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Triggers, PTSD and Complex-PTSD

At the age of seven, I survived an armed robbery, but witnessed the murder of my mother, her partner, and my godmother, in Harlem (NYC). Although I suffered from a gunshot wound, the mental scars presented the most difficult challenges for me. Several years after this tragic event, I was clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to Mental Health America, for people with PTSD, it’s very common for their memories to be triggered by sights, sounds, smells or even feelings that they experience. These triggers can bring back memories of the trauma and cause intense emotional and physical reactions.

Certain scents and loud sounds can trigger flashbacks and nightmares for me. For instance, my mother’s final resting place had a great number of dogwood trees planted nearby. So at times, the scent of dogwood trees has the ability to trigger some unpleasant memories for me, which in turn lead to flashbacks and nightmares.

“Youth living in inner cities show a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers,” according to Howard Spivak M.D., director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention. The reason being, inner city youth living in urban poverty that have experienced such events have no choice but to return to their hostile environments.

Also, according to Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University, a new diagnosis, Complex PTSD, is needed to describe the symptoms of long-term trauma.

During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a state of captivity, physically or emotionally, according to Dr. Herman. In these situations the victim is under the control of the perpetrator and unable to get away from the danger.

Also, as a child, I experienced physical and sexual abuse. The primary culprit was my mother’s boyfriend. As it pertains to myself, I’m not sure if two years qualify as long term, but I certainly would have to agree that long-term traumas need to be acknowledged more by Psychiatric Associations.

Examples of Complex- PTSD include:

Concentration camps
Prisoner of War camps
Prostitution brothels
Long-term domestic violence
Long-term child physical abuse
Long-term child sexual abuse
Organized child exploitation rings


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