We Are Survivors 

This blog is dedicated to the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who get up every day and try to work and function in a world that seems to not care about us.

Child Abuse Triggers & Dissociation – Part 1

A trigger is anything (e.g., a sight, sound, smell, touch, taste or thought) associated with a past negative event that activates a memory, flashback or strong emotion. Because triggers are directly associated with a particular event or events, they are unique to each individual. That explains why different stimuli will trigger different people; and why a therapist can never remove or avoid every potential trigger in a practice setting.[1]

At the same time, common themes in triggers (see the list below) are apparent and therapists are encouraged to consider whether some of these potentially triggering situations can be anticipated. If a client is able to identify a trigger, the clinician and patient can problem-solve together to either avoid or minimize that trigger during future interactions.

Common Triggers


  • An individual who resembles the abuser or who has similar traits or objects  (e.g., clothing, coloring, mannerisms).
  • A situation where someone else is being threatened or abused (e.g., a scowl, a raised hand, actual physical abuse).
  • The sight of an object that was part of the abuse or similar to such an object (e.g., a belt, rope, sex toys) or that is associated with the site where the abuse took place (e.g., a dark room, a locked door).


  • Sounds associated with anger (e.g., raised voices, arguments, loud noises, objects breaking).
  • Sounds associated with pain or fear (e.g., sobbing, whimpering, screaming).
  • A situation in which the survivor is being reprimanded.
  • Sounds associated with the place or situation before, during, or after the abuse occurred (e.g., footsteps, a door being locked, a certain piece of music, sirens, birds chirping, a car door closing).
  • Anything that resembles sounds that the abuser made (e.g., particular words, phrases or tone of voice, whistling, cursing, groaning).


  • Odors associated with the abuser(s) (e.g., particular words, phrases or tone of voice, whistling, cursing, groaning).
  • Odors associated with the place or situation where the abuse occurred (e.g., mildew, petroleum products, food odors, outdoor smells).


  • Any type of physical contact or proximity that resembles the abuse (e.g., touch on certain parts of the body, touch that comes without warning, standing too close, the sensation of breath on the skin, the manner in which someone approaches him/her).
  • The sensation of any type of object that was used during their abuse (e.g., ice, gel similar to lubricant or semen, the sensation of equipment that is reminiscent of restraints used during abuse).


  • Any taste related to the abuse (e.g., certain foods, alcohol).

[1] Schachter, C.L., Stalker, C.A., Teram, E., Lasiuk, G.C., Danilkewich, A. (2009), Handbook on sensitive practice for health care practitioners: Lessons from adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada, http://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/handbook-sensitivve-practices4healthcare.pdf

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Therapy Issues For Survivors – Part 3
Child Abuse Triggers & Dissociation - Part 2


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