Some common triggers include:
Places, social events, or even smells, tastes and sounds
Being around other people who were involved in the victimization (the person who caused the harm, witnesses, or other survivors)
The anniversary of the victimization
Just because someone is triggered doesn’t mean they have to start the healing process all over again. The trigger is just the person’s mind and body’s way of saying that the harm that was done to them might deserve a little more attention and care.
If you have also survived a crime, your loved one's victimization may trigger reactions in you.
These chemicals made the memories associated with the victimization different (and more vivid) than memories associated with everyday life. Sometimes people refer to memories associated with victimization as “traumatic memories.” Some people compare them to a “mind imprint.” Memories of harm are incomplete and confusing, but they are so strong that they’ll never be forgotten.
Your loved one’s brain released strong chemicals when he or she was harmed. The chemical changes were the body’s way to give your loved one the best chance to get out of the dangerous situation alive.
If your loved one has a flashback when he or she is with you, stay as calm as you can. Flashbacks are difficult to watch, but it is not your loved one’s fault that the flashback is happening.
Be patient. Stay calm. If possible, compassionately and gently talk with your loved one to help him or her become “grounded” in the present.
You may want to encourage your loved one to try to take slow, deep breaths.
You may also want to encourage your loved one to slowly, calmly look around to see that the person who committed the crime is not there (only suggest this if the person is not there).
You may want to ask if there is something that would help your loved one feel safer (such as going to a different room or wrapping him/herself in a blanket).
You may want to suggest that your loved one hold a pen or some other small object in his or her hand. Suggest that your loved one focus on this object, and say to him or herself, “I am holding a pen. It is blue. I am holding a pen…” to help feel physically connected to the present moment.
When What Happened before Feels Like it is Happening Again (Triggers)
Traumatic memories contain specific information about the harm. The information can include sights, sounds, smells, details of the place where the crime occurred, and/or qualities about the person who caused the harm. This happens naturally so that the brain can recognize warning signs and protect the person from similar harm in the future. When the brain senses that the person may be in similar danger, it can “trigger” (or bring back) the traumatic memories and make the person feel like his or her life is in danger again. Even when there is no danger and the person knows this, their body can react. The person may feel like he or she is reliving the harm all over again, or can feel like he or she is watching the victimization happen from a distance.
Some people call this experience a “flashback.” Flashbacks can be overwhelming, confusing, and frightening. Sometimes flashbacks happen suddenly and can be over quickly. Sometimes flashbacks can last for a longer period of time. You may have heard about war veterans who experience flashbacks; crime survivors can have similar reactions, too.