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June 6 2022

Common Betrayal Trauma Triggers to Look Out For

Kristin Beaufort,
A woman crying due to betrayal trauma triggers.

“Triggered” has become a bit of a buzzword over the past few years, often used throughout social media to put down someone deemed too delicate and absurd. This cultural phenomenon even twisted a video of a peaceful discussion into a popular mocking meme. 

Because society has distorted the meaning, admitting you are experiencing betrayal trauma triggers you may feel as though you are being ridiculous or too sensitive. However, you have been through intense emotional distress, and your symptoms are not an overreaction.

While triggers are as unique as the situations that cause them and the individuals involved, most fall into two general categories. Knowing the common betrayal trauma triggers to look for is an integral step to healing. 

What is a trigger? 

Triggers are a universal experience of trauma survivors everywhere. Whether a car accident, a severe assault, a sudden loss of a loved one, or a betrayal—a trigger is any reminder of that event, prompting an increase or return of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. The trauma may have been months or even years ago, but the thoughts and feelings come in as strong as if it just happened.

Triggers can be:

  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • Sensations 

Triggers often appear in the familiar everyday moments of life, making them even more devastating because nobody can avoid them entirely despite the most calculated efforts. 

What are some common betrayal trauma triggers?

When thinking of triggers, external triggers typically come to mind. These people, places, and things remind of the event. For someone who survived a car accident, this might include passing the location of the crash. Someone with betrayal trauma might be triggered by attending the local pool and seeing others in swimsuits.

There are, however, also internal triggers. These happen within the head or body of the individual affected by trauma. They can occur during routine activities or in a non-trauma-related heightened situation. While exercising, an increased heart rate may trigger flashbacks to the event and a racing heart. Having a dream during the night could lead to feelings of anxiousness throughout the next.

While triggers are situational and vary from person to person, there are common internal and external triggers to look out for.

Common Internal TriggersCommon External Triggers
MemoriesBehaviors of others, especially the person who caused the trauma
DreamsMovies, television shows, news, or advertisements
Emotions such as anger, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and fearArguing with someone
Physical sensations such as pain, a pounding heart, tense musclesA particular time of the day
Feelings of being out of control, abandoned, overwhelmed, vulnerable, or restlessMusic, words, or sounds tied to the experience
Sense of being in danger or on guardRelationships starting, ending, or changing
ShameHolidays, anniversaries, special dates – including discovery day (D-day)
GuiltA specific location
Feeling stretched to the limitSomeone who reminds you of the trauma, including the betraying partner

The nature of the trauma further complicates sexual betrayal (affairs, sex and pornography addiction). For the betrayed partner, triggers often come in the form of places, people, and things woven into their everyday life. Reminders lie in pictures, gyms, restaurants, work, wedding rings, anniversaries, gifts, movies, ads, words, colleagues, friends, and the betraying partner. It’s no wonder Dr. Kevin Skinner found 43% of betrayed partners continue to feel the side effects of betrayal trauma for more than two years.

How do I identify my betrayal trauma triggers? 

Determining your triggers can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Reminders of thoughts, emotions, and traumatic events can be abrupt, overwhelming, and alarming. The response can be intense and feel disproportionate to what is happening at the moment.

One of the easiest ways to know you have been triggered is paying attention to your body. Your mental and physical processes recognize a signal of danger from your past. In order to protect you and keep you safe from harm, your body and mind go into overdrive. 

 You may experience:

  • Bursts of anger
  • Avoidance or hypervigilance
  • Defensiveness
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Racing heart
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid/shallow breathing
  • Tunnel vision
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Foggy or unclear thinking
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling emotionally flooded or numb
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Illness or disease

Keeping track of your reactions and when they happen can be an excellent way to organize and anticipate situations that might be triggering.

How can I manage my triggers?

While you may not be able to avoid betrayal trauma triggers, there are steps you can take to help regulate yourself when they do come. 

  1. Acknowledge what is happening to you instead of avoiding it. 
  2. Accept the emotions you are having and work through them. Name the feeling and let it move through your body. 
  3. Take time to understand what you need, whether taking a walk, practicing meditation, calling a support person, or speaking positive self-affirmations.
  4. Practice slow, deep breathing to help calm your racing heart and mind. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, then breathe out for four seconds. Repeat until you feel relaxed and centered.  
  5. Turn to others for a support system and foster healthy connections with family and friends. 

Triggers often seriously impair your ability to think clearly and recall information you typically remember easily. Creating a trigger management plan will help you emotionally, mentally, and physically regulate when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. 

You don’t have navigate your triggers alone. Connect with a Bloom Guided coach to create your personalized plan.

About the Author