Triggers: So I Was Spiritually Abused, What Next?

Triggers: So I Was Spiritually Abused, What Next? April 10, 2014

We’re starting a new series called “So I Was Spiritually Abused, What Next” with posts about healing, explaining some of the things most people that walk away from spiritual abuse suffer from after leaving as well as information on healing from abuse. We invite anyone that wants to write a post for this series to email Suzanne, NLQ Moderator/Admin at CaluluNLQ(at)gmail(dot)com.


When someone has experienced one or more traumatic events, they will sometimes re-experience the intense and disturbing reactions they suffered during the original trauma if something in their environment reminds them of the traumatic event. These reminders, which are often referred to as Triggers, can be a wide variety of things:

  • a person that reminds the survivor of the abuser
  • a situation, such as sexual abuse that took place in the bathroom triggering someone during a show or a place or anniversary date of the trauma
  • a sensation, such as someone wearing the same cologne as the abuser
  • a feeling, example the survivor feeling helpless because they are not able to complete a task or control a situation and reacting by having a melt-down because they felt helpless when there were abused.
  • an object

Triggers can be so subtle that they can be difficult to identify and therefore make the emotional and behavioral responses of an abused individual difficult to understand. Extreme reactions are often misunderstood as willful behavior that the survivor ‘chooses’ when, in fact, they may be set off by one or more trauma reminders.

Written by a clinical social worker that wishes to remain unnamed.

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Thank you for writing this, and starting this series…

  • Isn’t there a point where ‘triggers’ are part of the desensitization process? I think we all have things that make us very uncomfortable – during recovery. Mine was dealing with letter openers. The elementary school principal who molested me as a child threatened to kill me with one. For ages I would freeze when I saw one. Finally, I can use one and it’s just a letter opener. I don’t think we can fully recover from any horrific situation until we reach a point where ‘triggers’ have no power over us. And – that is something much easier said than done, trust me. I’m still dealing with being photographed.

  • “Isn’t there a point where ‘triggers’ are part of the desensitization process?”

    What worked for me was to identify my triggers and purposefully associate them with something happy. For example, for the longest time I couldn’t enjoy the movie Moulin Rouge because I had a memory of watching that movie in the living room while my then-husband was doing his girlfriend down the hall. Later on, when I was dating again, in the middle of those warm, fuzzy new relationship feelings, I would make sure that we watched Moulin Rouge together. After doing this a few times, I found that I now associated the movie with warm fuzzy feelings instead of flying into a rage.

  • This is good. Very good. Far too often people who are still working through various triggers get written off as “crazy” without any consideration for what they are dealing with.

  • Rebecca Horne

    Maybe? Probably for a lot of people, yes, but I don’t think that there are a lot of “shoulds” here. If somebody finds it easier to avoid their triggers than to confront them, and that works for them, then that’s what works them.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I think identifying your triggers is a very helpful thing. This piece talking about what triggers are is really geared towards those that read here, never post and are dealing with getting out of their harmful church, maybe thinking they are crazy or having a panic attack when triggered who haven’t heard about triggers. I didn’t know about triggers and how badly I would be effected when I left. I wish I had.

  • I think we are all different. I like the right between the eyes approach. It is what-ever works best, and we never know what that is.

  • Levedi

    Thank you for starting this series. I’ll be following it.

  • AJ

    Athena, I really love how you turned that trigger into something positive with a loving memory attached to it.