Trauma trigger

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A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

The term 'trauma trigger' is not used or recognised in scientific literature[1] but is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.[2]

Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof[citation needed]. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate,[3] and can sometimes exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which sufferers cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory.[4][5] A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.[6]

A trauma trigger can can manifest in a variety of forms from exhibiting a changed mental state or physical reactions[citation needed]. A person that is experiencing a trauma trigger may not even know this is happening[citation needed][vague].


The first step in helping trauma survivors[vague] begin the healing process involves establishing a safe environment[citation needed], in particular, an environment in which the sufferer does not feel threatened with recurrence of the original trauma, and also feels safe from encountering situations that will trigger the memory of the original trauma.[7] Because traumatic memories are stored differently in the brain, their recurrence is often difficult or impossible for the survivor to control.[8] Creating a living condition in which a survivor feels protected from trauma and from people or situations that will trigger traumatic memory enables the survivor to begin the healing process, in which survivors integrate their dissociated traumatic experience into acknowledged memory and are able to reconnect with their surroundings.[9]

Visual media[edit]

Film and other visual media represent an especially powerful form of trauma trigger[citation needed]. Because of the realistic portrayal of graphic violence in visual media, sufferers may encounter lifelike trauma triggers while watching movies or television.[10]

Trigger warning[edit]

In some publications a "trigger warning" may appear at the beginning of certain articles. These are to warn that the articles contain disturbing themes that may trigger traumatic memories for sufferers. An example of a trigger warning is: "TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people."[11]

The efficacy of 'trigger warnings' is contested. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, freelance writer and co-author of The Vagenda magazine, wrote in the New Statesman that "[trigger warnings] display an increasingly nannying approach to language that is being used to shut down discourse and to silence.".[12] While Jill Filipovic, a blogger, wrote in an article in The Guardian that "triggers are often unpredictable and individually specific" thus making warnings on specific topics irrelevant and also that a precluding trigger warning "sets the tone for reading and understanding the book. It skews students' perceptions. It highlights particular issues as necessarily more upsetting than others, and directs students to focus on particular themes that have been singled out"[13] There have also been suggestions that trigger warnings could themselves act as triggers by reminding the sufferer of their trigger even if the article itself is unrelated.[14] In the Belfast Telegraph, Fionola Meredith, a journalist and broadcaster, wrote that "trigger warnings have got seriously out of hand."[15] and they are a form of censorship: "Look closer at what's going on here and you see that the original, well-meaning intention to protect has changed into something quite different – another tool for liberal fascists (who make an ugly mockery of true liberalism) to control and restrict the flow of debate and shut down anything that they don't want to hear, or that doesn't fit comfortably into their approved list of acceptable things to say.".[15] As trigger warnings have appeared in other media, Jay Caspian Kang, Science and Technology editor at, discussed the effect trigger warnings would have on novelists and notes they are "reducing a work of literature to its ugliest plot points".[16] Professor of sociology, Frank Furedi, described trigger warnings as a form of "narcissism", with the concerns not really being about the content of a book or work of art but about individual students asserting their own importance.[17]

Other individuals have argued that trigger warnings are beneficial. Angus Johnston, a history professor at the City University of New York, argued that trigger warnings can be a part of "sound pedagogy," noting that students encountering potentially triggering material are "coming to it as whole people with a wide range of experiences, and that the journey we’re going on together may at times be painful. It’s not coddling them to acknowledge that. In fact, it’s just the opposite." [18] Students at UC Santa Barbara passed a resolution in support of mandatory trigger warnings for classes that could contain potentially upsetting material. Professors would be required to alert students of such material and allow them to skip classes that could make them feel uncomfortable.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Academic search for the term "trauma trigger"
  2. ^
  3. ^ Post Traumatic Stress Disorders in Rape Survivors
  4. ^ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  5. ^ Herman, pp. 37, 42.
  6. ^ Fagan, N; Freme, K (2004). "Confronting posttraumatic stress disorder". Nursing 34 (2): 52–3. PMID 14758331. 
  7. ^ Herman, p. 155.
  8. ^ Yehuda, Rachel (2002). "Post-traumatic stress disorder". N Engl J Med 346 (2): 108–14. doi:10.1056/NEJMra012941. PMID 11784878. 
  9. ^ Herman, pp. 159-174.
  10. ^ Ephron, Dan (2006-10-01). "Battlefield flashbacks". Newsweek. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  11. ^ An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College By Angie Epifano
  12. ^ Why I don’t agree with trigger warnings by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
  13. ^ Jill Filipovic in The Guardian
  14. ^ Trigger warnings: What do they do? by BBC News
  15. ^ a b Fionola Meredith, The Belfast Telegraph
  16. ^ Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker
  17. ^
  18. ^ Professor Angus Johnston in Slate Magazine
  19. ^ Jarvie, Jenny (3 March 2014). "Trigger Happy". The New Republic. 


  • Herman, Judith Lewis, MD (1992). Trauma and Recovery. BasicBooks, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0465087655. 

Further reading[edit]