Understanding trauma triggers

It is hard to not be triggered into trauma in such a toxic stress society as ours. There are stressors lurking around many corners. What can we do to protect ourselves?

As Black people, we continue to live with much self-doubt, inferiority, and anti-Blackness that streams from our historical and intergenerational trauma. These uncomfortable truths have continued to be present in many of our lives.

These feelings, mindsets, and thoughts are merely responses to the oppressive and disenfranchising system we have lived in since our times of enslavement. These are not excuses for the things we may do or say; however, it is context for understanding our current plight.

One result of our experiences as Black people is our “trauma triggers.” Yes, as individuals we can and do get triggered by both our individual and collective trauma experiences.

Trauma triggers are events or occurrences that remind us (either on a conscious or unconscious level) of our original traumatic experiences, causing us to feel extreme distress similar to that felt at the time of that original trauma. We are particularly likely to be affected by triggers at times of acute stress.

Traumatic triggers come in many forms. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people.  A trigger is a reminder of past traumatizing events. These triggers can be things we experience personally or have been exposed to via another medium.

Many things can be a possible trigger for someone. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.

Consider the impact of seeing Black people being shot or harassed by police officers on media platforms. Then you are driving in your car and a police vehicle pulls up beside your car. Some may get nervous. Some may get shaky or paranoid. Some may have an increased heart rate. These are some of the potential symptoms of a trauma trigger.

You may not have done anything to prompt being pulled over by the police. However, the exposure to multiple people who share the same cultural background as you being violated or executed can lead to you imagining the same thing happening to you, thus triggering your trauma.

Part of our work as Black people is in changing our understanding so that we always keep in mind that our responses must remain neutral to events and interactions to prevent a trauma response. Unfortunately, many Black people may adopt long-term patterns that reflect their efforts to adapt to the traumatizing life experiences.

We must work to hold in our minds the awareness that this behavior and these patterns reflect strategies that we have developed to keep ourselves safe. This is, in essence, a reflection of our collective strength and resiliency.

Once we become aware of triggers, we might feel a desire to “get rid of” the trigger. It is recommended that you avoid situations that engage the trigger and try to keep the environments we experience as calm as possible. But there will always be trauma triggers that we cannot anticipate and cannot avoid.

In essence, I recommend that all Black people engage in living trauma-informed lifestyles due to our historical experiences. We must actively develop the skills to manage our trauma responses both in our comfort zones and elsewhere in the world.

We can begin to develop these skills on a personal level or seek out professional help to address them. Either way, we all deserve to live in a society where we can be healthy in a holistic manner.