Triggers of Trauma - Fight, Flight or Freeze

What is a Trigger?

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A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma that can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic. It may also cause a person to have flashbacks (a vivid, often negative memory that may appear without warning), or lose track of their surroundings and “relive” a traumatic event.

Triggers can take many forms. They may be a physical location or the anniversary of a traumatic event. A person could also be triggered by internal processes such as stress.

Sometimes triggers are predictable; a veteran may have flashbacks while watching a violent movie. In other cases, triggers are less intuitive; a person who was physically struck during childhood may flinch (make a quick, nervous movement of the face or body as an instinctive reaction to surprise, fear or pain) whenever someone raises an arm in their direction.

The following list of Fight, Flight, and Freeze are reactions to our Triggers of Trauma:

Fight

  • Crying

  • Hands in fists, desire to punch, rip

  • Flexed/tight jaw, grinding teeth, snarl

  • Fight in eyes, glaring, fight in voice

  • Desire to stomp, kick, smash with legs, feet

  • Feelings of anger/rage

  • Homicidal/suicidal feelings

  • Knotted stomach/nausea, burning stomach

  • Metaphors like bombs, volcanoes erupting

Flight

  • Restless legs, feet /numbness in legs

  • Anxiety/shallow breathing

  • Big/darting eyes

  • Leg/foot movement

  • Reported or observed fidgety-ness, restlessness, feeling trapped, tense

  • Sense of running in life- one activity-next

  • Excessive exercise

Freeze

  • Feeling stuck in some part of body

  • Feeling cold/frozen, numb, pale skin

  • Sense of stiffness, heaviness

  • Holding breath/restricted breathing

  • Sense of dread, heart pounding

  • Decreased heart rate (can sometimes increase)

  • Orientation to threat

How do you calm yourself after being triggered?

How do you comfort and sooth yourself? 

Many attempt to avoid their feelings, and find ways to "numb the pain", which is not only not helpful, it continues to harm and spread to others. Feelings are felt inside and out by ourselves and others. Your reaction to your triggers is your responsibility, but if you don't know how to response to your feelings, what can you do?

Reach out and learn more about It's My Life's trauma-informed mentoring sessions and workshops with resiliency "Tips & Talks for Trusted Adults", developed and led by trauma survivor, Marcella Maggio.