If you are serious about freeing yourself from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), you must understand what is happening in your traumatized brain.
Without this understanding, triggers will remain mysterious intrusions that feel like out-of-control reruns of things you don’t want to remember. These “reruns” – commonly referred to as triggers – are the main troublemakers of PTSD that will lead you to avoid people and things that remind you of what happened. Over time, this avoidance can lead to more and more restrictions in your life until enjoyment is minimal and avoidance is your primary daily activity.
Experiencing a trigger from PTSD can be overwhelming because it often seems to come out of nowhere. This is the reason many people who struggle with PTSD symptoms after a traumatic experience feel like life is out of control. The sudden, unexpected, out-of-control feelings can make you feel like you can’t trust your body. A simple trip to the grocery store or out with friends can seem too unpredictable and potentially upsetting to risk going out.
Nobody enjoys living this way.
Many of us who have suffered trauma seek therapy. To our disappointment, we often discover that telling the trauma story only serves to increase our ability to give a detailed description of how the trigger began – without helping us feel better: but we already know that. Our bodies tell us where it is coming from every time the trigger raises its ugly head again. Talking about it doesn’t make triggers less powerful. In fact, sometimes it’s the talking that brings them back with a vengeance.
What Can You Do To Heal PTSD Triggers?
The sad fact is that about 8 million adults suffer with PTSD in any given year according to the National Center for PTSD. In addition, About 10 of every 100 women (10%) and 4 of every 100 men (4%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives. Unfortunately, not all therapists and counselors who claim to treat PTSD have the skills to effectively help you remove the lasting effects of trauma and their consequences from your life.
One of the first steps to healing your trauma triggers is to understand what is happening in your brain when you get a flashback or PTSD trigger. To effectively address your triggers you must have this knowledge.
Your brain is programmed to protect you. Once a trauma of great enough threat to your life, happiness and/or well-being has been registered in your brain’s emotion centers, all of the minute details of the event or events that threatened you get catalogued in a way that allows your brain to warn of even the slightest similarity to a past threat that arises in a real time event.
The problem is that the recurrence of similar, subtle, minute details related to something that happened in your past doesn’t necessarily mean that a threat is again imminent. For example, if someone that hurt you had a particular fragrance and you smell that same aroma again while walking past the perfume counter in a department store, your trauma brain will alert you that danger is near. You look around for the person who harmed you and notice that you are in the perfume section – a neutral location. You tell yourself that the person who harmed you isn’t anywhere around. Yet your body is still signaling an alarm: your heart is racing, your hands are sweaty, you’re shaking. In this situation, your body creates fear where fear isn’t the appropriate response. Still, you leave the area as quickly as possible.
Fear is an appropriate response to get you out of harm’s way when actual danger is present. But the fear associated with PTSD is disruptive, life-limiting and troublesome for relationships.
In the example I used here, you can see that there are two problems presented by the trigger of the familiar aroma. The first is that of time: trauma triggers get stored in the brain in a kind of time-independent state of suspended animation. The second problem is that of language. When a trigger leads to a strong fear response in the body, we often react in fight/flight or freeze. The body reacts ahead of our ability to reason through or talk to ourselves about what is happening. The response is rapid and knee-jerk.
You Need A System that Disrupts the Trauma Response by Inserting Time & Language
It may seem obvious, but if every time a trigger causes you to begin to get overwhelmed by a flood of memories, you can effectively retrain your brain to recognize the trigger as a “not now” and “not a threat” event, you will have the control and reversal tools in your hands to eliminate PTSD and it’s effects from your life.