Learning to be Responsible for Our Trauma Triggers

Gillian May

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Trauma has become a new popular topic in many forums. Suddenly people are realizing how important it is to acknowledge the trauma that has shaped many of our lives. It is not chic or trendy to talk about trauma — it is a lifesaver to talk about trauma. For decades this topic was swept under the carpet and hushed while we all just pretended to carry on with our lives as if nothing happened. But then, we woke up. Our hearts and psyches could no longer survive the silence.

Dr. Gabor Mate defines trauma as a psychic wound that interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It makes us act out of pain and fear. Dr. Mate says that trauma is not necessarily what happened to us but what happens inside of us as a result of what happened to us.

Trauma is tricky to understand because it isn’t tangible. Instead, it lives inside of our minds, psyche, and body and haunts our every move, decision, and reaction. Those of us who live with the aftermath of trauma know this all too well. The results of trauma can be an endless source of confusion and upheaval. It affects our ability to feel safe in the world and thus, affects our ability to have relationships with others.

One of the devastating ways that trauma reveals itself is in the trigger. This is when something in the present day reminds our psyches of the trauma we experience before. Often we are unconscious of it, meaning that we’re not aware that we are reminded of the actual trauma. Instead, we react as if we’re living out the actual trauma. Often the reaction is big and uncomfortable for both the person experiencing the trigger and other persons who may be witnessing it. This is because often triggers happen in relation to other people. However, triggers can happen independently as well such as when a war veteran hears a firecracker and becomes triggered.

Trauma triggers are one of the most uncomfortable and distressing parts of having lived through trauma. We are not responsible for the trauma, but we are responsible for how our triggers affect us and others. Although we never truly heal from trauma, we can learn to live with it in a way that doesn’t cause us so much pain.

Below are 3 important and effective ways to take responsibility for our trauma triggers so they don’t rule our lives.

1. Seek out therapy

First and foremost, it’s best to find a trusted therapist to help us manage trauma and the triggers it brings. It can be extremely confusing to work through triggers, especially when they’re unconscious. A therapist can help us identify how trauma lives in us and teach us how to respond to triggers in a healthy way.

However, we can’t ignore the fact that therapy is expensive and often there are long waiting lists. Many people who need and want therapy can’t get it due to accessibility issues. This is a reality that affects many people, especially those who are marginalized in our current society. However, there are other ways to take responsibility for our trauma triggers in absence of a therapist.

2. Become connected to your feeling states

One of the ways trauma affects us is to shut off our feeling states. This includes emotional feelings as well as bodily sensations. Trauma often cuts us off as a way to protect ourselves. In this way, we become unconscious of our feelings which furthers the negative impact of trauma triggers.

It may take some time, but we can practice becoming more aware of our feelings. Often it’s easier to start with bodily sensations first. It helps to sit quietly and learn to feel our hands, stomachs, and other bodily sensations we have. Taking time each day to practice this will make us better at detecting our body feelings which will help us connect to our emotions as well. Often emotions create bodily sensations, but trauma can disconnect us from this understanding. Over time, becoming aware of all of our feeling states can help us figure out when we’re getting triggered.

3. Take time to process after being triggered

Since we don’t often know when we’re getting triggered at the time, we may need to take a step back to process triggers after they occur. By doing this, we can practice understanding our triggers which eventually may help prevent or lessen them. This is often a life-long process, so it’s best not to get discouraged each time we “miss” a trigger. The best thing to do is to sit with yourself and process what happened afterward.

We know we’re getting triggered when our reaction feels extremely uncomfortable and may seem out of proportion to what’s actually happening in the present moment. Once we become good at feeling our emotional and bodily sensations, we will know when we feel this discomfort. As we get to know our triggers, the better we can process them.

Ask yourself:

What does this situation remind me of from my past?
What happened to me before that this present situation may have brought back?
How can I understand this trigger better so I can be mindful of it in the future?

These are 3 ways that can help us take responsibility for our trauma triggers. We may never stop getting triggered, but we can learn to live with them and stop them from ruling our lives. The main thing is awareness. The more aware we become, the less power the trigger has over us. Whatever we can do to become aware of triggers the better off our mental health and relationships will be.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - https://upbeat-trader-4181.ck.page/839d0ab3f9. I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.

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