A trigger is a sight, smell, sound, word, touch, taste, place, or person that sparks an emotional flashback to a previous experience. Triggers can relate to a positive or negative event but are more commonly associated with a negative or traumatic event. The trigger is often not seen by others. A trigger can be as seemingly harmless as the smell of baking bread or daisies blowing in the wind. A trigger can be 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 kind of car that they drove, meeting someone who has the same name or hearing a particular sound such as a loud noise, or “their” song.
Example of a Trigger
Dan 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.” Dan 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 say to him the same thing after she abused him. Dan felt his chest tighten, and his fists began to clench. Tears sprang to his eyes. His reaction caught both him and Brenda off guard.
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.