My loved one can't talk about having PTSD because that alone is a trigger for her. She broke up with me because I caused a trigger to happen. I had no clue but the damage was done and she no longer trusts me. She told me that I should know what her triggers are without having to tell me and that if I knew anything at all about PTSD from the research I had done then I would have known what her triggers are. Should I have been able to know what her triggers are if she won't talk about them with me? If there was no way for me to know how can I get her to see that I never meant to hurt her and I will not do it again? I love her and want to be here for her. I have never done anything to hurt her in the past and never plan to do so in the future. She is my world.Triggers are things that bring up thoughts and/or memories related to our PTSD. They can be anything,. Really any type of thing, no matter how big or tiny, no matter how unusual or routine... anything can be a trigger. Just like things we like and things we dislike vary from person to person, triggers also vary from person to person living with PTSD. They may be directly related to the person's trauma or they may be remotely related. It could even be something someone was looking at when they were telling their story, even if it was years after the fact.
If you are a friend or loved one of someone living with PTSD, there is likely no way for you to know what their triggers are unless they tell you. If they have told you their story, there may be some obvious things you can identify as triggers, but there will likely be a whole other group of triggers that are not evident in their story alone. If you want to be able to identify their triggers, it will take a lot of careful listening and probably carefully asking some questions with caring behind them.
It is usually very hard for a person living with PTSD to talk about triggers, even with loved ones, because it will always bring up thoughts and/or memories of the trauma they experienced and it also has the potential to bring up issues they have not yet faced or dealt with and this is a very overwhelming and frightening place to be. It is also quite likely that the person living with PTSD has brought up some triggers with a friend or loved one or counselor or other professional and they were misunderstood and/or ridiculed because the trigger they mentioned was such a normal routine thing or usually associated with a happy experience. An experience like this will cause that person to be inclined to never mention that trigger to anyone again.
Because it is so hard for us to mention a trigger or talk about it and why it is a trigger, sometimes we try to mention it in a less threatening (to us) way. For example, Sara might mention in passing to David that she doesn't really like the red plates with the green trim. In her mind, she might feel like she has expressed to David that the red plates with the green trim are a trigger to her. That might have been the only safe way to say it. But from the perspective of the friend or loved one, it might sound like just a suggestion that she likes the other plates better. You can see how there is a disparity in communication here.
Both parties need to move closer to each other in the communication. The person living with PTSD needs to be more open and straightforward with what he/she is trying to say about what his/her triggers are and why. The friend or loved one needs to listen, ask questions and most importantly actively create a safe place for the person living with PTSD to be able to express their feelings and concerns about their triggers.
Going back to our example with Sara and David, let's see how they could have communicated better. When Sara tells David that she doesn't really like the red plates with the green trim, David can prompt her to say more about that by asking why she doesn't like those plates. Then Sara will need to take a risk (because she probably won't want to say anything more about it) and share with David that she doesn't like them because she was always sexually molested by her uncle when they came to visit for Christmas and red and green are Christmas colors. Then David needs to respond to this in a caring manner and maybe ask her if she would like to not use those plates or use them less often. Or he could also ask her if she wants to talk more about that experience and her triggers. And then, knowing that the colors red and green together are a trigger for her, he might be conscious of this trigger in the future.
This is an idealistic and fictional example but it does give an illustration and hopefully help with a starting point for friends and loved ones to communicate more clearly with the person living with PTSD.
Addressing the question that was submitted. You should not have to know what your loved one's triggers are without her telling you. There might be things you could pick up on here and there but it really is the responsibility of the person living with PTSD to share triggers with the friend or loved one. Triggers are different for each person so no amount of research will tell you specifically what your loved one's triggers are. You might learn more about what PTSD is and that is a good thing and you might learn in general what triggers are and that they can have a negative effect but you will not learn what your loved one's triggers are, why they are triggers or how those triggers affect your loved one. All you can do is continue to try to create a safe, loving and nonjudgmental place for your loved one to share with you what her triggers are. And this will likely be done over time. Depending on what kind of place your loved one is in with her PTSD, you may want to consult a professional for assistance in communicating with each other.
The most important message from this post is for friends and loved ones to create a safe, loving and nonjudgmental place for the person living with PTSD to share his/her experiences and triggers. Ask questions and keep communication open. We are not perfect people, so if you fail, be honest and explain why you thought something was silly or stupid or you just plain didn't understand. Trust needs to be built and that can only be done in a honest environment and over time so also be patient with him/her as he/she shares with you.
If you have a question about what it is like to live with PTSD, please use the link at the top of the page to submit your question to be answered in a future blog.