People who have suffered childhood trauma are usually bothered by what we call triggers. Triggers may be smells, sounds, sights or situations and although the stimuli are innocuous in the present, the brain remembers them as life threatening. These particular stimuli are associated with some terrifying event in the past.
The brain remembers them and our survival system goes into action. It’s the amygdala that sets off the alarm. It signals danger so that we can fight or run. Our hearts start pounding, sending a good blood supply to our arms and legs to help us run or fight. All ability to think would be wasted at such a time. We now act on reflex and are capable of feats we couldn’t imagine in a normal state.
There are a number of my own embarrassing examples of being triggered in my book, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist:
On page 156 I describe what happened when I was leading a Centre For Focusing retreat at Niagara Falls.
Gene Gendlin was the guest teacher. I had put him in the room adjoining mine. He said he loved the view of the falls and was enjoying the wonderful old convent that housed us.
“Let me see your room,” he said as we were returning to the bedroom area. He followed me into mine.
The next thing I knew I’d jumped into the spacious clothes closet. How did I get there? I do not know. Some primitive part of my brain reacted in terror to the present harmless situation. I was like the traumatized war veteran diving under the table when a car backfired outside. There was no time to think. My survival mechanism was triggered and I reacted without consciously registering any danger. It was a remarkable albeit humiliating demonstration of how the traumatized brain can react to a perceived threat.
Do you have experiences with triggers you’d be willing to share? If so, perhaps you’d share them in the comment section.