When the Bough Breaks: Trauma, Triggers and Violence


Today there have been seventeen deaths reported at a local high school in Broward County.  This was due to a massive shooting by a student. Currently, no information on this student’s background is being disclosed.

Here is what we already know about violence: extreme violent behavior has a trigger. Triggers are created by trauma. What does this mean? The human brain has a incredible capacity to hold data. Data we may not even consciously think about is stored and filed. If this information is disturbing and results in unresolved anger, fear, grief, etc., it can result in unacceptable behavior patterns. Triggers often initiate these patterns. Many people may say they don’t know what happened. They may say that the behavior of the individual came out of the “blue” and the individual may not even be able to verbalize where their behavior came from. However, the brain and the body know where and when to store everything. When a certain sight, smell, sound, situation come up, the brain can be triggered and the body can go into a “fight or flight” response. This can often happen without warning and largely out of an individual’s awareness. Our brains were wired to remember things that pose as a threat and to react to these threats physically.  Often these responses are automatic.

So, how do trauma and triggers relate to violence?  A young mind is highly susceptible to information.  It adjusts at a rapid pace to stressors and situations and adapts itself to quickly find a response to these stressors in order to survive.  If a child is exposed to trauma, excessive abuse and neglect, their brain is rewired to respond to any stressor that may resemble these past triggers, even if the actual threat is not present.  This results in behaviors that are difficult to explain, defiant, aggressive and a lack of attachment to people that care, etc.

This is where mental health comes in.  Children who have been exposed to extreme trauma and violence, abuse and neglect have to have a safe place to process their experiences, work thorough them, and develop healthy coping skills for resolving them so that they can identify their triggers and respond in a way that is appropriate.  These children also need loving, solid relationships with adults to whom they can confide and find comfort and safety.

Often we look at the symptoms of the problem instead of the true underlying issue.  Yes it is a mental health issue but why?  How do we educate others on the signs and symptoms of trauma so that we can spot those who suffer with negative responses to their triggers?  A person does not have to be on drugs, psychotic or “crazy” in order to suffer from negative impulses that can result in extreme tragedy.  Yes, these responses often come into the equation as a result of trauma.  However, it all starts somewhere deeper.  Somewhere this individual did not get their basic needs met and were taught to react in a negative way to survive.  For a time this may have worked.  In time, more behavior patterns grew, problems increased, and the end resulted is something we cannot fathom, understand or make sense of.