A trigger describes the “cause” of a PTSD episode or the onset of symptoms. With (C)PTSD, your brain does not process trauma the same way a non-PTSD brain would. Given that, triggers manifest. A trigger is reminiscent of what took pace during one’s previous trauma. However, not everyone is affected the same way by (C)PTSD triggers.
To better explain, a typical trigger can be an emotional response one experiences due to someone else’s ignorance. They can also be specific loud noises, photos, a scene from a movie, anger deriving from anything – including something as small as running 15 minutes late or feeling rushed.
Now, to the rest of the world, all of those descriptions sound like they’re no big deal. However, for someone with (C)PTSD, it’s a huge freaking deal. Here’s some perspective. Let’s further explore just how each scenario plays out for the person fighting this disease:
Someone else’s ignorance –
Said person gets mad at you, yes the person wrestling demons 24/7. And how they express their anger is expressed abusively. They ridicule you for your disease, call you names that are demeaning, or recklessly fails to validate you.
Specific Loud Noises –
I bet you think I’m going to say something about the sound of a car backfiring sending you down that rabbit hole. Nope. Children barging through the door with their “outside voices”. Consider your wife invited one of girlfriends over for lunch but doesn’t tell you about her upcoming swaray. Friend shows up unannounced. But you have been battling a horrific (C)PTSD episode all night, did not get any sleep, and your residual symptoms set it. The common denominator here is being startled. And even worse, instantly being startled is the fasted way to send a person with (C)PTSD into debilitating episode.
It’s a bad day and looking a photos of your children, close friends, or family can at times trigger symptoms. The way I have experienced this is because these images are a reminder (or false perception) of you being less than an person. Maybe you feel worthless and hold onto soul deteriorating guilt from thinking you are causing your loved ones distress or emotional pain. This one is a huge one in my home.
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Movie Scene –
You and your honey put in a really good movie. As the movie plays a violent rape scene appears with a man assaulting a woman. Your anxiety starts to skyrocket from zero to 1 million in three seconds. Somehow, you get it stuck in your mind. Explicitly, thinking that this could happen to your wife or daughter. These types of (C)PTSD triggers bring on fear, rage, and very disturbing mental images.
Running 15 Minutes Late –
Another huge (C)PTSD trigger in my household. The feeling of being rushed is amplified by infinity. Then, stress, frustration, and anger show up to the party. These three emotions brought on immediately and all at once is another guaranteed episode for the next ten hours or so.
In essence, any of these will make someone with (C)PTSD feel very stressed and absolutely terrified, although there is no present threat of danger for miles around. In particular, PTSD symptoms can be triggered through just one, or by all five senses. Not to mention, other cognitive aspects.
PTSD Triggers Can Be Many Things
To point out, (C)PTSD triggers can be something we see, hear, feel, taste, smell, or think about. Either way, triggers also manifest from any reminder of one’s past trauma. Essentially, these class of triggers stem from something that reminds us of a trauma event. Which in turn, causes intense emotional and physical reactions. These “reactions” include anxiety. Next, the anxiety quickly morphs into a deafening panic attack. You know, the kind where you lose your hearing.
Well, except for the sound of your heart beat. Only, your accelerated heart beat feels and sounds like you are in a pitch black trunk of someone’s Chrysler 300. Particularly, blaring gangsta rap music and bass produced by four sub-woofers and two amplifiers. Finally, the panic attack evolves. Inevitably, we slip seamlessly into a full blown (C)PTSD episode.
Above all, most people with our disease, will continue to have the same triggers forever. Unless of course, their (C)PTSD triggers are alleviated through therapy and self-management.
Developing New PTSD Triggers
As you just read, (C)PTSD triggers are typically curated by our senses. For someone with (C)PTSD, a trigger can be the least suspecting thing. In fact, not long after diagnosis, my husband faced constant triggering from a family member. The member of the family was the trigger.
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First of all, this person wasn’t present for any of my spouse’s traumatic events, what-so-ever. The never ending issue was that they always spoke to him using an aggressive and demeaning tone. Almost as if my husband was less of a man and should be reminded of this. Any time someone brought this reckless person up in conversation it was bad news for my husband. Even the very sight of them would engage the (C)PTSD roller coaster.
Secondly, every family function resulted in countless hours of watching my babe disappear deep within himself. As the heinous and malicious (C)PTSD demon took over his mind and body. Perhaps I should have sent this family member home with my hubby to hang out for about four hours or so. Think they would gain new perspective regarding their ignorant mindset?
Finally, as of today, this person can still use the same kind of tone and it doesn’t cause him to spiral into a painful episode anymore. I have witnessed numerous (C)PTSD triggers go into remission and never return.
Is There Another Way to Say Trigger?
Do you ever wonder how many times the word trigger is used throughout articles about PTSD triggers?
Okay, back to the subject at hand. Other (C)PTSD triggers include loud noises, pressure, or judgement from others. In addition, attending events with large crowds, including a trip to Wal-Mart would trigger a new neurological nightmare. For instance, simply talking about things that happened over the last few years would trigger symptoms. It’s actually quite common for the original cause for (C)PTSD had been dealt with and is in remission. Thus, additional trauma took place after the initial diagnosis and created new issues.
However, it may seem as though when (C)PTSD triggers are eliminated, new ones can develop. I know this must sound disheartening. Please keep in mind that I am covering an extensive list of possible triggers. Everybody’s (C)PTSD is unique to them.
In the same light, your boyfriend or girlfriend may have completely different triggers than my spouse. On the other hand, you or someone you care about might only have one trigger. The important thing is to identify what our (C)PTSD triggers are. Only then can we practice prevention as well as seek treatment to alleviate them – one by one.
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New Complex PTSD Triggers
With this in mind, a couple of short months after my husband’s diagnosis, we went through an ugly custody battle over our oldest daughter. The entire experience caused non stop (C)PTSD episodes. This took place daily. In fact, only when we were visiting our daughter or in front of others did his symptoms subside. But as soon as we were alone again, his episode picked up right where it left off – at full throttle. Needless to say, after the long court battle I started to pick up on new triggers.
For the most part, what I found when I mentioned the opposing party by name, it would cause severe symptoms. These symptoms included audio and visual hallucinations, hypervigilance, intense rage, and extreme physical pain. Consequently, people who suffer from CPTSD and PTSD are more susceptible to developing what I call “new (C)PTSD”.
Essentially, PTSD triggers and new PTSD on top of the original PTSD. This new stuff is in addition to the original (C)PTSD. Due to this happening, the issue was compounded on top of existing traumas. This makes it almost impossible to manage triggers and symptoms. However, it is highly possible to manage (C)PTSD triggers through self-care and therapy.
Everyone Has Different PTSD Triggers
Now, some (C)PTSD triggers are obvious, like watching a news report on assault. Other triggers are not as obvious. For example if someone suffered trauma on a sunny day they may begin to get upset if they are outside and see a bright sunny blue sky. This kind of trigger is more subliminal than the concrete types of (C)PTSD triggers. Their brain associates sight, touch, smell, and sound with details pertaining to their trauma. In turn, the associations become buttons to ignite their body’s alarm system that prepares for danger.
Most importantly, understanding your loved one’s triggers will help them become aware of each one. And, Once that’s done, as a team, you can begin working on each PTSD trigger. The best part is that less triggers = reduced severity and frequency of the heartwrenching (C)PTSD episodes.
Managing (C)PTSD Triggers
Posted on Mental Health America’s website (2017) describes how one woman manages her (C)PTSD triggers.
“As part of my recovery from PTSD, I created a visual space for my domestic violence memories; I built a closet (in my mind) where I kept my memories. I’d store memories separate, in boxes with lids on the shelves of the closet. When unwanted thoughts about the domestic violence I suffered crept into my life, I stopped the thought process by telling myself that now isn’t the time. I created an actual visual experience, in which I envisioned taking the memory, opening the closet, taking down an empty box, placing the unwanted memory or thought into the box, closing the box, labeling it and putting the box back on the shelf.
Then when I had quiet time or thought I was ready to confront a specific memory, I would visualize going into the closet and taking down the labeled box with that memory. I would open the box and examine the contents. Sometimes I cried, laughed, or mourned. When I had enough, I would put the memory back into the box. I found that, over time, there were fewer and fewer boxes in my closet. And the boxes were smaller and smaller. While I haven’t quite walled the closet over, the last time I went there, the closet was all but empty.”
(C)PTSD Triggers And Therapy
This is actually a therapy that can be done alone at home. Be sure to practice in a quiet space free from noise and distractions. What Kathlene has done is minimized her (C)PTSD triggers by visualizing them. Especially, giving each one less significance each time she practiced this technique in managing her (C)PTSD symptoms.
In like manner, a similar therapy is called Rewind therapy. Rewind therapy is successful through guided meditation with a qualified therapist. However, someone can self-guide themselves through a rewind therapy session too.
Similar to what Kathlene has shared, Rewind therapy can be described as an exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is not for everyone, and should be consulted through a licensed practitioner prior to attempting it alone. Although (C)PTSD triggers are hard to manage at times, you or your loved one can experience CPTSD recovery and remission. Pinpointing what triggers their symptoms is the first place to start. Then, they can work on eliminating the triggers or reducing the effect a trigger has on their mentality.
Peace From PTSD Triggers
Finally, you both can enjoy a better quality of life by addressing, processing, and eliminating their (C)PTSD triggers; one at a time. It doesn’t matter how fast you go as long as you keep moving forward. Before you go, check out these valuable articles that will help you!
- PTSD Residual Symptoms – What Happens After a PTSD episode
- PTSD and Forgiveness – Let Go of The Guilt
- Swing by PTSD Wifey’s YouTube Channel – Designed Just For You
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