Find Your Hidden Trauma Triggers Caused by Domestic Abuse

December 29, 2014 Kellie Jo Holly

Hidden trauma triggers cause symptoms that can be mistaken for signs of domestic abuse when there is no abuser. Learn how to recognize hidden trauma triggers.

The trauma triggers discussed in the last post (How To Handle Trauma Triggers Caused By Domestic Abuse) typically result in anxiety or panic attacks. You can often find a cause for those types of trauma triggers and there is a way to handle the anxiety they cause at the time they occur.

On the other hand, hidden trauma triggers are situations, relationships or events that subconsciously remind an abuse survivor of the abuse they experienced and cause the survivor to feel or act out in ways they did during the abusive relationship for several days or longer.

Symptoms of Hidden Trauma Triggers

Hidden trauma triggers cause symptoms that you may not recognize as symptoms. Instead, while emerging from the symptoms, you think that you:

  • took a back-step in your healing,
  • experienced a bout of depression,
  • fell back into old behavior patterns or
  • dishonored your healing process or yourself in some regrettable way.

Hidden trauma trigger symptoms:

  • take longer to recognize,
  • last longer,
  • affect more of your behaviors and
  • can be tougher to recover from

than triggers that cause short-lived anxiety or panic discussed in the last post.

Current Abuse Victims and Hidden Trauma Triggers

In general, men and women currently living in abusive relationships cannot experience hidden trauma triggers. The reason is that the symptoms of hidden trauma triggers are the same as the feelings and behaviors that abuse causes. Therefore, if you're currently experiencing abuse, then your symptoms are the result of the abuse -- not due to a trigger.

The exception would be victims who were abused by someone else before their current abusive relationship. It would be possible for those victims to experience a trigger based on past abuse. However, if you're in an abusive relationship now then trauma triggers are not your problem. The problem is the abuse.

Hidden Trauma Triggers and Symptoms of Abuse

Hidden triggers result in former abuse victims acting and feeling much the same as they did while in the abusive relationship. For example, hidden trauma trigger symptoms could include sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances or your return to substance abuse. In fact, any symptom of abuse is a symptom of hidden trauma triggers because both linger after a person leaves the abuse.

Mental Disorders and Hidden Trauma Triggers

During abusive relationships, victims may develop depression, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or other mental disorders. Hidden trauma triggers can cause depressive episodes and a rise in anxiety levels just as panic causing triggers can cause PTSD to flare.

Example of Depression as a Trauma Trigger Symptom

Hidden trauma triggers cause symptoms that can be mistaken for signs of domestic abuse when there is no abuser. Learn how to recognize hidden trauma triggers.I am a former abuse victim who suffers from major depressive disorder. A few months ago, my ex-spouse used verbal and emotional abuse in texts to me. I knew his behavior triggered immediate anxiety, so I took care to calm myself and get my mind straight. A week or two later, I realized I was enduring a depressive episode. However, I didn't connect the depression with my ex's abuse until later.

However, when I re-read my journal posts from that episode, I realized that the previous month of depression happened because part of my brain believed I was still married to an abuser. I experienced that episode of depression solely because the abusive attack triggered my mind to return to a time where feeling worthless and scared felt normal. To a time where being depressed felt normal.

The benefit of seeing how one episode of abuse triggered a month of depression is that if my ex or anyone else abuses me again I will notice any depression much sooner. Plus, knowing why I'm depressed will help me treat the cause instead of merely wait for the symptom to go away. Recognizing when hidden trauma triggers occur can help you shorten the duration of your discomfort even if you have a mental or mood disorder.

Types of Hidden Trauma Triggers

Anything can become a trauma trigger, hidden or not. Typically, a trigger that causes large-scale symptoms, as seen with hidden triggers, results from an ongoing situation or relationship. A co-worker's accent could become a hidden trigger and cause you to feel confused whenever he speaks to you. An evolving relationship with a friend could take a turn for the ugly and trigger you to act defensively or aggressively in all of your relationships. Generally you do not automatically associate the trigger with the abuse or your abuser. It is only after you recognize an old symptom of abuse return that you can make the connection between the past and present.

I know that sometimes it seems the abuse from the past refuses to let us loose to enjoy the present. But remember, the abuse cannot control you any more now than it did then unless you allow it. It is tiring for me to catch myself acting or thinking or feeling like I did back in the days of my abusive marriage. And yet, if I continue to be aware of my hidden trauma triggers and on the lookout for their symptoms, I will overcome them. The only way I can fail at healing is to stop trying to heal.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2014, December 29). Find Your Hidden Trauma Triggers Caused by Domestic Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

December, 29 2014 at 10:50 am

I am in a relationship that the abuse has gone from just me to my children, if we leave we are leaving everything I have. this home and everything in it is MINE and my kids the only thing that isnt is the land. I do not have the money to move the home, my family has disowned me for staying with him and I have no money, im not allowed to work and I try to make money online and I start to then he tells me I never will so I quit. I need help real help not someone telling me to leave everything that is mine and my kids,..i cant hurt my kids more than I have.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Sheila Roddy
August, 28 2017 at 11:22 am

Your life and your children's lives are the only thing that's important. Things can be acquired again but if you don't leave now there might come a day when it will be too late...there's always a way....I went back to my abuser 3 times over a 6 year period. Why? Because I had no one to help apart from the 4 weeks in a local shelter. If you couldn't get on your feet within 4 weeks you had to leave. I had immigrated from another country so had no family apart from my two girls. I lost my first baby at 34 weeks due to beatings during the pregnancy. After returning to him the third time I knew I needed a plan. He was navy so when he was away I found two jobs, bought a beat up little car and found an apartment. I knew God was with me giving me strength. Don't stay because of things....please get out!!!

December, 31 2014 at 10:32 am

I left, 10yrs of hell followed (family court, social stigma, decline in health & loneliness), it ended with the sudden death of our youngest.
You can't do this alone, move close to 'REAL' supporters - family & friends, under the guise of 'holiday' Get Child Safety & Women's DV services involved - & FIGHT!

December, 31 2014 at 6:59 pm

Margo, please look up the Domestic Violence Coalition for your state. They should have a toll free number to call and can connect you to a program close to you. The local DV program should offer free services such as crisis line support, counseling, shelter and other resources to help you plan a way to exit the abuse. Always call the police if you are in imminent danger. Stay safe and best wishes

January, 24 2016 at 2:14 am

I was also in a long term abusive relationship, 16 years long. I have two boys 13 and 3 who have spent their lives growing up in a household full of lies, deceit, betrayal, verbal out bursts, physical contact, tears shed, emotional-physical-mental-emotional and verbal abuse was of the normalcy. Where the love, laughter and family times and values slowly became engulfed in this evil, cruel, dark n scary plague that only seemed to target the weak which in this case myself and my 13 year old. Coming from a physical and verbal abusive childhood, the statistics that bet all odds that once I entered adulthood, chances were that I would seek and gravitate towards the more unhealthy relationships than healthy ones. Those odds and statistics were 100%correct in my circumstance. Why? You ask? What ppl don't truly realize and understand or they do but choose not believe and/or admit to it is when u spend majority of your life suffereing from any form of abuse or maybe it was just a brief time frame but the abuse was so severe it triggered various emotions within ourselves which ultimately left a lot of its victims fragile, weak, easily manipulated, unable to see our true worth, depressed, afraid, secluded, humiliated, angry, sad, hurt, ashamed etc. So with that said, those different emotions we were left with just opened the gates for what type of relationships? We as humans will tend to veer towards what we already know, what we are accustomed to rather than veer towards something new, something out of our comfort level. So we enter these relationships already defeated which takes away our power, strength and ability to take charge of our lives and determine what we will n what we won't stand for. It breaks my heart because I can relate to every last one of you but it fills my heart with hope because I am a survivor and I am here to tell anyone willing to listen n believe me when I say you will be okay. You have so much life to live that u had no idea even existed. But only you know when enough is enough but try and realize it before enough turns into suicidal addeations. Like my many failed attempts. Your worth so much more. And anyone's far anyone's the kids get them out of the situation fast because we as parents are the ones responsible for raising, shaping, and teaching our kids right from wrong, life's many valuable lessons and own experiences to hopefully empower them to become a respectable decent human being when we let them enter this roller coaster of a place we call life. So don't set them up for failure right off the bat how unfair is that to them. Surround yourself with positive supports and set boundaries for those who are negative attributes in your life. It's time start taking care of YOU and YOUR journey to your new life that awaits u. And there are many resources for victims of abuse. Assisted living programs, work force programs, free child car, counseling, even someone to guide you n help get ur life back on track. So hold ur head high and when u look at ur self in the mirror remember this saying I often repeat on a daily basis..." I wasn't given this life to lead I was chosen to lead this life. I was tested mentally, physically, emotionally and pulled every direction before I was hand selected by a greater power not because I failed or portrayed weakness, but because I possessed strength, courage and wisdom needed to live the life that was chosen specifically for me to lead. Only the strong survive. So reach deep within ur self and pull out what your positive supports and ppl who love you knew u had all along and take life head's time we put wasted years fighting our way to our own demise to fighting years to come for a chance at life. Do you truly know how blessed you are? And what a huge compliment to know u were selected out of many to lead a life a lot of ppl couldnt. That God or whom ever u believe in or don't had and still has that much faith and belief that everything good or bad that comes ur way u can handle pat ur self on the back

July, 22 2016 at 11:40 pm

Hello my name is Heather i have neen in a relationship for 8 yrs now and when it get bad it gets ugly i have been emotionally abandoned and verbally abused most days. I know i deservere better than this i have done everything i can possibly do and im whore out it feels as if he sucks my good energy out for himself. Like a vampire. Mr x i will call him has been a very self centered and narcissist in every way my question is this is there any hope at all is this the true him i stood by him thick and thin and he cant even have the simple respect to be a decent person to me .he puts a fake front in companey i mean its rediculious hes not fun at all but for what ever reason i keep staying i made him leave 3 times and it was better for a min then it changed i cant even enjoy my life anymore he lives in my home and it seems like im the stranger he cobstantly ignores me eats everyyhing in the house with no respect for me he uses so much stuff and dont replace it ever HELP i feel like the biggest fool ever and i really dont know what to do.

August, 3 2016 at 6:58 pm

Leave in your mind. Not physically. Start with your mind.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
August, 8 2016 at 3:28 am

Exactly. That's perfect, Sharon.

April, 17 2017 at 9:36 pm

I have been out of my emotional and sexual abusive relationship for almost 2 years. I recently have discovered I am no longer scared of him and that gave me alot of myself back. But I recently watched a newer episode of law and order svu (I've watched them before since the abuse and been fine) but in this episode it focused on the controlling and emotional aspect more and it showed the confrontation go from the women trying to break up with her abuser and it ended with him hitting her which is where the scene ends. I left my abuser before it got to that severity but that scene in the show keeps replaying in my mind and made me feel uncomfortable and sick and I can't stop thinking about how that could have been me. I don't know why it's bugging me. I thought I was over this it's been two years....

June, 19 2017 at 5:51 pm

it is not allowing me to go to other articles. :-( This article was great thanks so helpful

July, 16 2017 at 10:23 pm

First off I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you do not mind.
I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear
your thoughts prior to writing. I've had a difficult time clearing
my thoughts in getting my ideas out there. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems
like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 27 2017 at 1:46 pm

Hi Octavia, I don't do much centering or clearing. However, when I'm done with the first draft, I delete the first 150 words or so. If I'm in love with a phrase that pops up in the first 150 words, I can work it in later in the post or use it for another project.

August, 10 2017 at 3:09 am

Twenty-three years later, and in my first relationship with anyone. Being a single mom, I decided not to date....I didn't realize how much the abuse played into the decision. Now it seems I have periods where I am filled with joy....and then a deep bereft takes over....doesn't last more than a week. But it consumes and twice now I've left the relationship....He's been really patient....reading these articles have helped immensely in seeing the why of my running. Oh my, 23 years later and I still...thank you.

September, 14 2017 at 8:36 am

How did you make the memories stop?
Its 10 yrs since I was abused. I was beaten multiple times a week and even had the bones in my face shattered. I cant stop reliving the images, sounds, memory of the intense physical pain. Its like a movie that plays in my mind. There are times I push it to the side, because I have to to live life. However, sometimea things happen and it starts that movie playing in my mind again. I just want it to stop playing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 16 2017 at 5:16 pm

I found peace through working with a loving and supportive therapist. It took a long time, but I am able to look back on the abusive with peace. Surpringly, the person that I had to work the hardest to forgive was myself. I had blamed myself for my parents raging, their loss of control, and the harm they inflicted on me. I was told it was my fault and I believed it. Once I was able to see the poison in carrying the blame inside of me, I was able to find peace for the first time. Therapy set me free.

February, 18 2018 at 10:03 am

I was emotionally and physically abused from 5 years old on by my father. Then 17 years by my ex husband. I have been divorced for 10 years and away from my father for longer than that. I have come a long way in my recovery but still encounter triggers. I have been in a loving, supportive relationship for 4 years with my husband. These triggers are irrational. My husband asked me recently when I had a trigger why I would want to live with triggers that question his feelings for me. I realize and explained that I DON'T! My question is how do I work through these triggers?

Leave a reply