PTSD Spirituality: Understanding & Identifying PTSD Triggers (Part 4)

Techniques to Control and Live Beyond Our PTSD Triggers:  In this final installment on Understanding and Identifying PTSD Triggers we discuss some of the ways to cope with them.

Permission to be Human: First and foremost, give yourself permission to be someone who suffers from PTSD.  The soul wound of PTSD is much more common than we might think.  PTSD is part of the human condition. Women and men and children go through horrific events in their lives and then they feel stupid, guilty, or selfish, that the horror continues to harm them – even decades later.   We need to realize, PTSD is a normal response to trauma.  We just want to control its influence over us.

 A few years ago I was talking to someone I trusted and told them one of my experiences while serving in the Army.  They were a good listener: they let me tell the tale, they did not interrupt me, they did not try and tell me they knew someone else just like that, they just listened.  When I finished, that person said, “It’s no wonder you have PTSD.”  At that point I started giving myself permission to have PTSD.

Laughter: Purposely try to remember something that made you laugh.  It might make you laugh or at least smile now.  If you laugh honestly out of some joy, it has a healing effect.

PTSD hates laughter.  It wants you to wallow in misery and isolation and destroy your relationships.  It cannot stand laughter.  Laughter can heal you and it is usually done in a way that recognizes the humanity in each of us.

Hope: Find something to hope for.  PTSD hates hope.  It wants to destroy hope and drive you into alcohol, drugs, violence, porn, and ruin your relationships.  No matter how old I may be, there is always something we can hope for in the future.  If you find hope, you will find the will to live.  This defeats PTSD.  One of my hopes is that I will be less susceptible to my PTSD triggers.  It is a reasonable hope.  The more hope I have, the less susceptible I am to my PTSD triggers.

Identify Your Triggers: Realizing that you are having a PTSD episode allows you to backtrack and figure out what brought it on.  All trauma survivors should begin to track what causes them to have PTSD symptoms.  This might take a few years, but that is why we are blessed with long lives!  So we can make useful lists!  Start a notebook.  List how you felt and what was happening when you started having PTSD symptoms.  This is very important.

Ebb and Flow: Sometimes we are more susceptible to our PTSD triggers than at other times.  If I am having a harder time than usual, I can tell myself, that this is not permanent.  Sometimes my triggers may cause me to begin weeping and shake.  Other times, those same triggers may make me shudder, but nothing more. 

Over the course of a few years now I have been able to go from always being harmed by one of my PTSD triggers to only being sometimes harmed by that same trigger.  This gives me experiential reason to hope that I can decrease my sensitivity to that trigger even more and also have improvements in regards to other of my PTSD triggers.

Don’t Make Others the Victims of Your PTSD:  PTSD producing traumas and the soul wound of PTSD itself can propel us to become embittered.  The PTSD can encourage us to be bigots, racists, sexists, you name it.  One of the goals of the PTSD-Identity is to make you isolate yourself and sever relationships. 

If my initial trauma was caused by a black & white penguin with a lisp and it was also a fundamentalist Catholic, then my PTSD will want me to hate all black & white penguins with a lisp that are fundamentalist Catholics.  Having achieved that, it will have me branch out to hating other types of life and relationships just as much.

Desensitization: If a particular circumstance activates your PTSD triggers it is possible to become less sensitive to it.  One can allow themselves to be near the trigger for a brief period of time and then withdraw.  Having withdrawn, you then work through the rapid heartbeat, the desire to drink, the desire to scream – whatever your symptoms may be – and know that you survived.  You can go back and try it again, over time desensitizing yourself to the trigger. 

If you are sensitive to standing in a lit room at night in front of the window because it triggers your PTSD memories of snipers, then spending a small amount of time doing just that can help to desensitize you to that particular PTSD item.

Cautions on Desensitization:

–   Start Slow: Note that I don’t recommend one repeatedly put their hand back into the PTSD trigger blender over and over again on the same day.  If the sound of Sonny Bono singing gives you the PTSD shivers, then don’t lay on twelve hours of Sonny Bono on your first try.  Maybe a single minute of Bono every day for a week and then the next week, up it to a few minutes.  Over time, you will learn not to have a PTSD response to hearing the voice of Sonny Bono.  Your mileage may vary.

–   Someone You Can Trust: This is best done if you have talked with someone ahead of time.  Tell them about your triggers and that you are going to work on desensitization.  They can be in the room with you as you cue up Sonny Bono.  Just having someone else who knows about your PTSD, who respects you and wants you to heal, will make this go more easily. 

–   Write Before and After: This is recommended if you have someone trustworthy or not to help you desensitize.  Before you start, specifically write about this particular trigger and what it does to you.  After you have had a desensitization period, write again about how you felt.  You may want to write about it in the first person and then in the third person.  Each perspective helps you to understand more about your PTSD.  Writing is healing.  Writing about the trauma, the trigger, and the PTSD symptoms, takes the power away from the PTSD and gives it back to you – where it belongs.

Talking: Talking with someone you trust about your triggers will help make those triggers less toxic to you.  I’ve written about this all through our series on PTSD Triggers.  If at all possible, find someone you can talk with about your PTSD.

–   Family/Friends: There is often someone in your family you can talk with (and, unfortunately, there is usually someone you can’t trust as well).  Perhaps your spouse.  If possible, your spouse can be a source of real and significant healing for you just by listening.

–   Groups: Support groups at hospitals and churches can be very helpful.

–   Confessors: If you are fortunate to have a dedicated confessor or spiritual director, then these people can listen and possibly even make useful suggestions.

 Helping Others with Their PTSD: I spend a lot of time dealing with PTSD, my own and others.  I have to be careful that while I am able to listen, and offer advice when asked for, I do not become re-traumatized myself to the point where I become useless to myself, my family, my students, or the people whom I try to help.

 Writing: Regardless if you are talking with someone, a professional or a loved one or friend, it also helps to write about your PTSD triggers.  The more ways we bring our triggers out of the shadows, the more we can shine light on them, the less they can attack us and damage our souls and our relationships.

 Final PTSD Trigger Tips:

–   There is no shame in having PTSD.  It means I am human and I have a soul.

–   Some triggers may be too strong for me now and I may need to avoid those stimuli until I am better able to withstand them.

–   As we learn what are triggers are we can better control them.

–   If I learn what those triggers are I can begin to desensitize and be less susceptible to them.

–   I need to realize that I will have good times and bad times.  Like the tide, my sensitivity to my PTSD triggers will come and go.

–   PTSD harms me less, the more I communicate with others.

–   Remember to Write and to Talk with Trusted Others

–   Prayer & Ritual: I plan to address this in the future, but know that taking part in prayer and ritual (alone or in a group) can help to heal the damage of PTSD

 PTSD is a hard life to live, we did not choose it, but we got it.  Yet, we can be restored to enjoying life and one another.  Identifying and then dealing with your PTSD Triggers will help you to take back control of your life.  Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Dr. Z.

    I just found your site & am exploring in depth.

    #1: Thanks be to the Lord Our God.

    #2: You have “Cred”. (translation: you’ve been there, and are WAY ahead of me)

    #3: Thanks to all the commenters!

    #4: I am so relieved to find out I am “normal”, and thanks to the Grace of Our Lord, am on the right track.

    To all, and especially Dr. Z; keep up the good work, fight the good fight!

    -Steve S-

    • Hi Steve, I am glad that the website seems to be helpful. In one way or another, we are all wounded healers who carry and prop one another up in our PTSD journeys; we are never truly alone when we realize there is a community of the wounded who all want to help one another. When it comes right down to it, people who need one another to help them find the finish line are the most normal ones of all. I appreciate your kindness to the other commenters, sometimes those comments help me to know what to think about and then write about. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Recently, while interacting with someone, I reacted to something they said with anger (regretting it later). Upon reflection I think it was a trigger that was occurring. I believe I’m to “capture all my thoughts to Christ”, but what do you do when you don’t have time to do this during the interaction with someone- I mean, sometimes you need to respond immediately and there isn’t time to identify what trigger is occurring and what to do about it.

    • Hi Lily, I started writing a response to your comment and then realized it would get lengthy, so I turned it in to an essay called “Thriving In Spite of PTSD Anger Flashes.” It posted about 10 minutes ago. I hope it covered some of what you asked about – and it probably covers other related areas. I hope you find it useful. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • thank you for your response – it was spot on. I plan to become more familiar with my “triggers” and ask God what his solution to these are so at the moment when i need to respond to someone and that trigger has been activated, i’ll be able to swing in with a more appropriate response than just blasting away with anger. I so appreciate the fact that you chose to be sensitive to His Spirit so a loving solution can be known. I also appreciate having the option to communicate so easily – it is truly saving relationships!

  3. Terrific post! So many good tidbits in here to help cope, manage and take back control. I’d like to reprint as part of a series on my blog. Please contact me if you’d like to do that. Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive piece.

  4. Hi
    I would definitely cite your website as a source and your name as well, it that is okay. I understand that what works for one doesn’t always work for others, but I have a certain person in mind who would likely benefit from some of your ideas. They don’t have internet access or I would recommend your site. In fact, I plan to recommend your site to people who may be helped by it. I don’t currently have a lot of PTSD sufferers on my caseload, but that could definitely change.
    Thanks so much for all you are doing to contribute to healing!

    • Hi Queta, I am grateful that you find the site useful in your work. If anything here ever appears to be hepful for anyone you know please do share the information with them.

      In other news…the mundane world closes in and I am soon back to teaching…Yikes! I hope to post more essays and better understand some of the programming behind the website. It has been an enjoyable time away from the classroom where I have been able to focus on healing and also asking myself what sort of posts would be useful essays for the site. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. If I may, I’d like to print this out to share with PTSD clients. Is that okay with you?

    • Hi Queta,
      Yes, feel free to share the post information with your clients. I’d appreciate attribution if you think that is okay. Not so much by my name as by mentioining the website. If your client would do better served w/o website attribution, then I trust your judgement.

      As always, what works for me in dealing with PTSD, or what I have seen work well with particular others, may not work for other individuals. The paradox of PTSD, as you know, is that it has certain characteristics that seem to apply to everyone and then how they are manifested often varies by individuals. Ah, the joy of individuality! I am glad that you think these will be useful in your practiuce. Semper Pax, Dr. Z


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