Trauma and the Brain
When you experience trauma, your brain does not function as it normally would. Typically, your brain stores memories in the logical part of your brain. But, when something very emotionally volatile happens, the memory can get “stuck” in the emotional part of your brain. This is why triggers happen.
A trigger is a warning sign to your brain that something could be dangerous. Triggers are associated with sounds, smells, sights, and bodily sensations. For example, if you are a survivor of sexual assault, smelling a particular scent that reminds you of the assault may trigger you. Or seeing someone who resembles your abuser may really upset you.
So, this may cause your fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses to come out. And these responses can be really frustrating to experience. It can be upsetting when you thought you had moved past the situation and are now triggered. But, these responses are actually your body’s defense mechanism to keep you safe.
When you have gone through trauma, your brain and body want to alert you if something similar is about to happen. This is innate, meaning we have no control over it. So when you are feeling triggered, what is actually happening in your brain responding to something it believes to be threatening. It signals your muscles and hormones to react. And sometimes, the reaction (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) doesn’t make sense.