For those who have suffered sexual assault trauma, a “trigger” is something that reminds you of an intensely upsetting and dangerous event in your life. You might be triggered by witnessing a situation, visiting familiar locations, hearing certain words or phrases, seeing images or videos, or you might have been triggered in a moment of intimacy. For some survivors, triggers can cause a remarkably intense experience, causing them to react or behave much like they responded when the event actually happened.
Learning to cope with triggers of sexual trauma:
Completely avoiding triggers is impossible but learning to cope with triggers can provide immediate relief and aid in long-term healing. Each person is different and not all tools work for everyone. If it is possible, separate yourself from the person or situation that is triggering you. Focus on getting safe, then check in with yourself emotionally. Find the objectivity to decide if the situation or person was a current threat or if you were reminded of something else. Regardless, getting to a safe space and a grounding yourself in the moment is most important. When upset, we sometimes hold our breath or we hyperventilate. Take deep, slow breaths. This may take some effort at first, and it is helpful to practice breathing to regulate mood to help this tool be more effective when we really need it.
Practice tools that work for you:
Use positive and grounding self-affirmations. Focus on things that help you feel calm or safe. Is there something, some small item, that reassures you? It may be a person or a place. It may be a small stone or trinket that you can carry with you and hold in your hand to remind you that you’re okay. Assure yourself that you have a choice to not speak with someone who makes you feel unsafe. Check in with yourself and see if you have other needs. Have you eaten something recently? Are you short on sleep? Have you consumed more sugar or caffeine than is helpful? Are you dehydrated? Tend to your needs.
Ask for help:
It’s okay to be upset, and you do not need to feel ashamed. It might be difficult to communicate how you’re feeling and ask for what you need, but you are not alone. Talk to a friend or family member, your physician, or therapist. Keep it simple and focus on how you feel in the moment. You don’t need to retell or relive your trauma in order to get help. How do you feel? How can someone support you in a practical way right now? Acknowledge that this was very hard. Recognize that you got through it.
Create a self-care plan. Unfortunately, triggers sometimes happen. Learn from your own experiences. No one knows you like you know yourself but ask for help with this project if you need help. Have tools like these at your disposal that work for you. Employing these tools can empower you, reduce your distress, and help you cope in the future.
If you or a loved one are suffering from the effects of sexual assault trauma, we can help. Please reach out – we are here for you.