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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.
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. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate, 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. A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.
A trauma trigger can happen many times in a day and in many different situations. A person that is experiencing a trauma trigger may not even know this is happening. They may react in unexpected ways, become very tired, or experience some extreme emotion. The variety of reactions to a trauma trigger is as broad as the types of trauma. Triggers are usually unavoidable, so a person must learn to handle these intrusive events in order to effectively navigate daily life.
The first step in helping trauma survivors begin the healing process involves establishing a safe environment, 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. Because traumatic memories are stored differently in the brain, their recurrence is often difficult or impossible for the survivor to control. 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.
Film and other visual media represent an especially powerful form of trauma trigger. Because of the realistic portrayal of graphic violence in visual media, sufferers may encounter lifelike trauma triggers while watching movies or television.
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."
- Flashback (psychological phenomenon)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Acute stress reaction
- Glossary of trauma terms
- Emotional dysregulation
- Survivor syndrome
- Repressed memory
- Narcissistic defences
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorders in Rape Survivors
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. nimh.nih.gov.
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- Herman, pp. 159-174.
- Ephron, Dan (2006-10-01). "Battlefield flashbacks". Newsweek. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
- An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College By Angie Epifano