Have you ever become disproportionately upset, scared, or angry about something relatively small and wondered why?
Most likely you were triggered.
What exactly is a trigger? A trigger is a reaction in the present to something traumatic from your past. The problem is, you might not even know what you’re reacting to, and that makes your own behavior especially challenging to deal with. And, if you don’t deal with this reaction and figure out its cause, you’ll continue to be triggered. The cycle goes on and on and this creates all sorts of problems in your life and in your relationships.
To understand your triggers, you need to understand your trauma (even if you think you’ve never suffered any traumatic experiences)
You might think you don’t have any trauma in your past. As a trauma therapist, I would argue that every human being alive today has experienced trauma. Before you start shaking your head and saying “not me!”, please hear me out.
Trauma is often associated with incidents like rape, childhood abuse, war, natural disasters, witnessing a fatal accident, and violent crime. These traumas are referred to as “capital T” traumas. Fortunately, many of us have able to avoid such trauma and help is often made immediately available for those who have..
But, what if I told you there is such a thing a “small t” trauma?
What if I told you that growing up in a dysfunctional home, living with an addict, being bullied at school or in the workplace, being constantly criticized and/or judged by a parent, undergoing scary and/or painful medical or dental procedures, having a depressed or mentally ill primary caregiver, accidents, divorce, being humiliated in front of your friends/peers, birth trauma, chronic illness, loss of a parent, or witnessing domestic violence all qualify. Perhaps now you can identify with trauma?
Sometimes, small t trauma can be even more impactful than capital T trauma because it’s not as easy to spot. It goes undetected and you are often less likely to receive the necessary support and healing. This is especially true if the trauma happens in early childhood and if it happens repeatedly over a longer period of time.
So, what does trauma have to do with triggers?
Even if we can’t cognitively remember our traumas, they are stored in our bodies, in the very cells of our being.
When something happens in the present that reminds us of our trauma, those stored memories are activated and our body warns our brain that we are in danger. Alarm bells in the brain and nervous system cause us to act out of fear. It’s common to become upset, overly emotional, angry, and fearful. And then, we tend to yell, scream, shut down, fall apart, and generally overreact to the situation. Finally, we end up feeling really bad about ourselves and then it’s more likely we damage our relationships with others.
Yes, it possible to break the cycle and leave those triggered behaviors behind
Fortunately, past trauma can be healed and you can learn to live a trigger-free existence.
The first thing to do is notice when you are triggered and get curious. If you are not sure what your triggers are, ask someone close to you – they’ll know and be able to tell you!
You’re not going to be able to eliminate or avoid every person and situation that triggers you. It’s important to learn techniques like deep breathing to ground your nervous system so you can help yourself prevent an outburst.
And when deep breaths and counting to 3 aren’t enough…
If you recognize these cycles of overreaction in yourself and if you realize that some kind of trauma has influenced your life and your attempts to calm yourself aren’t working, there’s hope. You may want to seek support and guidance from a trauma-informed therapist who can help you meet the everyday challenges and cope with elements from your past.
At Pathfinders Counseling, we offer a free 30 minute consultation and invite you to schedule now. We can help you begin to identify what gets you fired up and learn to shift how you react and respond to your loved ones and to your world.