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Understanding and Navigating Triggers: How Childhood Trauma Shapes Adult Responses



My recovery journey consists of similarities that any survivor of childhood abuse can relate to as well as differing aspects because we are all individuals with unique experiences and trauma responses. With my many years of working with my own dissociative identities and other survivors, I have identified some trauma responses that you may be able to relate to.

  • Being lied to: The truth is, people lie. People lie to others, to themselves when they want to justify some behavior and even to themselves when something bad has happened (although denial is a survival protective mechanism). When people in our lives lie to us or we see them lying to other people, this can trigger the wound of being unable to trust. Survivors of childhood trauma may feel this more strongly than others. This can remind them of caregivers who caused them to feel unsafe as children. Being gaslit or blamed for others' dishonesty can intensify these feelings of unsafety and cause heightened trigger responses.

  • Being ignored: Survivors of childhood trauma may have a deeply ingrained fear of abandonment or neglect. Being ignored by someone, such as when they are preoccupied with their phone or not paying attention when you speak, can trigger feelings of being neglected or abandoned.

  • Being interrupted: As a child, your voice may not have been heard, leading to feelings that your words didn't matter. Being interrupted or talked over can touch on this wound, sometimes even leading to a shut-down hypo aroused trigger response or the complete opposite; a hyper aroused more aggressive or confrontational response as it activates this inner wound.

  • Having to wait: For survivors of trauma, waiting can trigger a history of uncertainty or instability. Learning to be patient in a fast busy world is necessary in coping with life, but if you have experienced unreliable care or lived in perpetual anticipation as a child and not getting your needs met, waiting as an adult can manifest as impatience and as an intolerance to uncertainty and can trigger feelings of desperation and can touch on unmet needs when you did have to wait and your wait did not end with getting cared for. (I think of having to grow up and get my needs met as an adult)

  • Disorganization: Growing up in chaotic environments can lead to a strong aversion to disorder. This may develop into an obsessive need for control and order, possibly even leading to obsessive-compulsive tendencies. A messy room, for example, can cause inner chaos and stress.

  • Criticism: Even constructive feedback can feel like criticism due to the wound of inadequacy. Constant criticism or belittlement during childhood can make survivors hypersensitive to criticism as adults, affecting their self-esteem and self-worth.

  • Loud noises: While some people refer to this as PTSD, loud noises can trigger more than just sensory overload. For survivors of aggressive environments, sudden loud noises or sounds can bring back feelings of fear and anxiety associated with past conflict or violence.

  • Passive-aggressive behavior: If you grew up in a home with passive-aggressive caregivers, encountering passive-aggressive behavior as an adult can be highly triggering. It can take you back to the feeling of being a powerless child, unable to express discomfort or frustration.

  • Being rushed or having to hurry: In a trauma environment, there's often a sense of pressure and high expectations. Constantly being hurried or pushed to hurry in childhood can create adverse reactions to similar situations in adulthood, leading to stress and anxiety.

  • Feeling judged: Survivors of childhood trauma may have experienced harsh judgment from caregivers. As adults, being judged or feeling like you're being evaluated can trigger feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.

  • Feeling trapped: If you experienced situations in childhood where you felt trapped or unable to escape, situations in adulthood that evoke a sense of confinement or lack of control can trigger anxiety and panic.

  • Unexpected changes: In a traumatic environment, stability is often lacking. Therefore, unexpected changes or disruptions in plans can be highly distressing for survivors, as it can remind them of the unpredictability of their past.

  • Asking for help and not receiving it: This can be an incredibly potent trigger rooted in a survivor's past experiences, where reaching out for assistance often results in feelings of profound vulnerability and despair. The act of seeking help is a monumental step requiring vulnerability and trust, qualities that may have been deeply eroded by past traumas. When met with indifference, apathy, disbelief, or complete rejection of help it reinforces the false belief that their needs and feelings are not of value, they're not worthy of support or care and touches on the core issue of being powerless which intensifies the feelings of worthlessness and shame. Survivors may have reached out to trusted figures or authorities, only to have their pleas ignored or dismissed. Not getting the help you need for your physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health or even not getting a job or being selected for something you applied for can touch on deep-seated wounds related to vulnerability, worthiness and feelings of powerlessness.

There are probably more I could add to this list, but these are some that I can definitely relate to and if you are a survivor perhaps you can too. Navigating triggers from childhood trauma in adulthood can be a complex journey, but there are effective strategies that survivors can employ to promote healing and emotional well-being. One crucial solution is self-awareness.

In my journey towards healing and self-discovery, I began by connecting with the multiple identities within my dissociative system through support groups, counseling and having a safe person who supported and loved me. I was told by several people how courageous and brave I was to face my past and choose to take the journey of recovery. I felt anything but brave. I felt weak, lost, scared, and terrified a lot of the time. Despite the insistence from family that nothing bad happened to me and being labeled as "bad" and having "false memory" I decided to get help without them or their support. It took years of work but I began to hear, accept, and acknowledge these various identities who were me but felt so far removed from myself that they felt like completely different people. In the process of self acceptance and believing the horrible trauma that had happened to me without any awareness, I learned how to give myself compassion and empathy for the girl I was. Trigger after trigger I encountered the fearful children within me, these fragments of my younger self who had dissociated from my core person as a means of survival. They began to mean the world to me as I practiced not just accepting them but loving myself as a whole. I was completely powerless over what had happened to me. I was not to blame for any of it and the self-hatred lifted. I forged a deeper understanding of who I am, not defined by my past, but the adult that I am today, armed with the knowledge that now I was safe. I confronted the denial with each triggered flashback and began to unravel the roots of the trauma responses and the emotions and grieving that came with each. I began to feel empowered with each victory over the terror that had been a constant companion for most of my life, and I became stronger with each part that I rescued. One of the most powerful aspects of my recovery journey was identifying the perceptions and beliefs that my inner child still held onto as an adult. These outdated beliefs, shaped by past trauma, no longer served me. With great determination, I continued the process of changing these negative thoughts and beliefs. This transformative work allowed me to challenge and reframe these perceptions, giving me a newfound sense of empowerment and self-worth as an adult. I began making affirmation cards for myself and putting them on my bathroom mirror and eventually started designing them to sell. You can find lots of different sets of affirmation cards along with other survivor apparel on my Etsy Shop Glorygraafics.

Reaffirming the truths of who we are based not on our past trauma but the realities of being human with incredible value and worth, we become who God created us to be which has nothing to do with our abuse, our past or the false beliefs that may have been instilled in us as a result of our trauma. Each of our journeys serve as a testament to the incredible resilience of the human spirit. By reconnecting with our inner selves, processing long-repressed memories, and reshaping our beliefs, we choose a path of profound recovery and self-empowerment. Through self-acceptance and compassion, we emerge stronger and more whole, providing hope and inspiration for others on similar journeys of self-discovery and healing.

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