Ptsd abuse triggers

What Are PTSD Triggers?

Written by Mary Jo DiLonardo

In this Article

  • How Do You Develop Triggers?
  • What Are the Different Types of Triggers?
  • How Can You Recognize Triggers?

When you have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your symptoms can come and go. You might feel fine until you hear a car backfire loudly. Suddenly, you become very afraid. Images of your time fighting in a war flood back.

Certain triggers can set off your PTSD. They bring back strong memories. You may feel like you’re living through it all over again. Triggers can include sights, sounds, smells, or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event in some way.

Some PTSD triggers are obvious, such as seeing a news report of an assault. Others are less clear. For example, if you were attacked on a sunny day, seeing a bright blue sky might make you upset. Knowing your triggers can help you better cope with your PTSD.

How Do You Develop Triggers?

When faced with danger, your body gets ready to fight, flee, or freeze. Your heart beats faster. Your senses go on high alert. Your brain stops some of its normal functions to deal with the threat. This includes your short-term memory.

With PTSD, your brain doesn’t process the trauma the right way. It doesn’t file the memory of the event as being in the past. The result: You feel stressed and frightened even when you know you’re safe.

The brain attaches details, like sights or smells, to that memory. These become triggers. They act like buttons that turn on your body’s alarm system. When one of them is pushed, your brain switches to danger mode. This may cause you to become frightened and your heart to start racing. The sights, sounds, and feelings of the trauma may come rushing back. This is called a flashback.

What Are the Different Types of Triggers?

Anything that reminds you of what happened right before or during a trauma is a potential trigger. They’re usually tied to your senses. You may see, feel, smell, touch, or taste something that brings on your symptoms. While triggers themselves are usually harmless, they cause your body to react as if you’re in danger.

A number of things can trigger your PTSD. Some of the most common include:

People: Seeing a person related to the trauma may set off a PTSD reaction. Or someone may have a physical trait that’s a reminder. For example, if someone with a beard mugged you, other bearded men may bring back memories.

Thoughts and emotions: The way you felt during a traumatic event (afraid, helpless, or stressed) could cause symptoms.

Things: Seeing an object that reminds you of the trauma can cue your PTSD symptoms.

Scents: Smells are strongly tied to memories. For instance, someone who survived a fire might become upset from the smoky smell of a barbecue.

Places: Returning to the scene of a trauma is often a trigger. Or a type of place, like a dark hallway, may be enough to bring on a reaction.

TV shows, news reports, and movies: Seeing a similar trauma often sets off symptoms. This includes scenes from a television show or movie, or a news report.

Feelings: Some sensations, such as pain, are triggers. For survivors of assault, a touch on a certain body part may lead to a flashback.

Sounds: Hearing specific noises, songs, or voices may bring back memories of the trauma. For example, hearing a car backfire may remind a veteran of gunfire.

Tastes: The taste of something, like alcohol, may remind you of a traumatic event.

Situations: You may tie scenarios with the trauma. For instance, being stuck in an elevator might remind you of feeling trapped after a car accident.

Anniversaries: It’s often hard to go through a date marked by trauma without remembering it, as is the case for many survivors of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Words: Reading or hearing certain words could cue your PTSD.

How Can You Recognize Triggers?

Some are obvious. Others are subtle. In fact, you may not realize something is a trigger until you have a reaction. It may seem like your PTSD symptoms come out of the blue. But they’re usually caused by an unknown trigger.

Feeling as if you’re in danger is a sign that you’ve experienced a PTSD trigger. A therapist can help you identify yours. They can also help you learn ways to cope.

What are PTSD Triggers? Examples & Definitions

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a a term which describes a disorder which is experienced after a traumatic event. Symptoms might include feeling hyper-aroused, stressed or on edge. A full description of PTSD symptoms can be found here. PTSD triggers are everyday situations which cause a person to re-experience the traumatic event as if it was reoccurring in the present or related symptoms. These symptoms might include strong feelings, memories or emotions.

How do we develop PTSD Triggers?

Trauma memories are encoded sensorially, not linguistically. This means that they are encoded through the senses. What does this mean? When we experience a trauma our brain attaches sensory experiences to the trauma memory. This means that when we experience a similar sensory stimulus again it can trigger PTSD symptoms. When we experience a similar sensory stimulus to one we experienced at the time of the trauma our brain tells our body that we are in danger. It is telling the body to mobilise the resources needed to either fight or flee the danger.  PTSD triggers can include anything we experience through the senses of sight, smell, touch or taste. They might also include anything that reminds you of the trauma.

Examples of PTSD Triggers

PTSD triggers remind a person of the traumatic incident or incidents which they experienced. Examples therefore differ from person to person. Examples of PTSD triggers might include:

Smell: A specific smell can trigger trauma symptoms. For example if you experienced abuse by someone wearing a particular type of aftershave when you smell this type of aftershave again it could trigger traumatic symptoms.

Sounds: Hearing a sound which is similar to one associated with trauma can be triggering. An example might be a car backfiring. If you experienced trauma from combat a car backfiring might sound similar to a gun or military weapon. Being spoken to in a particular way with a particular tone can bring back trauma symptoms.

Situation: If you experienced repetitive trauma at a particular time of the day for example when the sun was going down this time of day can trigger trauma symptoms. If you experienced trauma in a busy place with lots of people entering a similar environment can trigger PTSD symptoms.

Taste: Eating or drinking something that you consumed at the time of a traumatic event can remind you of a traumatic event.

Words: Specific words or combinations of words can cue trauma type symptoms.

Media: We live in a media saturated world where we have access to hundreds of different types of media. Watching a news article where someone experiences a similar trauma to our own can trigger symptoms.

PTSD Solutions

In most cases trauma symptoms dissipate a few weeks after experiencing a trauma. If symptoms persist after one month it is advisable to get some professional help with the trauma from a trauma trained professional. Trauma treatments might include EMDR therapy or Trauma Therapy.

What types of triggers for post-traumatic stress disorder exist and how to manage them? | mental health articles | Emotional & Mental Health center

Intrusive memories and flashbacks are caused by triggers - and although the connection between some of the lines and the trauma that caused PTSD is obvious, this is not always the case.

Seemingly random stimuli - things that can range from a song to a smell, from watching a news report to meeting a person with the same walk as someone you once knew - can trigger memories for everyone. nine0003

If you have PTSD and such random and unexpected stimuli remind you of a trauma you have experienced, consciously or subconsciously, this can lead to an immediate set of symptoms as well as an unpleasant, lingering haze.​

The very word "trigger" reminds of violence, but this phenomenon can also be described as a signal, hint, spark or catalyst. Either way, it's not pleasant. Learning more about your own triggers can help you develop better coping mechanisms if you're living with PTSD, and understanding what triggers someone you care about can help you better support them.​

PTSD: What are the triggers?

There are probably too many PTSD triggers to list them all, so there is a risk that we will miss some of them. Please add your own in the comments below if you'd like to share. I sort triggers into categories that make sense to me, but others may group them differently. Anything you experience can be a potential PTSD trigger.

  • Non-human, specific, environmental triggers may include smells, tastes, sounds, colors, shapes, temperatures, and other weather conditions, as well as ambient brightness levels. (For me personally, for example, the smell of a certain disinfectant is a big problem even years and years after injury and after therapy. The sound of a doorbell will do this too.)
  • Triggers that are in some way related to people may include seeing a certain person or someone who reminds you of a certain person, someone suddenly approaching you from behind, someone screaming, feeling powerless from another person, and someone who touches you in a certain way. These triggers, like non-human ones, should not really pose a risk to the PTSD sufferer. (It's hard for me to see someone I knew at the time of the injury, and I also definitely struggle with unexpected touch, to the point where it's hard not to hit that person.)
  • Situational triggers may include finding yourself at the site of your injury (this may be as specific as, say, "your parents' house" or "London" or as broad as "car" or "crowded environment") , search You are in a place that reminds you of it (perhaps the scene of a car accident, a room that resembles the one you were injured in, or another combat situation), anniversaries, situations in which other people have power over you, or financial struggle,
  • Other occasional triggers may include therapy sessions, personal trauma management activities such as journaling for PTSD, physical pain, bereavement or end of a friendship or relationship (causing grief and social isolation), or stress recovery. at work.

Some triggers will obviously be related to your trauma - for example, if you've been through a war, loud impacts or airplane noises can cause PTSD symptoms to increase. There will be no others. For example, both myself and many other people I've talked to report that their PTSD symptoms worsen during anniversaries, even if they don't consciously remember that it's an anniversary.0003

This is because trauma-related memories are not stored in the same way as other memories. The trigger can send them to the forefront of your active brain without any notice, causing debilitating symptoms that appear to be happening in the present. Some part of your brain has made the connection, even if it's not the part of your brain that allows you to participate in metacognitive processes.

You may also be interested to know that research has shown that reminders of events shortly before the (worst parts of) trauma tend to be more strongly experienced than reminders of the trauma itself. nine0003

Find out what your triggers are

Keeping a fact diary (as opposed to an emotional journal, which you can also use) to record how you do each day and what happened that day can help you recognize the triggers that you did not know until now. Therapy can also help, but don't forget - if you're ready - to ask the important people in your life what they've noticed about your behavior. Your partner might notice that you cringe when a dish breaks when you never knew it happened, for example, or your good friend might notice that you get nervous when you're in a noisy environment. nine0003

Can PTSD therapy help you desensitize to a trigger?

We won't say it's successful for everyone with PTSD, but yes, therapy can help many people eliminate or lessen the severity of certain PTSD triggers. This can be done by processing the trauma and giving it a conscious place in your memory, and then breaking the connection between the trauma and the trigger by giving it a new meaning - instead, i. e. learning to associate it with lesser threat or even safer events. At the same time, the person with PTSD and their therapist work to reduce other symptoms such as excessive anxiety, avoidance symptoms, and hypervisor.​

learn more about triggers and ptsd

As clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Jim Hopper explains, the normal response to PTSD is avoidance. The person will stay away from places, events, or objects that are reminiscent of the traumatic experience and avoid thoughts or feelings associated with it.

It is also possible that his behavior becomes unpredictable: he is easily frightened or loses his temper, feels "on edge", is in a state of stress and anger, and may also experience acute guilt for his emotions or actions. Psychiatrists advise to remember: if you understand that at least one of the listed signs resembles your condition, do not be afraid to seek help from specialists. Not all things pass by themselves, sometimes it takes effort to return to a resourceful state. PTSD is the very case when the psyche can no longer cope on its own, it needs support. nine0003

How to talk about triggers in a relationship?

The term “trigger warning”, which is popular abroad, is closely related to the trigger, in Russian it sounds like “trigger warning”. It warns you that the topic of discussion and specific scenes may be reminiscent of the trauma experienced. This gives the audience the ability to control whether they continue to read the material or not.

As Maddy Myers explained in an article on trigger warnings and PTSD for computer culture blog The Mary Sue: I can bear." nine0003

According to Nastya, whose personal boundaries have been violated since childhood, such warnings also work in relationships. If any specific things or topics hurt you, make you feel bad and anxious, you can tell your partner about them. Correctly and honestly discuss in a pair of what suits you or does not suit you. The fact that a person refuses to accept your requests not to speak some phrases seriously does not mean that something is wrong with you. Everyone has the right to protect themselves from certain information, Anastasia believes, to create "safe zones" until they can find the moral strength to step over the triggers. nine0003

Psychologists agree and emphasize that in such situations, this does not mean that you are demanding a lot or that you are wrong - you need time and conditions to recover from a past bad relationship or an event that greatly affected you. The more detailed and honest you are with your partner, the easier it will be for both of you to cope with the problem that has arisen. Every reaction you have has a reason, and a loved one deserves to know it in order to help you. If you are unable to talk about your feelings and triggers on your own, you can ask a professional to guide you. The main thing is not to be silent. nine0003

How to deal with triggers?

According to the American article on PTSD, the primary treatment for people with PTSD is medication, psychotherapy ("talking"), or both.

Learn more