Home » My Journey » Triggers- smell, sex, toilets and kittens

Triggers- smell, sex, toilets and kittens

Triggers can be anything- I mean ANYTHING at all. After a few years of actively dealing with PTSD,  I’m well aware of a lot of my triggers, however there is always something new- not necessarily surprising, but new.

It’s not the things you would expect either- I can, mostly, read of the experiences of other survivors, without triggers. It is the details of the way they were treated after, like with the abuse in Rotherham, UK, that are triggering. 

Music from back then is triggering, photos, certain noises, loud, shouting men, certain words other people use, even gestures, or particular looks, that can remind me.

Sex is probably one of the more obvious ones. Sex can be highly triggering, I am very fortunate to have an amazingly patient and loving husband. Together, we have managed to get through some things that trigger- to go on and be able to enjoy those (PTSD/ therapy dependent)..and for those that cannot be overcome, we have learned ways to avoid them, while still being able to enjoy an active and loving sexual relationship. 

Smell, is my biggest trigger. I have a keen sense of smell and I find it is smell that can provide the most comfort. However, a triggering smell can bring me to my knees or even make me physically sick. I go to great lengths to ensure I am surrounded by comforting smells. Cigarettes, weed (which I don’t smell too often anymore!) and damp are all smells that trigger, certain types of men’s after shave and even male body odour can be a trigger too.

More recently, my triggers haven’t just been smell- and yet I am unable to pinpoint what the triggers are. I know what I see and feel, but not the cause. That is always hard. It’s much harder to work on appropriate grounding when I am not sure of the cause. I do much better at grounding when it can be aimed at a specific trigger, i.e smell- I can light a scented candle or I can do loads of laundry, so my house smells like my favourite washing powder. With these recent flashbacks, I can only do more general grounding and it just isn’t working as well.

 Now, as I said above, ANYTHING, can trigger. On my Facebook today, there was a photo of kittens tearing up toilet paper in a bathroom.  That perfectly innocent and perhaps to some, sweet photo, almost caused a wave of flashbacks for me. The combination of kittens and a toilet was a trigger, a very big- I’ve-not-dealt-with those-memories-yet, type of trigger. Without specifics, my abuser has 3 kittens.. I have some very horrible memories of his bathroom and further fragments of traumatic memories with cute, little kittens featuring heavily.

Kittens, toilets. How messed up is that?


Triggers are hard to describe, I find that so frustrating. It’s unfortunately, a big part of my life, where the simple, innocent actions of others can trigger me and send me spiraling, or at the very least, cause me a lot of pain and exhaustion. Because I struggle to describe what a trigger is, I cannot possibly ask people to alter their behaviour or even explain why things can be difficult for me. And even if I could find the right words, what about the questions? The “what caused it?”, or whatever, that could come up. Then what? I don’t know how to talk about this openly- it is horribly painful and lets face it- how many people really want to hear it?

How can I explain that your picture of your cute kitten is incredibly upsetting, or when you wear that aftershave, I am terribly afraid of you, or when you say that phrase, I feel I am with my abuser again. Further and more importantly, what if I told them and they didn’t care? I’d alter my behaviour- and have done and continue to do so, to protect others from pain.

Would anyone alter their behaviour in order to protect me from triggers and the resulting trauma and upset??? Painful experience tells me it would be unwise to ask.- and that is something I find deeply upsetting. 😦 














5 thoughts on “Triggers- smell, sex, toilets and kittens

  1. >>Would anyone alter their behaviour in order to protect me from triggers and the resulting trauma and upset???

    I would without questions and no explanation necessary.

    Thinking of you always…

  2. I hear ya and experience similar stuff. I so often find that you so articulately describe some of the things I struggle with, and right here you do it again.

    Some thoughts for you:
    – Some people, in some places do alter their behaviour to protect my triggers. Friends, colleagues and professionals. I guess it depends on how well they know and can read me. I reckon most of the time it’s OK to say something/ or acknowledge you’re uncomfortable when your feel safe enough to. And the ‘safe enough’ comes with practice.

    – The other night a friend said in a very innocent Facebook status said something that triggered me. This was my kitten with toilet paper moment. She is someone I’d could usually give a ‘help me I’m triggered’ nudge to, but didn’t want to upset or worry her or worse turn have happiness into my negative. I thought about what to do as I begun to spiral into dissociation. There was a bit of a blur and then I was like what to I have to lose at 2 am feeling utterly alone? I posted my on Facebook status “Sometimes the most simple and innocent things people say, trigger me. PTSD sucks.” I was overwhelmed and bolstered by the love. 19 likes and comments from a wide range of friends. I never named the trigger, but once people knew I was triggered they could respond, I just that’s what a I needed. People can’t altered their behaviour unless they know, on this occasion this responded with kindness and distraction.

    My therapist has spent 2 years coaching me to acknowledge to myself ‘what do I need right now’ and being more confident in communicating to others what I need. I was, and often still am, full of skepticism. It seemed so alien . In fact often still feels alien. But do ya know what? In the past year whenever I have communicated to someone else what I have needed in relation to PTSD I have (9 times out of 10) been touched and surprised by their helpful response.

    Take good care of yourself and thanks for blogging.

    • Thank you. I am so glad you have friends willing to adapt. Unfortunately, if I post anything on Facebook that is not progress or positive, only one or two even respond. Several friends have blocked me for having talked about PTSD/ abuse too much. And after many years of being rejected by people who should care, I am too fearful to ask. I am sure there are a few who would alter, perhaps 4 or 5 that I could think of, but in my bitter experience, most would not. Your comment is making me see those people in a new light, perhaps it’s not me asking too much, but asking the wrong people. Perhaps I need better relationships.

      Thank you for your comment, it has really made me think..

  3. Oh yes, it’s taken a sweeping change of friendship groups over the past couple of years. But there are be pleasant surprises. In the end I went for the all or nothing approach and reached out very publicly via the Facebook. (http://dissociatingdoris.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/reaching-out/)

    I was really surprise who came through, old school friends, people from uni, many who have jobs in health, social care and education so ‘get it’ more than as we were growing up. A friend of a friend got in touch, She is a midwife and comes into contact with survivors during labour and are triggered then. She’ gets it’ and want to learn from me, so I can be very blunt. But at the same time we do lunch, clothe shop, swim and this week ventured to the pub. By building a new friendship with someone who, lets face it is into gynae stuff, this is someone I can have explit convo with. I would never have made this friend if I hadn’t reached out.

    It isn’t plain sailing either http://dissociatingdoris.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/reaching-out-ii/

    I have given back by being active friend, helping with errands, decorating, childcare, wedding dress shopping and house/dog sitting. By giving and being with people more they are gradually picking up on triggers and learning the subtle (or not so subtle) body reactions and learning what in useful to do/ not do if they notice I’m triggered.

    I also carry a dissociation guidance card http://dissociatingdoris.wordpress.com/emergencygrounding/
    This helps emergency services, first aiders, hospital staff, transport works and the people know what to do in a way that will help me when I have very triggered. It has been a revolutionary in how people respond.

    I’m not saying do this. But as I developed these things with my therapist I have better able to get want I need in the moment. Even if that’s a wink of reassure from someone who realises there’s a trigger, or the friends who covers their bathroom mirrors (huge trigger) before I come round and the ones with whom I automatically enable me to sit with my back to the way in a bar and restaurant without have a debate about who sits where.

    Have a think what might work for you and reach out only when you feel safe to do so. Tip your toe in,

    Best wishes,

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