Trauma trigger

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A trauma trigger is an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory, 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 said to be related to posttraumatic stress disorder, a condition in which sufferers cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory.[2][3][4] Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate,[5] and can sometimes exacerbate PTSD. A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.[6]


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]

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]

The efficacy of 'trigger warnings' has not been methodically addressed by scientific study, however in an interview about Trigger Warnings for the Daily Telegraph[11] Professor Metin Basoglu, a psychologist internationally recognised for his trauma research[11] said that "The media should actually – quite the contrary… Instead of encouraging a culture of avoidance, they should be encouraging exposure. Most trauma survivors avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That’s not good". Another expert, Richard J. McNally, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University while writing for Pacific Standard[12] discussed the scientific merit of trigger warnings noting that "Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder." while citing several academic studies conducted on PTSD sufferers. Frank Furedi, a former Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent 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.[13]

Journalists and Authors outside the field of psychology have also expressed concerns with the use of trigger warnings. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a self proclaimed trauma sufferer, 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.".[14] While Jill Filipovic, a blogger and journalist, 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"[15] 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.[16] As trigger warnings have appeared in other media, Jay Caspian Kang, best known for his sports writing at Grantland, discussed the effect trigger warnings would have on novelists and notes they are "reducing a work of literature to its ugliest plot points".[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. ^ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  3. ^ Herman, pp. 37, 42.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Post Traumatic Stress Disorders in Rape Survivors
  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. ^ a b Trigger warnings: more harm than good?
  12. ^ Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings, According to the Research
  13. ^
  14. ^ Why I don’t agree with trigger warnings by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
  15. ^ Jill Filipovic in The Guardian
  16. ^ Trigger warnings: What do they do? by BBC News
  17. ^ Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker
  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]