How to Defeat Your Trauma Triggers to Create Happiness
You most likely experienced a trauma trigger if you have ever experienced a strong emotional response to a person or event that seemed disproportionate to the situation. Most people experience trauma triggers, often without conscious awareness. When we don't know how to identify our triggers, they can interfere with our happiness. A trigger occurs when you encounter someone or something in your environment that reminds you of a traumatic experience from your past. It doesn't have to be a significant trauma. Any reminder of a painful event you haven't fully resolved might manifest in your life as a trigger, and it can limit your ability to create happiness.
Trauma Triggers Serve a Purpose
Trauma triggers and painful emotions are the brain's way of alerting us to something that needs our attention. They are signals designed to motivate action. For example, if you were in a car accident, you might experience intense anxiety whenever you drive through the intersection where it happened. Your brain is alerting you to potential danger because it wants you to stay alert and keep yourself safe.
It is helpful to understand how the painful experiences of the past impact our lives in the present. When we know the cause of our strong emotional responses, we can attend to them appropriately and reduce our distress. The three most helpful skills I have found to employ when dealing with triggers are mindfulness, positive self-talk, and self-soothing techniques.
Dealing with Trauma Triggers
Mindfulness means being self-aware about what your triggers are and recognizing when you have an exaggerated emotional response. Perhaps you have received feedback from others that you seem particularly sensitive around specific topics. If you had an overly critical parent, for example, you might have difficulty receiving constructive feedback at work. You might be hypersensitive to criticism and respond to any perceived criticism with unnecessary defensiveness. You may know your reactions are unhelpful and wish you could be less reactive but struggle to contain your emotional response. Thankfully, once you have identified a trigger, you can start intervening on it.
Positive self-talk involves reminding yourself that the trauma is over and helping your brain understand how the current situation is different from the past. You may want to repeat to yourself the skills you have now that you didn't have back then. Statements like, "My boss believes in my ability to grow," or "I am talented and capable of improving," might help in the current example.
Finally, if you are still feeling emotionally activated, engage in a self-soothing technique. Here are some of my favorites:
- Breathe and count. Breathe in for a count of four, hold a count of four, and exhale for a count of four.
- Give yourself a butterfly hug. Cross your arms, wrap your hands around each bicep, and slowly squeeze each arm in an alternating motion.
- Connect to all your senses. Notice five things you see, four different textures you can touch, three things you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Breathe in emotions. Breathe in a positive emotion and breathe out a negative emotion. For example, breathe in peace and breath out fear.
Once you identify your triggers, you can use positive self-talk and self-soothing techniques to calm your body's exaggerated response. Although some trauma triggers may never go away entirely, we can still use mindfulness skills to control our thoughts and reactions. The more control we have over our thoughts, the more blissful we can be.
I'd love to hear what works for you. Comment below and tell me what skills you employ when trauma triggers happen.
Psy.D., H. (2018, October 3). How to Defeat Your Trauma Triggers to Create Happiness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2018/10/how-to-defeat-your-trauma-triggers-to-create-happiness