Stressor vs. Trigger - What Is A Trigger?


New Here
I really hope I am right about what I am going to say. As I "read" this article, I experienced numerous "stressor" events, of which I will describe as feeling as I was too far gone mentally to even understand printed word. The "stressor" told me that I cannot recover from PTSD, because I am unable to read and comprehend written words or analogies. Basically I was thrust into self doubt and utter humiliation that if I could not identify the difference between the two, that there was no hope for me.

However I did experience a "triggering event" when I read the part about the sense of smell, IE: the scent of a rapists cologne.
When my brain was cyphering all of this, I literally "smelled" Old Spice and it rocked me back wards, and then I had a number of body memories... (tactile hallucinations) in which my brain scanned my body and it signaled PAIN in a variety of my "parts".

As I have been very aware of these "memories" and they have risen to a sometimes acute level, I know that they are REAL ones based on actual events that happened to me. When it 1st happened, and long before I ever dared share this with anyone, I honestly thought I had "rounded" the bend... and I wanted to protect others from me. (end my life because I was so messed up, and I saw no way to ever repair the damage... "the I owe it to the world to die" thinking.)

I was able to "ground myself" much more quickly, and accept this sometimes terrifying event, and dismiss it for what I knew it was, and that was just a flashback, or my body remembering, and that I didn't really have those raised, red, painful, swollen, striped lines across my back, chest, arms, buttocks, and legs. Do not misunderstand... I FELT them! Only difference is I have enough experience with them, that I no longer scream in pain, sob and cry, or need ice packs to make them go away. I didn't even have to strip down in front of a mirror just to have a look. My Father beat me for so long, that my body memorized those attacks, and it "branded" (or seared into) my brain.

In the past, I would be completely overwhelmed and terrorized by these "triggers".

Today it is the "stressors" which bring me the most fear, and terror. Because the "stressors" are uncharted territory for me, and they seem to evolve and manifest in more troubling, unacceptable ways. I don't know WHO I am, or if I have any control whatsoever in the self depreciating messages that flood my brain and being.

As I write this a new curiosity unfolds, as I was so much more skilled at managing the Flashback, then I was with the stressors?

I haven't an answer for the stressors, perhaps that is because of the sheer evolution of them... they are thoughts and feelings and messages I create and maintain, and have not started to even challenge. Sadly I must admit that if others discover my "true" feelings, and try to "prove" them false, I am radically, viscously, and stubbornly opposed to the very thought.

My "anger" is in being NOT understood! I have done so may things to educate, empower and enlighten my Family and Friends. To no avail, most of them are simply "tired of hearing about it" and cant I just simply "move on and let the past be the past", or "why must I always hold on to the things that happened so long ago" and even "you have a choice, to live in the here and now, or stay stuck in ancient history". My personal favorite? "You have so many things to be grateful for, "why cant you just be happy that you have a wonderful husband, a family that loves you, a beautiful lake home, so many God give talents, you survived Cancer, you still have your health, you have 14 beautiful Grandchildren, adnauseum.

I am grateful! And I am very sorry that when I get out of bed each day, I am not extolling the abundant gifts that have been bestowed upon me.

When I wake up, I wake from horrific nightmares... while I am on a sleepy med, and cannot remember details of my dream screams, I do understand that while I went back to sleep, after my Husband has wakened me, acclimated me to time and place, then rubbed my back and rocked me back to sleep... and subsequently dared not to sleep after the really bad ones...(I have a history of leaving my home while sleeping and then waking up in my underwear traveling down an expressway at 70 mph, not knowing what I am doing) because he is too scared to think about himself.

Wake up and feel the worst, most gut wrenching pain, and absolute horror and GUILT, that life can possibly deal out to you and then you try to muster one iota of gratitude!

He cannot "sleep in" or "call off work" because it is his salary that keeps you from being thrown on the street

For me, its my secrets that make me the sickest, the things I cannot identify quickly enough or I even want to explore...

All I know for certain is that I am very tired, sad, empty, depressed, weak, confused, bewildered, and always. always angry.

My anger is RARELY allowed outside to play, my anger is automatically directed inwards, and the only person I ever "intend" to punish is me, and I do it often. I started at the TOP of the issues that this is found in, and I read the anger part over and over, trying to "name" my iceberg contents... I can tell you that the contributing emotions to my anger are the "usual suspects" in any self-depreciators repertoire.

I don't like, let alone love me.

If you saw me right now... if I had a Skype conversation with you, you would see this: I am sitting on the bath-room floor of my dysfunctional home. I stole one of my dogs beds to use to cushion my butt and back. I have not showered, combed my hair, or cared about myself in so long that NONE of my friends or family would ever believe. I no longer even go outside excepting days where I have to go see my docs. I don't shop anymore. I don't do anything... I cannot even take my dogs outside to potty. My home looks mostly like those images shown of hoarders... boxes, stacks, piles and the so on.

My husband is home, and right now, my Daughters boy friend is living with us. I do not feel safe in the living areas of this house. I cannot even sit and read this forum, for fear that he will "report" to my Daughter that is what I have been doing all day.

I think I will close my feelings and comments for now, and start fresh tomorrow.

I know I belong here, and, I know I have a lot of work to do.

I believe I understand the difference between stressors and triggers.

If I am right, the stressors are by far the biggest challenge I need to face.

I also know I am going to be back here tomorrow, and that I will work very hard towards recovery, and that this forum, may well be the key, to all that I have been missing in my quest to do so.

GRATEFUL that you are here, you got all this done before I arrived, and that you cared enough about me... to have made this even possible!

Thank you! Jerrijinxed


Anthony, thank you for the insightful post regarding triggers verses stressors.

You said that there are no such things as emotional flashbacks, but my experience says differently. I recently heard some of my co-workers say somethings that sounded like they were rejecting me. When I heard that it caused me to re-experience the emotional pain, primarily grief, of my past traumatic experience. I tend to think that rejection is a trigger for me.

However, I had not really heard of, or thought of stressors. I will have to think on this, and see if I can recognize any stressors in my life.

In terms of avoidance, I have to admit I am not sure I will put myself back in the situation, at work, where I felt the rejection of my co-workers, so I may be using the trigger in a not so healthy way. I don't know, I will have to think about that for a while.
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Sorry for using the term incorrectly.
My therapist uses the term when he sees me get keyed up and we can't figure out the specific reason but we know it's a hot button. FOR instance: I spoke about being referred to as a victim as a "trigger" because it is what my therapist called it. I don't know what specifically in my past makes me have such an extreme reaction. By definition it should probably be called a stressor.


New Here
So if the thing that sets me off is someone I love being really angry with me, is that a stressor or trigger? My trauma was being verbally abused and yelled at all the time so it does remind me of that. I guess it's confusing in my case.


Great explanation @anthony . I agree with most of what you say here, and I do think that triggers and stressors get confused and although it's hard, we must try to remember not to use them as a way to avoid those things that challenge us, as we all know avoidance is detrimental to healing.
I do disagree somewhat with your final part however, on exposure therapy. Whilst this is the most prominent and best way of healing and overcoming triggers for many, unfortunately for some of us (me included) it does not work. For people like me who have extremely repressed memories and may only be able to access snippets of memories, unfortunately it is very hard to undertake exposure therapy as narratives can't be produced. With a few of my memories where I have been able to access an entire narrative I have been able to do this successfully, but with many others, unfortunately I have to seek alternative strategies.
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I am bumping this thread, because the overuse of the words "trigger" and "triggering" is threatening to drive me insane and is just a self-perpetuating culture of misinformation regarding what a trigger actually is vs what most people (I'd say at least nine out of ten) mean when they use "trigger"--stressors.


Just read the whole thread almost very insightful. My therapist said that when I was experiencing a flash back I was to recite to myself that this happened in the past it is not happening now. I am ..... Years old instead of .... Years old. It is a memory and I am not living in it. It has helped to really dull some of them. Triggers happen all of the time with me in all the senses and body reactions which can lead to a flash back or a flight flee fight reaction or dissociation.


This whole thing is so confusing to me. I think I'm clear on trigger vs stressor, but why is everyone talking about flashbacks and panic attacks etc...? Never mind, don't answer, I don't want to be more confused, lol.