In the previous post on “Understanding & Identifying PTSD Triggerrs (Part 1)” in the PTSD Spirituality Blog, we discussed how sounds and noises can serve as PTSD Triggers. A trigger is something that reminds us intently of our initial PTSD-producing trauma, no matter how long ago that event may have been. If that event was a week ago or 25 years or 55 years ago, a trigger will make the time evaporate and I will feel the terror of those earlier times. The triggers will often cause us to try and cope by utilizing negative behaviors, e.g., drugs, alcohol, porn, illicit sex, reckless behaviors. In this essay, let’s discuss how certain smells and aromas can serve as PTSD triggers.
Aromas or Smells:
Aromatherapy is a type of treatment where certain smells are associated with producing particular moods or perhaps even organic restoration, i.e., helping a physical wound to heal faster. While I am no expert on aromatherapy, I am bit familiar with some of the claims made for it in terms of psychological benefits. For example, lavender is thought to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. For those who are into aromatherapy, there are lists of different aromas and benefits that one may hope to benefit from available on the internet. Here’s a link for an article on how to use aroma therapy to keep from getting stressed out at work!
While I doubt that aroma therapy will substitute for a coronary by-pass, it may be able to prevent my needing one. Your mileage may vary.
Odors, or Aromatherapy’s Evil Twin:
There are also negative sides to smells. Sometimes a smell will not bring relaxation. Instead, an odor will cause stress and perhaps even trigger some PTSD symptoms. What sort of odors (funny how when it is “bad” we call it an “odor” or “smell” and when it is “good” we call it a “fragrance” or “aroma.”) might cause an onset of PTSD symptoms?
Burnt gunpowder, jet fuel, and diesel fumes can take many veterans back to a place where those smells are associated with death and suffering.
The smell of burnt cooking might remind someone of the times when their mother was beaten by their father and then cause them to start having their own PTSD symptoms. People who lived through relationships where someone abused another, but not themselves directly, can still have PTSD based on observing, hearing, or merely knowing that someone they cared for (their mother for instance) was being harmed.
If someone was raped, molested, or assaulted by someone who wore a particular after shave or cologne, then smelling that aroma in the future may trigger a PTSD episode. Thus if the criminal wore a crappy after shave, let’s say it was, “Old Dog Turd #13,” then that particular smell may always catapult the survivor back to those terrible times.
I remember an old James Bond movie, one of the ones with Sean Connery, where the secret agent recognized one of the bad guys later in the film, because Bond smelled the guy’s stinky cologne at an earlier point in the film. If someone abused you who typically had a certain smell about them, stinky or otherwise, then that smell will remind you of them and the harm they inflicted upon you. BTW: The James Bond movie never actually identified the bad guy’s after shave as “Old Dog Turd #13.” I figure they left it nameless to avoid lawsuits from the Old Dog Turd After Shave Company.
Thus smells and aromas may help or harm us. Depending on the intensity of certain odors at the time you were initially traumatized, that odor might become a PTSD trigger for you.
Coming Attractions: In Part 3 of this series on Understanding and Identifying PTSD Triggers we will discuss triggers in the categories of artifacts, anniversary dates, climate, and terrain.
Until then, know that you do not have to be defeated by your PTSD. It is a difficult journey, but not an impossible one.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z