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Sex with Dr. Jess


October 7, 2021

Trauma Triggers In Relationships

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  • What is a trauma trigger?
  • How does it show up in the body?
  • How can you recognize your triggers and communicate your needs to your partner?
  • As the partner of someone who has experienced trauma, how can you be more supportive?

Therapist Anna Baxter joins us to share their knowledge about therapy, trauma, working with couples, and more.

They’ve also kindly shared this resource to help you communicate your needs to your partner.

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Rough Transcript:

This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.

Trauma Triggers In Relationships

00:00:05 – 00:05:02

You’re listening to the sax with dr jess podcast sacks and relationship advice. You can use tonight today. We are talking about trauma and how it affects sex and relationships and i am by gender and relationship therapist ana baxter thank you so much for being here very welcome now. You work with folks in relationships singles groups all of the above. What have you been seeing over the last little while any shifts in challenges or reasons why people are coming in. oh yeah with the pandemic. We’ve had so much more. Just general depression and anxieties and stuff like that And lots of relationships who are starting to realize like. Oh when i’m trapped in a house with somebody Necessarily work anymore. And i’m to try this poly-amorous thing but she didn’t know how it goes. When people try us. Paul pauline marie to fix broken relationship. Yes and is is it often one person hoping to. Yeah yeah what do you do when one partner really wants to open up. Especially when they started as monogamous and the other partners not so keen. We usually start with kind of understanding that. Paul amory’s a valid option. And then we kind of get into a little bit of education about neurological change of thoughts and feelings. Is that sort of thing to kind of support the partner who’s not early thinking about all. He is an option in case they might want to change their thinking over the long term and honestly most of the time. It’s too much work. And they ended up sprinting yet. It’s interesting that you say that. Because i think sometimes therapists are very careful about saying that. It is so true that you know. I always say compatibility can be cultivated. You can be compatible with lots of different people. You can’t be compatible with anyone. And when it comes down to something like being poly-amorous or being more inclined toward monogamy for many of us that sort of at the core of our identity. Yeah right not all of us. I happen to be one of those people who can be in various types of relationships. But i know for many people. It’s really a part of our essence and so it’s not like i really like rough sex and they really like romantic sex while we can probably bridge that gap but this is really about how you live who you are how you structure your entire life like it’s tied to your identity your core principles and so sometimes i think when people come to you saying okay. We’re having problems in this relationship. I think we should open it up. But my partner isn’t keen. Sometimes i think that wanting to open up doesn’t necessarily have to do with identity. Not all the time and more has to do with not wanting to do the work on the relationship to begin with. Yeah that’s what we see a lot of the time. What do you do as a therapist if you’re seeing that like can you. Are you comfortable calling them out. And i’m not saying that. This is the answer for all therapists. But like what’s your comfort level. I try and empower both partners to be honest with themselves and honest with each other about their hopes dreams and visions for relationship in the future and come to their own understanding. There’s an incompatibility there. If there is right sometimes people are like. I see it in theory and i’d like to get comfortable with it cool. We’ll we’ll work on that but if somebody’s really against it it goes against a lot of their values and their partner wants to try out this polly thing and i get the hunch that the relationship hasn’t been healthy for a long time then we start talking about. Hey think about your vision for your future. What is your ideal life what is your ideal relationship and as though they at all similar to each other if they’re not then it’s not going to be an easy road and they need to make the decision for themselves. So i don’t i don’t really tend to like call it out directly. There was one couple that was really abusive with each other so they came in talking about policy stuff. But really it was like y’all did knock off your abuse of each other. And i called that out very directly and a couple of weeks later. They just wouldn’t stop. So i told them you need to get divorced. Need to move out of the only time that i really had to be that direct with people but they were being full on abusive with each other. That’s that’s really tough. Yeah so in. Addition to people coming in with more relationship problems higher levels of depression anxiety mental health stuff the counselors therapists are also dealing with more and it seems that everybody is full like waiting lists and so i’m wondering you know the caseload maybe is feeling a little bit more emotionally draining and your caseload is higher if therapists are just going to have to cut back if we’re going to see a shortage. Yeah i’ve already put pretty stringent limits on like my boundaries. Around time i will only see so many clients a week so many clients in a row that sort of thing in the switch to virtual was really difficult for me at least because it cut the amount of data my body and my brain can take in by like at least half so my brain was working harder but i had more clients right because you have to do so much more to pick up on all the nuance.

00:05:02 – 00:10:03

All the delayed facial expressions. So i haven’t seen any research on that. But i’m sure we will see research coming out and we upcoming you’re involved in a couple of different research surveys on that topic all right on how it’s affecting mental health professional okay. Well look forward to that. I mean we kind of took a little left turn. Because i was interested in your work here but i do. You wanna talk about trauma and how it shows up in relationships in and out of the bedroom so maybe we can start with trauma triggers. So what is a trauma trigger weird. You see it’s showing up for people who have a history of trauma abuse. So i wanna start with a couple of definitions just in case. Nobody has understanding of that trauma. At least according to the dsm is defined as event that threatens the life or serious injury of a person it can be directly or witnessed so a lot of first responders end up with trauma and then there’s a couple of different leg diagnoses that can be connected to that got acute trauma that happens in the short time after the event. And we’ve got ptsd that most people are familiar with this At least a couple of months after the traumatic event and they see they see symptoms the symptoms of the same the only differences. How much time. It’s been since the event and then. Ptsd can be even more specific in that it can be connected to just one event or it can be more complex and connected to a series of events so like chronic childhood abuse that we’d see a ptsd see and the symptoms can be a lot more varied in that situation and there’s a couple more attachment based things in that sort of thing. And so when. I’m talking about trauma dots. What i’m talking about is things that were physically and emotionally damaging to somebody or even a threat of that so they might not have actually been harmed by an event but if their brain thought they would be. That’s all it takes so when we talk about triggers that’s been become such a politicized word right and in mental health. What we’re talking about is a stimulus of some kind that the brain and the body. The nervous system reacts to in various specific kind of ways. It’s not necessarily. I’m angry about this topic. It’s usually what it means is houston political arenas so common ones are somebody who was sexually assaulted if they smell something similar to what they experienced during that moment they’ll flash back to that moment or they’ll just get all of a sudden a symptomatic nervous system response where they’re just sitting calmly in a classroom or something and like they can’t wait to get out of the room why they don’t even realize for themselves sometimes and so when that kind of stuff happens in intimate moment between us ex partner play partner pickup play partner or even just coddling action really like throw the activity off the rails and so if you are being triggered whether it’s by as you said a smell or a word or sound or memory or movement or something you see in the minds ir in the eye itself what are your options. What can you do. I wanna say in the moment. I think i know what you’re saying but also what are the treatment options available. So i in the moment and then how are you treating trauma so in the moment the amount of options are really broad. And it there. They really can’t be specific to each person. So when i’m working with a client talking about you know they’ve been having episodes being triggered and really overcome with a nervous system activation. That’s what we talk about is what is nervous system. What is the autonomic nervous system and what happens in a stressful moment whether it’s genuinely like stressful like the trauma event or whether it’s an episode or something in the world has triggered we talk about. How the autonomic nervous system reacts and pumps out chemicals and hormones and redirects glue close into the limbs and in prepares us to fight or flight and if that doesn’t work then we go into freeze and sometimes that moment is just a second our body will seize up to fights and we realize there’s no fighting out of this situation and we’ll go into a freeze dorsal vaguely familiar political theory. A lot of the time trauma starts with. How do we identify these moments within our. What is my individual symptoms. And then what are the things that helps my body. Sometimes deep breathing exercises will totally trigger somebody. If they’re paying that much attention to their body that it perpetuates worse you know activation whereas for other people tuning into the breath as it comes in and leaves. The body is a calming experience.

00:10:03 – 00:15:02

That gives them a chance to focus on that in turn. Their their minds is attention away. From what may be happening around them. What may be happening within even so we do a lot of research about deep breathing and para sympathetic nervous system activation. So that’s in the moment as far as like long term treatment. Some of the go-to does our mdr and brian spotting. Can you tell us a little bit about. Amd are i. So i don’t do ’em dr. But one of my colleagues does and from what i’ve gathered. mdr stands for i movement sensitization reprocessing and the basic idea. You kind of ones with some lights or some hand movements and that sort of thing to get the is moving and something about the. I’m moving while they’re reviewing and doing kind of a narrative of the traumatic experience opens up. The brain makes it a little more malleable than it might usually be so that we can shift the neurons. When happens for a lot of people is the everytime we remember something or actually firing those neurons again in the same so every time we remember something we are rebuilding that memory every time remember something. We have the opportunity to change that memory in our brain and there’s another trauma based treatment that i incorporate a bit more i’m trying to remember post traumatic growth. I went to a class on it. And the core of it is that reprocessing where every time you remember something that happened. The brain is open and malleable for about six hours afterwards. And if you can get people through that moment of remembering without becoming totally unraveled and then complete the story and integrate more of the meaning of that event in their life and bring them to focus more on their strength and the resilience and who they are now as a successful human being as vessel person successful soul who really get into the spirituality of stuff to then it helps to change the emotional response to that memory so when their their body remembers that traumatic moment they will not just remember the fear and the anxiety and the pain and everything of that it will carry through to the rest of their story in their life and it over long-term changes the emotional experience of the trauma and imagine. This is something that therapists have been doing in session for longtime without even having the language around. You know things get sort of branded. Today and more importantly beyond therapists i think healers and communities have been doing this for generations. We didn’t even. We never called trauma. Your right like i traumas even a newer word for me. But certainly i think about like for my mom’s generation and you know being from where we’re from that’s not that’s not language we ever had the permission to use and so i think sometimes for some people it can sound like when we talk about trauma everything’s trauma and part of that boils down to semantics. Yes right for you know. I might have been taught to brush something off as an annoyance for years growing up but a million little annoyances eventually add up to something especially when that supposed- annoyance relates to who you are as a person to your personal safety so aside from the treatment. I’d like to think a little bit or talk a little bit about how to manage trauma and relationships so if you have had a traumatic experience that affects the way you will interact with a partner intimate partner or even just with the play partner or even with friends so it affects the way you might respond not just in bad but in the heat of an argument or you know in a situation that reminds you of something. What can you do to communicate your history and perhaps your needs in boundaries into a martin. How do you walk people through that. The answer is pretty similar whether we’re talking like short-term maybe like play tonight or long-term for an extending relationship the most important thing is to know within ourselves what that pattern is like as the person who has experienced trauma and has ptsd symptoms. I need to know what are the triggers. What are the things that helped that. I can communicate to somebody else. Now that takes time to figure how right it takes emotional regulation skills to be able to recognize that not totally dissociate out like some people do and so we really need to do our own work as far as that goes in the communicate that with our partner and communicating. that way. of like. If this happens if you know.

00:15:02 – 00:20:01

I have this response. I want you to know that you haven’t done anything wrong. Because a lot of times playing with somebody with trauma we really scared of. Oh my god. I did something wrong right. Depending on what their response is to the situation and knowing ahead of time that i haven’t done anything wrong. And i’m not in trouble in some mike is they’re never system’s gonna react to even if they don’t have ptsd necessarily they have stress response. Basically everybody does so communicating ahead of time to know what’s going on can be really helpful. There’s for more long-term relationship i have. I stole the idea. Basically borrow the idea from owning forgetting her name blinking. Up at pauline murray. Weekly like a decade margo. She talks about like guidebook for self. And i’ve gathered from their templates and other people’s templates and put together a starter template for guidebook to yourself that incorporates those questions about trauma water the stories that are important in and support or like you know lead to traumatic response but also statements like i feel strong when and then you can describe a situation right. That helps that person feel strong. I feel safe when and then you can fill out. You know things that support that person feeling safe. I mean we know that information than we know how to help somebody when they’re really activated if they need to feel safe than we know we have written out when they were calm right when they had all of their faculties they wrote that stuff out for the future version of themselves and so this guidebook this. I guess it’s a self help book but also a workbook. it just wants you to paper. Oh it’s okay so where she doublet. Is it love positive. Counseling dot com. not yet. But i can put it on there. Okay we’ll get. We’ll get it on their app in time. We can also put that in the show notes. If you’re okay with it but of course we want to drive people to follow you in check out your site now on the flip side so the person who has experienced trauma can do this. Self-reflection can really think about what their needs are can set boundaries can be specific and communicating it to their partner and as you said their partner also has their own nervous system and so as a partner of somebody who’s experienced trauma. What can you do to be supportive. Other questions you can ask. Is there a way to give them a certain type of space. And then of course. I mean you said this in all of your answers. Every single situation is going to be different every person’s different like we don’t have a magic wand or formula otherwise we’d be on our rocket ship going to to the moon to so what can i do if my partner has disclosed that they’ve experienced trauma. How can i be supportive. so i’m imagining the scenario. Where been in relationship with somebody for a little while at least and then they tell me that. Hey by the way i experienced trauma i would ask. Basically what is it you need from me. And what what do you need in general like in your life to be and feel your best self right and ask those questions of what helps you feel straw. What in the world. What within yourself helps you feel strong helps you feel safe helps you feel love right and put together a plan within yourself if you know that they tend to react in a certain way if they have a pattern their nervous system tends to react in the same ways in you put in your head a plan of action based on their answers when i do the trauma and triggers class at frolic with some friends of mine. They often talk about negotiation questions. And how some people don’t realize that they’ve experienced trauma so sometimes we’ll get a chris clean. Hey by the way. I had this traumatic experience and sometimes the person we’re working with plan with doesn’t even realize what they went through trauma and what they experience occasionally is trauma trigger and so asking. Those questions of everybody i play with is important. Like what makes you feel unsafe. What makes you feel like scared in a bad way. What makes you feel strong. What makes you feel safe. What turns you on what like what activates your stress response being a therapist. I can’t help but use that language but other people would probably say you know what terrifies you bad way just to tease out things that they might not have thought of. Yeah i think these are really important conversation. So you’re talking about using them with a new play partner even if they’re casual but i think they’re really valuable in long term relationships as well absolutely right and i think maybe those are questions we haven’t asked or you haven’t asked in a very long time and things are always changing so i think that’s a great kind of piece of homework for people to take home and try in. It doesn’t have to be with an intimate partner. Either rightly when you think about how we have fights with friends or get annoyed with friends or have new people call drama.

00:20:01 – 00:23:55

But sometimes it’s just you know people reacting to things without realizing what they’re reacting to so. I think those are great questions like. When do you feel most confident. When do you feel most safe really really helpful. And then the other piece that i think might be important is what you need when you feel this way i anything you brought that up at flip side of that for me is what do you not need like. I have this exercise when i’m angry at my family. I want you to listen. I don’t want you to pylon right. When i’m pissed off about something at work or nervous about something at work. I want you to hold me. I don’t want you to offer solutions. And my partner and i- brandon have done this and i’ve done this with many couples and i find it really useful because well if i know that what i want. When i’m feeling stressed out is a hug. I might come give you a hug and that could actually be overwhelming for you regardless of whether or not you know you’ve experienced trauma certainly for someone who’s experienced trauma. It could enact a trigger or be a trigger and enact those responses in the bodies that you describe but for other people that just don’t wanna hug like it’s annoying. It feels overwhelming. You’re too close to me. All of those things and i think this is a great reminder that our needs and our what’s the opposite of a need a boundary. Something we don’t want change over time right like a pandemic has really changed what i want from people whereas two years ago i would have said i wanna hug now and like people. Don’t touch me touch me. Don’t lick me don’t poke me with my hair. Just ask verse eight right. So i think this is a great opportunity and i think a really important discussion for people regardless of whether or not the experienced trauma or their partner has and a really important piece that you brought up is that some people don’t realize or don’t acknowledge the trauma and even if they do acknowledge the trauma they may not acknowledge their triggers. Yes right like yes. Okay if you freeze you’re probably going to notice it. But what if you just get combative. What if you become accusatory. What if you withdraw. What if you get really irritable. Like irritability is one of those symptoms attached to trauma to depression to anxiety right that we ignore. We just think we’re in a bad mood right. We think we’re impatient people. We think you know good bad. Dichotomy is so this is a. I think a great start of a conversation and really encourage people to use these questions. You’ve provided to them regardless of relationship status or type of relationship. Absolutely thank you so much Folks of course you can follow along with ana baxter at love positive counseling and we’ll be sure to put their twitter handle and all their links up on the show notes as well so thank you so much for joining us. Welcome learn so much and just a quick reminder folks that t. c. dot ca in canada. That is our online shopping. Channel is offering twenty five percent off all of their sexual wellness products including the high brands. That honestly never get discounted that deeply with code doctor. Just twenty five so please do head over to. Tse dot ca. The full link is tse dot ca slash intimately. You and while you’re there you can actually watch our episodes that i’m super excited about as you know we have episodes on. Sex post menopause on pelvic floor health for orgasms on anal sex tips on how to last longer in bed. We’ve got obviously some really incredible experts joining me there. Dr jessica shepherd bouma. Todd is just to name a few as well as many many more you know. I’m thrilled and super excited to be hocking dildos on national tv. So if you’re able to check it out and share please please do and again if you are shopping. Tse dot ca. I will put the full link. Tse dot ca slash intimately. You in my i g bio to make it easier and the savings code. Is dr jess twenty five. So thanks so much for being here wherever you’re at have a great one. You’re listening to the sex with dr jess podcast. Improve your sex life improve your life.