By Dana Morningstar

A trigger is a sight, smell, sound, word, touch, taste, place, or person that sets off an emotional flashback to an event. Flashbacks can relate to a positive or negative event. The trigger is often not seen by others, and can be as seemingly harmless as the smell of baking bread, or daisies blowing in the wind, or more obvious, such as the home in which the abuse took place, seeing the same type of alcohol on the shelf that their abuser drank, seeing the same type of car that they drove, meeting someone who has the same name, or hearing a certain sound such as a loud noise, or “their” song.


Example: John was verbally and emotionally abused by his mother when he was a child. After she was done berating and belittling him, she would tell him that she “loved him anyhow, even though he was so rotten.” John is now dating Brenda, and last night he accidentally knocked over a vase with flowers in it. He apologized for his clumsiness, and began cleaning it up. Brenda was surprised by how upset he was, and in an attempt to reassure him, she told him not to worry, that she loved him anyway (not knowing his mother used to tell him the same thing after she abused him). John felt his chest tighten, and his fists began to clench. Tears sprang to his eyes. His reaction caught both him and Brenda off guard.


Example: Michelle was in an abusive relationship with Todd, who drove a black pickup truck. Even though it has been several years since she last saw or heard from Todd, whenever she sees a black pickup truck, she feels intense panic and anxiety.

Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”

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