling ourselves. A thought could be a trigger also.
    I glad I came across this post to help me stay vigilant in my recovery.
    Thanks for the reminder.