Relationships Are Ripe For Triggering Trauma

Gillian May
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Trauma triggers may be confusing to some people, especially if you’re not familiar with how triggers work. For people who have previous trauma, the emotional significance can remain in the body and psyche for a long time. Therapy and awareness help a lot, but often, trauma stays with us for the rest of our lives. Triggers are when the trauma is brought back to us, often in unconscious and uncomfortable ways.

We can learn to live well with trauma and seek to become more aware of when we’re getting triggered. But likely, it will be a life-long effort as trauma never really goes away. Nothing reveals trauma triggers more than relationships, and the tell-tale sign of a significant relationship is the emotional investment we have in them. Because of this, relationships are ripe for triggering trauma as triggers feel very emotional.

So how do we know when trauma is re-surfacing in a relationship? Below are 5 signs of trauma triggers that we can become more aware of. The best way to overcome trauma is to become aware of when it’s surfacing. Once we do, the trauma loses power over our emotions and subsequent actions.

1. Conflicts that spark flashbacks.

Flashbacks are when something in the present moment reminds us of trauma from the past. An incident may have elements similar to the trauma and thus, come back in our psyche. Often conflicts are the source of creating a flashback. Conflicts often remind us of bad things that have happened to us before. Conflicts can feel unsafe, uncomfortable and can bring up some heightened emotions. That, in itself, is enough to trigger a flashback.

However, if you are aware that you’re having a flashback, this is a good thing. If you can say to yourself, “I am having a flashback from this conflict,” then you’re likely more aware of your trauma. Having the ability to be aware is a sign of healing. As I said, trauma never goes away, but it can become integrated into your life in a way that makes it easier to cope with. Knowing when you’re having a flashback is a sign of good integration.

2. Conflicts that repeat themselves.

Another sign of trauma triggers are conflicts that repeat themselves over and over. This is when the same topics get brought up but seem to have no resolution. Both parties in the relationship are often aware that the conflict is repeated, but they are unsure of how and why it happens.

Usually, this kind of trigger is relatively unconscious, which can be really uncomfortable for the relationship. It can feel like going around in circles with no way to fix the problem. This is because there’s hidden trauma coming up that both parties are not aware of. One or both people are having repeated reminders of past situations that were difficult to cope with. The key here is to take a step back and think of what the repeated situations may remind you of.

3. Misunderstandings that turn into significant over-reactions.

Another sign of trauma triggers is misunderstandings that turn into over-reactions. Most people have misunderstandings in their relationships, so it’s a relatively normal thing. However, when they spark over-reactive behavior that seems out of context or over-blown, it could be a past trauma that has re-surfaced.

Usually, misunderstandings that don’t trigger others can be resolved reasonably quickly by calm and rational communication. But, in the case of trauma triggers, the communication is often irrational. The best thing to do is take a step back when things are getting heated and think about where the over-reactions are coming from, and taking space to sort this out often brings a favorable outcome.

4. Frequent arguments that seem confusing.

Relationships are often a place where arguments take place due to emotional investment and intimacy. However, when arguments are frequent and confusing, there are often trauma triggers underlying these arguments.

Usually, when an argument is focused on a particular issue, both parties can work through the discussion because they know what the problem is. But when trauma is triggered without awareness, the argument can feel like it has no end and makes no sense. This can be intensely uncomfortable for both parties, which further triggers past trauma where one or both people felt misunderstood and unheard.

5. Feeling unusually sensitive over benign comments.

In relationships, it’s normal to have moments where we feel sensitive about what someone says. However, when trauma is getting triggered, often the comment may have been benign, meaning most people wouldn’t get upset over that particular comment. But when trauma is getting triggered, it may induce an unconscious flashback creating an unusually sensitive response.

The best thing to do in these circumstances is to become aware of being unusually sensitive and then take some time to reflect on how you may be getting triggered by what was said. Both parties need to stay compassionate and calm if possible. The best thing about getting triggered in relationships is that it allows you to grow and learn and find a way to heal more from past trauma.

Often relationships are a breeding ground for trauma triggers, but this can be a good thing if you approach it the right way. You can choose to learn from it or to keep going around in circles. If you decide to learn from trauma triggers, you will have to practice staying calm and aware of when situations may trigger you. In this sense, relationships can be a place of healing instead of a place for unproductive conflict.

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Former nurse turned alcohol and health writer/researcher. 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 alcohol addiction and mental health. Also passionate about trauma recovery, psychedelics, and psychology. Join my Substack community.


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