Dealing With Triggers From Abuse

The trauma faced by persons experiencing the varying types of gender based violence such as domestic violence, child abuse or verbal abuse  can take a toll on the individual. Your family or friend may have been abused a year, 5 years or even 20 years ago but the pain that it caused can leave a lasting scar. This pain can be further triggered by things in the environment. This can be social media, at work, on the television or even from someone speaking.

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is an instance when you become physically and/or emotionally reactive to certain sights, sounds, or smells related in some way to the trauma you experienced. These symptoms and feelings are part of your brain’s natural response to unsafe experiences from the past. Your reaction to triggers does not define who you are. Your ability to “control” them does not put a limit your healing or growth.

What Does “Being Triggered” Actually Feel Like?

Everyone experiences triggers differently, but triggers generally produce some sort of negative physical and/or emotional response.

Physical responses to a trigger might include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Difficulty breathing and/or hyperventilating
  • Tunnel vision or an inability to focus

Ways to Handle Triggers


Writing is one of the simplest ways to address and process feelings associated with the trauma of your past. This is sometimes called expressive writing, and has quite a lot of research to back up the claim that it’s helpful for survivors. As you think and write about the triggering experience, keep the following situations and questions in mind:


Many survivors use grounding exercises to help them de-stress during moments of extreme emotions, dissociations, or flashbacks.

Survivors can try this simple, sensory-driven grounding exercise to stay calmin the present moment:

  • Name 5 things you can see.
  • Name 4 things you can feel.
  • Name 3 things you can hear.
  • Name 2 things you can smell.
  • Name 1 thing you can taste.


Breathing may sound simple but is one of the easiest and quickest ways to ground yourself. Breathing can be done anywhere, anytime and requires no supplies or equipment. Survivors can breathe their way to balanced emotions by. Intentional, mindful breathing increases the brain’s serotonin levels, which in turn helps calm the mind, balance emotions, and nourish the body.

Managing triggers does not come easy but with thoughtful self-reflection and practicing the best methods that work for you, you will learn how to recognize and cope. 

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