6 Emotional Triggers Survivors of Childhood Trauma Need to Know

Emotional Triggers from Childhood Trauma

What are Emotional Triggers?

Emotional triggers are those things that provoke flashbacks to traumatic events in a person’s life. When a child experiences a traumatic event, it leaves a mark on her that follows her into adulthood. Even if that person gets counseling or therapy, she can revisit the trauma through an emotional trigger. That’s why it’s important to recognize that triggers exist and how they work.

Take my experience as an example. I remember the day well. A friend and I were watching What’s Love Got to Do With It, the movie about Tina Turner’s life. As we’re sitting and watching the movie, the scene comes on where Tina Turner is beaten by her husband Ike Turner and dragged to her bedroom while her young children watched. In the scene, one boy burst into tears. The next thing I know, I burst into tears.

I was crying so hard, my friend grew concerned. My response was more than that of an empathetic watcher. I was sobbing like I was in the scene. And I was. I saw my mother beaten by my father. I was experiencing an emotional trigger. It transported me back in time to when I was the same age as the little boy in the movie. I felt everything he felt, and I remember how sad and confusing those moments were for me. To this day, if I look at that movie, I still feel triggered by that scene, though not as intense as the first time.

Children and others who experience trauma develop trauma responses. Trauma responses are unique to each individual and can include everything from flashbacks and nightmares to intense emotional reactions like crying or weeping. Anything that reminds the individual of the traumatic event can trigger trauma responses. This can be anything from seeing a particular person, place, or thing, to hearing a certain song or watching a particular movie, like in my case.

Emotional triggers reopen long hidden or forgotten wounds. It is important that traumatized people learn to cope with their past pain in order to develop new responses to past trauma. That’s how one can go forward and live a more productive life that can reflect on the pain of the past but not get stuck there.

Trauma responses help us cope with the trauma and protect ourselves from further emotional pain. They also help us understand and deal with the emotions we feel after a disturbing event. For example, I might understand why I’m crying, why I’m feeling so angry, and why I’m feeling so sad. This can help me process the event and move on.

How Can We Identify Emotional Triggers?

There is no one answer to this question. However, some things that might be helpful in identifying emotional triggers include:

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-Reviewing your life history and recalling any traumatic events

-Talking about the event with someone who was present

-Observing your reactions to certain stimuli (e.g. pictures, videos, articles, etc.)

-Experimenting with different triggers to see what works best for you

Related: How Your Toxic Family Upbringing Haunts You as an Adult

Some personal emotional triggers for me include:

-Songs that I listened to frequently when I was younger that made me feel nostalgia or happy

-Smells that remind me of my childhood or my family

-People or things that I see or hear that remind me of someone who has hurt me deeply

Sometimes, life just happens and you experience an emotional trigger that you didn’t recall until that moment. Something that has triggered me in the past is often something that I see, hear, or think about. For example, cigarette smoke is a trigger for me. I remember seeing and smelling my father’s cigarette while I stood before him, being questioned and likely about to get hit. Now, if I smell cigarette smoke, I’ll think about my father and the moment I described above. This is because I associate the scent with my trauma and the emotions I felt as a child. 

What Are Some Examples of Emotional Triggers?

Some examples of emotional triggers are:

-Seeing a person who resembles someone who has caused you emotional pain in the past

-Hearing a song that reminds you of someone who has caused you emotional pain in the past

-Seeing or thinking about a traumatic event

-Receiving a compliment from someone who has hurt you in the past

-Recognizing yourself in a picture or video from a traumatic event

-Being forced by family members to reconcile with someone who has physically, sexually, or mentally abused you in the past

Related: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Though it may seem backwards, it’s important to allow some emotional triggers in your life. Emotional triggers can be used to help you heal from traumatic events, which is the end goal. Experiment with different emotional triggers to see what works best for you. When you can control your response to those triggers, you regain the power and authority over your past, present, and future.

How Can We Deal with Emotional Triggers?

There are a few things that you can do to deal with emotional triggers.

-Talk to a trusted friend or family member about what triggers your emotions and how they affect you. This can help you understand and manage your emotions more effectively.

-Try to identify the emotions that are associated with your emotional triggers. This can help you better understand and manage your emotions.

-Take some time to relax and calm down after experiencing an emotional trigger. This will help to reduce the intensity of the emotions that you are feeling.

-Find ways to avoid or manage emotional triggers that may be causing you problems. 

Some people find that certain songs, smells, or images trigger memories and emotions from past trauma. Others find they need to avoid certain people or things in order to avoid getting overwhelmed. The key is to figure out what works for you, so that you can maintain your emotional health and stability.

Emotional triggers can have a powerful effect on our emotions. For example, they can cause us to feel angry, sad, or scared. They can also lead to flashbacks or nightmares. Some people may feel emotionally unstable and self sabotage themselves.

In conclusion, it is important to be aware of emotional triggers and learn how to deal with them. Identifying and understanding emotional triggers is essential to healing childhood trauma or other traumatic events. Knowing what your triggers are allows you to control your trauma response to them and create a pattern of your design that helps you lessen the pain of the past.

To learn more about changing your life for the better and letting go of the pain of your past, pick up a copy of my book Choosing to Stop the Madness: Overcoming Toxic Family Patterns. I describe how I ended cycles of abuse and unhealthy parenting in my adult life. I can show you how to do the same in yours.

I believe in using words to heal and absorb our pain. My journal Stop the Madness: Overcome Toxic Family Patterns Journal will help you reflect on your past and plan for your future. Pick up a copy today.

If you feel you need the help of a therapist to help you with issues such as relationships, stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even weight loss, reach out to Online-Therapy.com for support. Check out my review of Online-Therapy’s service and a video about them in my blog.

Please visit my website and social media sites to learn more about me.


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