There are many hidden trauma triggers and signs. Today I want to help everyone learn how to spot trauma triggers within themselves or another person. I will also give you a few examples of trauma triggers that maybe most people are unaware of. So, let’s unpack this subject by first learning to recognize the signs. Before diving in, know that everyone responds to trauma differently. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to come to terms with and process mentally and emotionally significant events. Below are some common trauma signs and symptoms.
- The trouble with sleep: Someone can sleep more, have difficulty shutting down the mind and being able to fall asleep, have trouble going back to sleep because of a chatty mind, or sleeps less than usual. People can find their minds on high alert when it is time to sleep, but they struggle with clocking their mind out for the night.
- Unexplained outbursts of anger: When you are constantly walking on eggshells or being abused, eventually, a part of you will not tolerate or take any more pressure, instability, and stressors. The more you get angry, the more it becomes a habit pattern. The angry part of you can be a self-protection mechanism because the authentic self has been allowing too much drama to be pushed under the rug. The angry part comes out and wants the drama to stop. Therefore, you can have two conflicting aspects of yourself. One part is pushing you to stand up for yourself and set healthy boundaries. The other part of you is scared, can freeze, or go into the please and appease mode for survival purposes. Either way, anger outbursts, blackouts, dissociating, and having a short fuse are all hidden trauma signs.
- Eating habits change: You could be overeating, eating too little, making poor food choices to self-soothe, or eating your feelings.
- Obsessive worry: One’s mind can feel like it’s on a hamster wheel. Spinning and spinning. Draining someone mentally and emotionally.
- Difficulty focusing: A person can be stuck in confusion and feel flustered. One can struggle at work, at school, following a conversation, and completing a task.
- Depression: One can feel sadness, hopelessness, and despair. You can be brought to tears more easily and can feel extremely vulnerable.
- Fear and Anxiety: Fear and anxiety can be heightened. One can feel unstable, unsafe, insecure, and want to isolate themselves to feel safe. Some people can experience an anxiety or panic attack.
- Thoughts of self-harm: When someone is struggling with hidden trauma signs and nobody can seem to relate to their struggles, a person can think about doing self-harm. They want the pain to go away; at times, self-harm is an escape tool because their reality is too painful.
- Intrusive thoughts: I have heard that when someone has intrusive thoughts, it is like they are struggling with an angel and devil on their shoulder. This is similar to the anger part discussed earlier.
- Feeling numb inside: Trauma can make someone shut down because feeling painful feelings is too intense. A person wants to shut them off and escape.
- Difficulty tracking conversations: Trauma does change the brain. It can feel like one’s brain has been fried because it is challenging to follow directions, engage in a conversation, and listen when someone is having a conversation. Only chunks of the dialogue are retained within the brain. One can be physically there, but one can mentally check out from time to time.
- Denial and shock: Denial is a coping mechanism. Shock can fry the brain, body, and emotions.
- Irritability and mood swings: Life can feel like a roller coaster. One can have their good days, and the next day they can hardly get out of bed. Irritability occurs when there is the see-saw imbalance.
- Feeling withdrawn: One can feel disconnected, isolated, not like their usual self, and might want to withdraw from the world, family members, school, friends, and social activities.
- Shut down: A person can be having a normal conversation; out of the blue, that person can shut down. They go into the PTSD trauma freeze response. They struggle with finding their voice and the words to use. They can feel trapped and confused, as if they do not control their mind or body. They might want to cry because they feel so helpless when they shut down.
- Addictive Behaviors: There are many addictive behaviors. The key is to watch the warning signs of how often a person is gambling, drinking, eating their emotions, watching porn, popping pills, or overspending.
As you can see from the image above, all these things can become traumatic for a person to handle. It is like an overload upon the brain, emotions, and physical body. Then, the computer crashes, and the operating system gets fried. A person feels off or out of place. Many people assume that trauma only impacts one’s mental health. This is not true. Trauma will disrupt a persons physical health. There have been studies that have shown a direct correlation between trauma and health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancer. When I was struggling with trauma I experienced insomnia, fatigue, nightmares, racing heartbeat, irregular heart beats, muscle tension, body aches and pains, anxiety attack, and was startled easily. These are all physical signs of trauma. I wrote about in Chapter 56, how I had to have surgery on my heart because my body could no longer handle the high intense trauma drama.
I can prove this point from my own experience. If you own a Fitbit, you can learn a lot about your body and how it responds to stressors, trauma triggers, and your overall health. Recently, I got into a disagreement with a someone that I invited back into my life. We used to be close, but when I invited them back into my life, the friendship was questionable. During our disagreement, I had to remind them of our agreement to show each other mutual respect and common decency. Hard to believe, right? There are people out there that do not respect or like boundaries or agreements. Long story short, several narcissistic behaviors surfaced and it validated why this person should not be in my life. Well, they retaliated and tried to vandalize my property when they expected I would be asleep. Shocking? Yes! I tried to put it behind me, but my body responded differently. Like many people, I struggled with cognitive dissonance. I didn’t want to believe that someone would try to trauma trigger me, but they did. Then like many people, I was in shock and denial. Denial that it was no big deal and I could just shrug it off. I was unaware of how deeply this event impacted me. I started to worry that they would do it again, had intrusive thoughts, ate less than usual, felt some anxiety when I saw them again in passing, and I could feel how this trauma trigger was bleeding into my relationship and life. I had to stop and listen to my body’s warning signs.
My Fitbit history gave me the proof I needed to understand how my body responded to this assault. And let’s be honest here, how many of us just try to stuff our emotions down. Many of us are too busy with work and life. We don’t have time to stop and really dive into our emotions and mental state of mind. As you can see, my resting heart rate went from an average of 59 to 67. Then after the disagreement, my heart rate variability dropped. It impacted my sleeping pattern and put me on edge. They know I have security cameras, but they were able to avoid being recorded. It has taken my body at little over a week to return to its normal resting heart rate, sleep patterns and rhythms. Therefore, if you own a Fitbit, use all the features. It can tell you a lot about yourself and how your body responds to stress, threats, drama, and other unexpected life events. After the assault, I realized that I am a hidden trigger for this person. How? I am seen as an authority figure and they do not respect people in a position of authority from their past trauma experiences. When they pretended to not recall our mutual agreement and refused to show kindness and respect to one another, I had to put my foot down. That is when they said to end it here, meaning our friendship and I agreed. Me ending it was a trauma trigger because I did not give them the win they were seeking. I guess they expected me to be hurt or upset, but would still keep the friendship. Therefore, hurt people try to hurt people.
Most people would not consider themselves a trauma trigger, but we can be. If someone’s father or mother died and they sound and look exactly like them, they can be a trauma trigger for their family members, neighbors, or friends of the person that passed away. If your dog accidentally passed away and you see another dog that looks similar to yours, that dog can be a trauma trigger. If someone experienced a miscarriage, baby passed away, or child, infants and small children can be a trauma trigger.
FHE Health has some wonderful blog posts if you are seeking more information about how to spot trauma triggers. For example, 27 signs your teen maybe traumatized, how to recognize signs of trauma in children of addictions, and how to gauge the severity of trauma and respond appropriately.
SMELL: Now, let’s talk about hidden trauma triggers and how to spot trauma triggers. A person can be triggered by someone’s body wash, deodorant, cologne, or perfume. The smell can trigger a person’s trauma memory. Let me give you an example. In the book, What Happened to You?, by Bruce D. Perry, M.D. Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey. He tells a story about a young boy that would act out in only one of his classes. It was discovered that the teacher was wearing the same scented deodorant cologne his alcoholic abusive father wore. When the teacher was asked to change deodorants, the behaviors stopped.
APPEARANCE: Some people can be triggered by a person’s appearance, style of dress, hair style, haircut, and personal hygiene. If you recall in the podcast, Being your authentic self, I was triggered when I saw a man walk into an event I was attending and he looked just like my son’s father. Same hair color, hair style, height, facial hair, weight, body language, and attire. The only difference is his eyes were not green, but blue. Did I run and hide when I saw them? Nope. I was triggered, but crept closer and closer until I saw the difference in their eye color.
SOUNDS AND TONE OF VOICE: If someone was abused as a child, hearing another child cry can trigger their hidden trauma. We have all heard stories of veterans being trauma triggered by the sound of a car backfiring, fireworks, or gun fire. If you ever had to be ambulanced to the ER, the siren sound can trigger that trauma memory. I recall working with a client that had the fear of hearing the telephone ring. Why she had this fear is her husband got into a car accident. Every time the phone rang, it was the hospital reporting more bad news about her husband. Someone can raise their voice and it can trigger a trauma memory of being yelled at. Even though the person is not yelling at you, the increased tone of voice can be triggering.
I do have a long list and I could go into details about each one, but I know you will get the point. Here is a mini list I created which can be hidden trauma triggers. The KEY is self awareness. I know I can sound like a broken record, but when you care about someone and can spot trauma triggers, you can be their life vest. Also, you can learn more about yourself, like I did with my Fitbit. Here is the list.
How to spot trauma triggers in yourself or another person: (How one responds and reacts gives it away)
1. Specific location: Courthouse, restaurant, night club, park, classroom, football field, locker room, or freeway off ramp where a car accident occurred. Fear of heights can be included in this list. Returning to the same school when there was a shooting or going to the same location an accident or trauma occurred. Being trapped in an elevator (fear of small spaces).
2. Animals: Fear of dogs, spiders, snakes, bees, or other animals that might have injured or hurt you. If you did not get injured or hurt by a specific animal, but still experience fear and anxiety around that animal, one could have gotten that fear from hearing someone tell their nightmare story, watching someone in a movie, on TV, or in real life.
3. Natural disasters: Flood, rain storm, tornado, or earthquake.
4. Doctor or dentist: Fear of needles, dental treatment, surgery, or vaccines.
5. Certain foods or beverages: When someone has gotten really sick from an alcoholic beverage, they most likely will not take the risk and try to drink it again. Same goes with foods.
Self-aware of the changes within yourself and another person you care about is essential in learning how to spot trauma triggers. Some can be changes in your child’s grades and social interactions. Another would be how you can longer have a rational conversation with them. When you are polite and rational with the person, yet it backfires because you are unaware that YOU may be their trauma trigger. Observing what is different from their usual self can be a warning sign. Stopping and figuring out how long these new habits, behaviors, and patterns started and developed can support you in learning how to spot trauma triggers. Do they meet the profile above with the trauma triggers? They might not meet them all, but remember; everyone is different. Has their personality changed? Have they gone from being happy and cheerful most of the time to being pessimistic and negative? The hobbies they enjoyed and loved immediately stopped. Your daughter’s friends came over often; now your house is quiet, and your daughter is moody. What happened? What changed? Your ability to read and spot the trauma triggers can support someone in recovering and getting the professional help they need.
I hope this information has been helpful in learning how to spot trauma triggers that can be directly in your face or hidden within ourselves. I have created a FREE eBook, which you can download. In the 28 page eBook, I teach you how to use the End Game Technique, which I spoke about in the blog post and podcast regarding reactive abuse vs mutual abuse. Enjoy!