“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.” You repeat to yourself over and over. Your heart is racing so fast it feels like it may explode. You’ve become familiar with this feeling; you have been trauma triggered again.
Stressful events like this can lead to an increased heart rate. According to Dr. John Gottman, your brain instinctively responds to stress when your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute. As a result, adrenaline releases, and you end up in fight or flight mode. Furthermore, your perception changes to “tunnel vision.” Thinking about accomplishing simple tasks may now seem impossible. At this point, it may feel like your brain has been hijacked. Dr. Gottman refers to this as your brain has been “flooded.”
Have you experienced a situation like this before? If so, you may have experienced what is known as being trauma triggered. As you continue to read this article, we will discuss some useful tools to overcome the effects of being trauma triggered.
What do you mean by “trauma triggered”?
Have you experienced trauma before? Trauma can occur when there is a significant event that causes intense emotional pain. Examples of traumatic events can include a violent attack or a serious car accident. Likewise, battling a life-threatening illness, bullying, or domestic violence often causes trauma. Furthermore, experiencing a betrayal such as infidelity can be very traumatic.
Many women whose spouses have betrayed them, or have worked through an addiction, can become trauma triggered when there is a relapse. Likewise, the fear of a relapse, like seeing a specific behavior, can trigger a trauma response. Once you experience the trigger, all the emotions you initially felt the first time around can come flooding back.
The emotional and physical effects of being trauma triggered are real. Your emotions begin to intertwine with your thoughts. “How could you do this again?” “I hate you!” “Why?!” As a result of your intense thoughts and emotions, your body also begins to respond. Physically, you will likely feel your heart rate accelerate. You may start shaking or crying or feeling nauseous.
At this point, typically, one of two things will happen:
- Your thoughts immediately take over, and you’re ready to fight or flee.
- You can ask yourself, “What is going on right now.”
Generally speaking, if you are new to this experience, you will likely respond with a flooded brain. As a result, you are ready to fight or flee. However, with practice, option two can be the place you respond from. Over time, you can learn how to interject the question, “What is going on right now?” As a result, even though your brain has been hijacked, you’ll have enough awareness to know you need a time out.
Trauma Triggered? Your Heart Rate Can Be a Good Indicator
An average heart rate beats between 60-100 beats per minute. Heart rates can vary depending upon your activity level or medications.
Let’s step back into the moment with your spouse. You have just learned he has relapsed with his pornography addiction. As you’re trying to grasp at any remaining composure you have, your husband responds with, “You need to calm down!” At that moment, the flood gate lifts, and you no longer feel like yourself. You may begin to yell as anger takes over. Welcome to flight or fight mode. As adrenaline releases, you feel ready to fight. Physically, your heart rate accelerates to a new speed. You may not realize you’ve lost your ability to reach for rational thoughts. The situation is now in the perfect setting to spiral out of control.
Being aware of your heart rate can help in moments of high emotion like this. For example, as your ability to think clearly slips away, you can tell your brain, “My heart is racing.” or ask yourself, “What is going on right now?” As you practice, your brain learns how to react to these thoughts, rather than its initial response to your increased heart rate. In other words, you’ll learn how to recognize you need a time out before you respond.
A few moments by yourself can help you calm down and bring your ability to think clearly back into the forefront of your mind. At that time, you’ll be able to address your emotions, and the situation, in a much more effective way. Awareness is a very powerful tool.
7 Steps to Handle Being Trauma Triggered
When the present experience is too overwhelming to process what is happening, a moment to yourself can help.
Here are seven steps to move from high levels of distress to calm, clear thinking, using the acronym “FREEDOM”:
- Focus: Concentrate on a single idea grounded in our core values and sense of authentic self
- Recognize: Try to identify what is triggering the alarm reaction. Take note of even small things that you may not ordinarily notice.
- Emotions: Differentiate between how you respond when you are in alarm mode and when you are not.
- Evaluate: Notice the differences between the way you make sense of reality when you are in alarm mode and when you are not.
- Define: Identify goals that come out of thoughtful consideration. Separate them from alarm-based goals. For example, “I want to hurt you like you’re hurting me.” versus “I want to help us move forward.”
- Options: Identify and pursue adaptive choices and separate them from alarm-based behaviors
- Make: Make a proactive, positive contribution by getting out of alarm mode and back into the primary mode
“You know you are experiencing trauma that requires specialized deep-treatment work by a trained and experienced therapist when you have continuous high anxiety, depression, out of control panic attacks, reactive uncontrollable anger, reactive recurring memories that pop up without warning, experience emotional numbing and more. When traditional talk therapy and medication and coping strategies do not work. When the inside pain is released from memory it is usually magical to watch the symptoms reduce dramatically and very quickly relationships work and people find happiness like never before!” Michael Blair: MFT, MS, NLP, 30 Yrs
At Bloom For Women, we can help you identify when you’re trauma triggered. We can help you to identify triggers and teach you how to handle them. At bloomforwomen.com, our free courses can help you identify extra steps to refine your decision-making processes. We are here to guide you through this process again and again until it becomes second nature.