Monday, September 3, 2012

Why do people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Get Triggered?

I learned from my therapies the following that is demonstrated in my book: Flashbacks in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Surviving the Flood

When a person with PTSD is triggered it is because of trauma experienced in the past which makes the ego-state "child within" come forward causing you to be triggered by your environment. This could take the form of smells, sight, touch, sound, flashbacks, body memories, out of control emotions etc.

Excerpt from book

My daughter, Sabrina, had a picnic for her school choir that we all were invited to participate. All the choirs, orchestra, and band students from all the schools would be there. We were so excited to go and we bought tickets ahead of time.  I looked forward to the picnic all day. I was excited to have some fun family time. When we got there we ate right away and there was music entertainment that was loud but I seemed to be okay with it. After everyone was done eating, it was time to play on the playground.  

My son ran one way and my two daughters the other way.  My husband, Ramone, watched Kota as I watched my daughters from a distance. Mother’s are not cool. As I stood there looking at all the children having fun with their parents, I felt sad because I never had that opportunity with my parents when I was little. I started to scan the crowd to look for Stella’s dad to make sure he wasn’t there. I started to smell an overwhelming odor of wood chips as my awareness of the smell increased I felt sick, dizzy, and panicked. I had to flee to get out of the danger zone quickly. I waved frantically for my family to come as I said, “We have to go now!” As I started to run toward the car, Sabrina was screaming at me that she didn’t want to go. Veronica also didn’t want to go. Ramone collected Kota and met me at his car.  

Sabrina still screaming as I am telling her I am triggered again by the wood chips and told her what I was  feeling. Veronica yelled, “Sabrina shut up mom is having problems”, as she tried to comfort me. “Mom, are you okay?” “Mom, look at me and breathe! You’re safe.” “Your trauma is not happening now it is in the past.” I was able to calm myself down but didn’t want to go back to the picnic.
How does (EMDR) Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and Brainspotting Therapies Help?
By reading this passage from my book you can feel the horror, panic and desperation to get out of danger and into safety. I felt as if the trauma was happening in the present.  As I ran to the car, it felt like I was still the little girl who was running away from danger thinking he was running after me.

Why does this happen?  It is because our trauma is frozen in time and stored in the right side of our brain where their is emotion and when triggered your child within is experiencing the horror as if it is still happening in the present and you are still a little child. It also explains why you can remember the exact layout of the room where you were abused in.  Your brain froze the image in your brain similar to a photo. Your brain doesn't recognize that you are an adult. This is why you catch yourself with different moods like one minute you are having an adult conversation with your husband and the next auguring with your toddler as if you were his or her age. 

In my case, I grew up half adult and half child.  Whatever age the trauma happened.  For Veterans in war it is when the trauma of war was experienced.  Your ego-states are whatever age you were at the time of trauma or event.

When you do the EMDR and Brainspotting it takes the memory that is frozen in time on the right side of your brain and reprocesses it to the left side of your brain, where there is logic.  This is when the adult can recognize that the trauma happened in the past and no longer is happening in the present.  This is when the triggers associated with that specific trauma when reprocessed disappears and stops.  You are finally free from the triggers, like for me the smell of wood chips.  I can go to the park now and the smell of wood chips no longer triggers me to my trauma and I am no longer looking for my friends dad who molests little children.

The more memories that are reprocessed the more adult you become until your child within is reintegrated with the adult you.  This is when that confident, happy woman or man that you have experienced shortly reappears but this time stays with you.  This is because as you progress in therapy you are becoming more and more confident and not regressing back to a child as much. 

PTSD is never cured but you can be in control of it. You still remember what happened to you but the adult knows it happened in the past so you don't have the immediate danger or emotional response as you experienced by reading the passage from my book.

I used to be triggered everyday while outside of my house in the unpredictable environments that I was exposed to during a regular day. Going to work, dealing with difficult people or conflict, taking kids to school, playing at the park, etc.  

Today, I am mostly only triggered in my therapist office when we are working on reprocessing more trauma.  I have had 32 years of trauma.   I say mostly because a new memory can surface or resurface and all that means is there is still something unfinished in that memory.

I hope this helps you understand why you are going through what you are when being triggered and how you can free yourself from it.  You need to find a Therapist that is licensed to do the EMDR and Brainspotting Therapies.

It feels so good to be in control of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than it controlling me. If I do get triggered, I have learned coping skills to quickly regain control in seconds. I used to spend hours crying, panicked, feeling unsafe, and sick after an episode because I didn't know how to comfort my child within and to feel safe again.

I demonstrate in my book my traumas and how I received help in therapy.  You witness the therapies with me in a two-part conversation with my therapist and can visualize how the memories are reprocessed, how I learned coping skills and how I transformed myself from a VICTIM into a SURVIVOR.  I share coping skills as well as how you can start your individual and unique healing journey.

As I tell the people I have already helped personally.  I didn't just write the book.  I invested myself in helping you find your path and to support you.  My email is If you need to talk about your specific situation or have questions, please feel free to contact me.  Also family members husband, wife, daughter, son, etc.  You can contact me too.

I am not a psychiatrist or therapist but I am a PEER who understands what you and your family are going through.

May you find your path to recovery as I did. God bless you!

Leslie Raddatz


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