Triggering Or Healing: When To Know If Your Trauma Can Help Others Process Their Pain

By Chelsy Ranard

When my best friend passed away in a drunk driving accident, all I wanted was to create positive change. I wanted her death to mean life for others. I wanted others to learn from what happened. My world was destroyed, and I wanted other people to feel how I felt and mourn the absence of her in a way that would make them change their actions and never ever drink and drive again. However, I discovered that my involvement in trying to stop people from drinking and driving started triggering feelings of loss again. In my quest to make her death create positive change, I was hurting my ability to heal.

There are many different types of trauma. With each situation and each person, that trauma is dealt with a little differently. For some people, their trauma is able to be turned into something actionable for others. It can be transformed into an inspiration to help which can lead to a feeling of healing. However, not everyone is able to do that. If you’ve experienced something traumatic and you want to use it to help others, it’s important to understand whether that action is triggering you or healing you.

Understanding Your Own Trauma
Trauma isn’t a very tangible thing; it can shapeshift, hide, and appear suddenly. Many things can cause trauma: Death, divorce, sexual assault, injury, natural disasters, and abandonment are just a few examples. Sometimes trauma is hard to understand because of its ability to change and it being caused by so many things. Helping others may be a great response to your trauma, but that involves understanding a bit about how it’s affecting you and how it will continue to affect you. Processing trauma is important, but everyone’s process is different.

For one, it’s helpful to understand your triggers. If your trauma is related to sexual assault and you decide to begin working with other sexual assault survivors, understand that you may be triggered in that interaction. Sometimes you don’t realize a trigger until it happens. Speaking with a therapist, researching the resources available to you, and talking to others may be the first step in understanding where you are with your own trauma.

When Helping Others Can Help You Heal
Survivors who are able to use their experience to help others are doing something amazing — something that many survivors wish they were able to do. Survivors are great in these positions because they understand certain emotions that others can’t. They relate to them and often make more of an impact when dealing directly with other survivors. Making such an impact can help the healing process as well. There’s a common hope among those who have experienced trauma, and that is the hope that the person or situation that caused the trauma will not win. Oftentimes, turning that pain into something good helps with the feeling that the trauma and its causes haven’t won.

There are many ways to turn a the experience of trauma into a tangible action that will help others, and it’s important to note that not all of those actions have to be triggering ones. Some people interested in helping to alleviate trauma explore career paths with that idea in mind. Going to school to become a nurse will help offset the nursing shortage while helping survivors in many capacities. Nurses can work with children, addicts, those surviving a natural disaster, and patients in many different traumatic situations.

Social workers who work with Child Protective Services work with children experiencing many different traumatic situations including neglect, sexual abuse, and physical abuse, among others. With social work being such a difficult position, social workers are always in high demand. Lawyers, non-profit entrepreneurs, writers, artists, first responders, and counselors all help people in traumatic situations.

Even if your path to helping others as a response to your trauma doesn’t connect to your career, you may still benefit from the healing. Donating time, fundraising, raising awareness, and reaching out to others are all ways to provide aid that can help you heal as well. If you’re looking for way to help, but the route you took was triggering, try another route. You may be able to find a way to help someone else that isn’t triggering for you and helps you to heal from your own trauma — you may just need to think outside the box.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Those who are able to help others and gain healing from it are amazing, but it’s okay if you aren’t able to do that. Not everyone can talk about it, be around it, or be reminded of it without being triggered. You aren’t obligated to turn your experience into something positive for anyone else. You shouldn’t feel guilty about someone else being able to do something that you can’t. Some people find their true calling through through their experiences with loss, but many people don’t. You can’t control how you immediately respond to a traumatic event any more than you can control the event itself.

Though some people who experience a traumatic event feel as though helping others as a response will ensure that the the trauma didn’t win, that doesn’t mean that those who can’t help others have lost. Healing comparisons aren’t helpful, and it’s important to understand that your trauma isn’t the same as anyone else’s — no matter how similar the circumstances are. It’s great to be able to help others in order to help yourself heal, but that’s not the way for everyone to heal. Some people need to heal from their trauma without the presence of triggers, and that is okay too.

Focusing On Yourself First
Just because you’re not helping other people doesn’t mean you aren’t helping. Helping yourself is helping someone. By focusing on you, you’re also helping all of the people who love you. Trauma is a dangerous thing. The effects of trauma can cause many mental health problems, substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, and permanent changes in mood and personality. For that reason, it’s vital to focus on yourself before trying to help anyone else. Feeling triggered through helping others can be lead to serious problems. Some are able to help others once they have focused on themselves and their own healing; others aren’t able to do it at all. Either way is okay.

If you’re looking for ways to focus on yourself and take care of your trauma, you can try talking to a therapist about coping with trauma. You’ll learn about causes, risk factors, symptoms, and PTSD. You’ll learn about how moving your body can help, about the dangers of isolating, how to deal with a panic attack, the importance of good health, treatment options, and how to talk to your loved ones. If you want to help others, talk to your therapist about safe ways to do that without being triggered and how it can help you heal.

Trauma survivors can do amazing things. They can turn their experience into something good. They can create change, help others, and heal through those actions. However, the most important way that a trauma survivor can help is to help themselves. Whether you’re helping others or helping yourself, the important thing is to understand your trauma and focus on you before anyone else.

I wanted to be able to create positive change from my trauma, but the triggers were too much. Instead, I focus on the change I can make within myself and heal in that way instead. My inability to turn my traumatic grief into actionable help for others doesn’t mean I lost, or her death didn’t matter. It means that the help I’m providing is for myself, and that is the most important.




Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about feminism, is a shark enthusiast, and can be found playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow her on Twitter.


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