Trauma Triggers

A Trauma Trigger is anything that activates your fight-flight response. It is your body’s way of coping with overwhelming stress.

If you have ever experienced a traumatic event — or even sustained trauma over a long period of time (abuse, stress, anxiety, etc) your body may involuntarily and spontaneously go into a traumatic response.

Partners of men who struggle with sexual addiction often experience “partner trauma” as they experience discovery of betrayal and are buffeted by the resulting emotional drama.

In an earlier post we explored how our bodies respond to our environment in both conscious and unconscious ways. This stress response is a function of the Autonomic Nervous Service system. Two branches of this system, the Sympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System work together to maintain equilibrium — a sense of emotional balance — in one’s body.

This communication network signals and controls one’s bodily response to the environment. When in danger, the sympathetic system superchargers your body. After the danger passes, the parasympathetic systems calms you down. This is what we all know as the roller coaster of human experience.

A “Trauma Trigger” is anything that signals your brain: You are in danger! This can be an object, a sound, a sensation, an emotion, a memory, or even a person. Sometimes one’s partner becomes a trauma trigger if he is perceived as the source of danger. This is often the case when the cause of the trauma is betrayal.

Remember, danger does not have to be real for the sympathetic system to go into action. That is, the trauma response will always feel real in the present, while the danger may have been real in the past.

Taming a trauma trigger involves retraining your sympathetic system so that a trigger does not throw you into a flight-fight response when no present danger puts one at risk.

So how does one go about “Taming Triggers?” Become a master of your own personal safety.

Among other things:

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  • Make a list of your triggers,
  • In the safe space of a therapeutic relationship, explore the story behind the response.
  • Develop a supportive friends who help you feel safe.
  • Rate the intensity of distress  (See the Stress Thermometer)
  • Identify which triggers you can control and which you don’t.
  • Share your list with your partner and request help with the triggers over which you have no control.
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Self care is important to minimize the impact of triggers in your life. You can have power over the trauma triggers in your life!