Realizing and Dealing with Triggers

I’ve been struggling recently for no real reason, like depression slowly creeping and trying to lure me into permanent darkness.

It starts with one little thing (like my struggle to lose weight, the feeling of inadequacy in so many areas of life, feeling completely overwhelmed with life, etc.) and then snowballs until it feels crushing. I feel down and emotional.

Friday, it all escalated. I was feeling all the bad feels and I realized something. It’s September. I always start feeling lower than low in September. I used to think it had something to do with my birthday, though that doesn’t make sense. When it was my birthday, I didn’t want attention drawn to me. I always wanted to disappear into the shadows, forgotten and unimportant. But, I couldn’t figure out why my birthday would cause me to feel so down.

Standing in the parking lot of the grocery store on Friday, I thought, “Why am I feeling so Realizing and Dealing with Triggers.jpgdown?” Then the realization creeped in. It’s September. I always feel like this in September. This is around the time of year I was sexually abused at not quite three years old. I don’t really know if it was at the end of August or the beginning of September, but I know the depression comes strong and without fail around this time of year.

My breathing quickened. I felt panicky and emotional. My heart pounded in my ears. I had found another trigger: September.

The weight of it increased and I felt frustrated and scared and I remembered something else. It was last September when I tried (and failed) to cut my wrist. It was this action that terrified me and I knew I needed to get more help because though I was doing better in a lot of ways, my lows were getting lower. Though I can see this as a good thing–me recognizing I needed more help–it felt like another failure. I had already been through therapy. I should be fine. But, clearly, I wasn’t.

So, back to this trigger realization. I talked it out with my husband via a messaging app. I told him about my cutting attempt last September (which I though I had told him about already, but I guess I just thought about it a bunch of times and hadn’t actually told him). I cried in silence. At least I wasn’t alone with this secret of mine and I was figuring out what was wrong with me every September. He expressed his love and support. I now need to work on un-triggering September.

What are your triggers? How do you know if it is a trigger? You can have a memory of something, feel sad or regretful about it, without it being a trigger. However, a trigger can cause you to disconnect from the present, hyperventilation, an increase heart rate, etc. It’s a more intense reaction to something that isn’t happening now, but your body reacts as if it is a current situation. Triggers can be smells, people, places, situations, or even a time of year.

What should you do when you are triggered?

  • Realize what is causing you to trigger.
  • Try to bring yourself to the present–focus on what you can see, feel, and hear that are part of your real surroundings.
  • Tell yourself that you are safe and that the unsafe event is not happening now.
  • Talk to your spouse, friend, or someone else who will be understanding and supportive.
  • Write down the trigger and how you felt so you can bring it up at your next therapy appointment.
  • Make sure you treat yourself with love and kindness and focus on the positive about yourself.

That list isn’t comprehensive. Please talk to a therapist about what else you can do when triggers arise. Triggers can feel very real and cause feelings that are unsettling. With proper professional help, these triggers and the instances of them can decrease. Don’t give up or feel like you are not progressing. Healing from abuse can take a lot of time. Be patient and allow yourself the time you need to fully heal.


10 thoughts on “Realizing and Dealing with Triggers

  1. I really, really respect what you’re doing with this blog. I hope it’s helping others. I’m an emotional abuse survivor. It feels lame to say it. Sometimes I feel like it isn’t “real” abuse when I read about what sexual and physical abuse victims go through. Then I read a post like this, and I start making a list of my triggers. The things that send me into darkness. I’m grateful you’ve shared your experience. My biggest trigger is raised voices. If someone raises their voice in an aggressive way, it sends me straight back to my childhood and I want to run and hide in my closet. I actually did that once when I overheard my father-in-law getting more and more upset. I found myself sitting in a closet, clutching my three year old daughter to my chest. She was wiping tears off my cheeks before I realized how extreme my reaction was. I hope your Septembers get better.


    • Emotional abuse is definitely real abuse. It’s awful. Wrapped up with other abuses, I think emotional abuse is something that accompanies other abuses as well. I hope you’re working through it and/or getting some professional help to aid you in healing. Remember it’s not your fault and is not a reflection of your worth or who you are. It’s a reflection of the abusers inner self and struggles.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing. Knowing ones triggers is the step in the right direction toward recovery. In fact the more you are in recovery the more you realize what your triggers are. At least that is what the case is for me. For me knowing that I am more easily triggered during the holidays as well as during late autumn through early spring is key for my recovery. I just make sure I am prepared during that time with positive coping strategies. I hope that as time goes on that you are able to find good coping skills that are helpful to you.


  3. My biggest triggers right now are mens cologne and seeing little children. Both take me back to my childhood and when the abuse happened. Triggers are horrible and Im still not able to get past them


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