How Do I Identify My Trauma Triggers?

How Do I Identify My Trauma Triggers?

Table of Contents

If you have experienced trauma in your life, you know that certain events can prove highly challenging. A trigger might be right around the corner, reminding you of an event, causing an adverse reaction. If you are troubled with why you react the way you do to certain things, then now might be the time to learn about your trauma triggers. It is common to shame yourself for overreacting to a situation that seems common for others, but your reaction might have a legitimate, underlying reason.

The Reality of PTSD Symptoms

Anyone can experience trauma. Many recognize PTSD as something only veterans experience after being exposed to the horrors of war, but that is only a small percentage of trauma experienced by people. A traumatic experience can also include surviving a natural disaster, abuse, refugee displacement, police violence, medical malpractice, neglect, and debilitating physical injuries. Any event that caused you to feel helpless, threatened, or unstable can be considered a traumatic experience.

Even long after a traumatic experience, things that remind you of the event can cause flashbacks, panic attacks, and extreme emotional and physical reactions, even if there is not a present danger. If you are unaware of how trauma has impacted you, the symptoms can be confusing, scary, and frustrating.

Since there is a lack of understanding about PTSD, you may not recognize that you have been exposed to trauma and that these symptoms signify that you have developed this disorder. Instead, you might blame yourself. It is common to feel ashamed and guilty for reacting excessively to things that other people view as usual and safe. If you think this way, then it might be time to evaluate your extreme responses to things and why you react the way you do.

Identifying the Source

There might be things that you have an intense reaction to, or there might be things that you avoid. If you do not understand why you react the way you do, try to think about when it all started. When was the first time you remember feeling this way? For example, extreme stress about finances could have come from a time when you did not have money. Alternatively, if you struggle with hoarding food or items, you might have experienced scarcity. Finding the source can make it easier to react appropriately because you have survived it in the past, and you can again.

Much of trauma comes from childhood. There might be reactions that stem from how your parents reacted to the same situation. If you were punished for spilling something on the carpet, then you might react strongly when one of your children spills something. If you experienced neglect as a child, you might overcompensate by being overbearing.

Understanding Yourself Better

Locating the source of these extreme responses allows you to remove some of the blame. You are not acting like this for no reason. Rather, you are reacting as a way to protect yourself from getting hurt again. It is how you had to survive, and you remain in survival mode as a result, even when things are fine.

Recognizing why you react the way you do can help you acknowledge that the danger is not present and that your reaction does not match reality. Understanding your reactions keeps you grounded, allowing you to confront these behaviors compassionately.

Coping With Trauma Responses

You might not be ready to tackle your trauma just yet. Life still goes on whether you process it or not, meaning you will still be exposed to these triggers on occasion. Sometimes, you can reasonably avoid your trauma triggers until you are ready to process your experiences. Yet, there are some triggers that you may be exposed to before you are prepared.

Those with trauma may cope with their triggers in unhealthy ways like using illicit substances, self-harming, or shutting down. These coping mechanisms only serve to create additional problems. Instead, a person needs to have a plan for dealing with potential trigger exposure.

Preparing Yourself to Process

Once you are in a place of emotional and physical stability, you can start to process your traumas with a professional who specializes in PTSD. If you are working through your trauma, you should not go it alone because you could put yourself at risk of retraumatization. If you are interested in working through your trauma, make sure you are in the right headspace. Therapies that help with PTSD include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR.)

If you feel ashamed about your extreme responses to things that do not necessarily require that response, know that you are not alone. PTSD is more common than you might think. Identifying your triggers can be the first step to living a healthier life without stress and shame burdening you. Once you are aware of the things that you are most sensitive to, you can begin to recalibrate your reactions to fit the situation at hand without hurting others or yourself in the process. Life will throw you curveballs, and sometimes you will be in a setting where dealing with those triggers is unavoidable. Being prepared will help you cope in a healthier way. In the meantime, allow yourself patience and compassion when delving into past traumas. Only work on trauma when you are stable and ready. Please do not do it alone. Many trauma-informed therapists and counselors can help. Call us today at (866) 529-9255

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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