Handling Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers are something everyone with dissociative identity disorder experiences. During therapy, outside of therapy, and in the oddest places, triggers can throw you into feeling out of control and reliving what happened to your child-self so long ago.


This article will examine emotional triggers and how to overcome them.


Defining Emotional Triggers



For now, many mental health professionals attach emotional triggers to post-traumatic stress disorder. However, as you who are multiples well know, people with dissociative identity disorder are vulnerable to them too.


Emotional triggers are your experiences or memories that, upon activation, cause a powerful emotional reaction. Emotional triggers can happen anywhere, at home, school, or even during a party.


Understanding your triggers helps you understand and forgive your behavior and understand that these reactions are your survival response to the original trauma you experienced as a child.


How Does An Emotional Flashback from a Trigger Feel?



Everyone, regardless of their mental state, has flashbacks. As an example, I offer the following scenario.


You are walking downtown and decide to walk into a bakery. Once inside, the aroma of freshly baked bread fills your senses. Suddenly, you are transported back to a Christmas where you visited friends. Your friends’ home smelled like home-baked bread, and you had a wonderful time. This is an emotional flashback.


This author has triggers and is aware of their power. I cannot stand next to a man wearing cologne with beer on their breath. Also, strong perfume can lead me into an emotional flashback. Beer, cologne, and perfume are potent triggers that cause me to switch. However, I know these triggers and practice grounding techniques to remain in the now.


Triggers and the accompanying emotional flashbacks cause many things to happen to the human body. Your heart races, your mind becomes blank, and you are ready to flee. This response is called traumatic coupling, an involuntary response that feels overwhelming and uncontrollable.


Every survivor has different emotional triggers and responses to them. The more common ones are listed below.


  • Being ignored
  • Betrayal
  • Feeling unwanted
  • Feeling in danger
  • Rejection
  • Loss of control
  • Loss of independence
  • Unfair treatment
  • Smells that remind you of your childhood
  • Sounds that remind you of what happened to you as a child


There are as many emotional triggers as there are people who experience them.


Know Your Triggers



Do you know your triggers? What shall you do to control your behavior once in an emotional flashback caused by a trigger?


Being aware of your triggers is crucial. You can recognize emotional triggers by the reactions you have to them. Once you have begun experiencing a flashback, it is vital to make a mental note of what that trigger was that you experienced.


Listening to your body is also crucial. There are physical signs of triggers, mainly relating to the anxiety they cause.


  • Disturbed digestion
  • Dizziness
  • Having a pounding heart
  • Cold, sweaty palms
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Feeling an overwhelming need to escape to a safe place
  • Pounding heart


Once you feel your body respond, you should also recognize your triggers.


Handling Your Triggers



Emotional flashbacks caused by triggers are difficult to avoid and, like vomiting, happen unexpectedly. The trick to handling your triggers is to practice ahead of time before you experience them.


It should be evident to you by now that hiding or running away through dissociation is not the answer. It is better to plan so you can manage triggers. Below are some suggestions you can follow if you wish.


Name the trigger. Keep a written list with the names of your family, friends, or situations that trigger you. The list could include particular people, words, places, and behaviors. A list helps you to look out for triggers and helps you be ready for them.


Stay Away from Projection. When you experience a trigger reaction, you are responding as if your past trauma is happening today. That behavior is known as projection. If you are triggered by a situation that reminds you of the past, it is vital to use coping skills to mitigate either your reaction or the trigger.


Identify Your Source Of Your Trigger Reaction. When you identify your triggers, you allow yourself to see the hidden you and find methods to reduce its power over you substantially.


Take Some Deep Breaths. When triggered, you lose your ability to see yourself and your situations objectively; you need to calm yourself on the inside. Taking deep breaths through your nose and slowly exhaling through your mouth is a great way to get and stay calm.


Ending Our Time Together


Everyone experiences triggers, but those of us who have lived through severe childhood trauma are susceptible to flashbacks where we relive what happened to us.


When I encounter triggers, I have learned to name the memory and the trigger, then use coping skills to keep me from losing myself in the flashback. I’m not always successful, but as I have practiced, I have become much more able to stay and get grounded when I encounter a trigger.


It is not humanly possible to avoid all triggers unless you completely isolate yourself. Of course, no one can exist in the vacuum of isolation for long as we are social creatures, and isolation itself is a trigger reminding us of the trauma that drove us there.


“I think repressing what happened is what saved me in my childhood. I was able to use my imagination to create happy events, but a little girl can carry only so much on her own.” ―Erin Merryn.


“Triggers are like little psychic explosions that crash through avoidance and bring the dissociated, avoided trauma suddenly, unexpectedly, back into consciousness.” ― Carolyn Spring.





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