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 and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent an earlier traumatic incident. Trauma triggers are related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition in which people often cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms,[1] or of repressed memory.[2][3][4] Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate,[1][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 to begin the healing process involves establishing a safe environment, in particular, an environment in which the person 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 from non-traumatic memories, their recurrence is often difficult or impossible for the survivor to predict or control.[1][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 warnings[edit]

"Trigger warning" redirects here. For the Knife Party album, see Trigger Warning (Knife Party album).

Trigger warnings are warnings that a work contains writing, images, or concepts which could act as a trauma trigger.[11] The term and concept originated on the Internet and then spread to other areas, such as print media and university courses.[11]

In an interview about trigger warnings for The Daily Telegraph Professor Metin Basoglu, a psychologist internationally recognised for his trauma research, said that "Instead of encouraging a culture of avoidance, [the media] 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".[12] Richard J. McNally, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, while writing for Pacific Standard,[13] discussed the 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, an emeritus 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.[14]

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".[15]

There have been suggestions that trigger warnings could themselves act as triggers by reminding the sufferer of his or her trigger even if the article itself is unrelated.[11]

In higher education[edit]

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.[16]

The American Association of University Professors has issued a report critical of trigger warnings in university contexts, stating that "The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual."[17] Angus Johnston, a history professor at the City University of New York, said 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kolk, Bessel van der (July 2015). "The body keeps the score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress". Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 1 (5): 253–265. PMID 9384857. 
  2. ^ Staff writer (11 October 2007). "Post-traumatic stress disorder, a real illness". National Institute of Mental Health. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. 
  3. ^ Herman, pp. 37, 42.
  4. ^ Staff writer (2015). "Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)". Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. Retrieved 4 February 2016. 
  5. ^ Staff writer (2015). "Post traumatic stress disorders in rape survivors". UK: Survive. Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Fagan, Nancy; Freme, Kathleen (February 2004). "Confronting posttraumatic stress disorder". Nursing. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 34 (2): 52–53. doi:10.1097/00152193-200402000-00048. PMID 14758331. 
  7. ^ Herman, p. 155.
  8. ^ Yehuda, Rachel (10 January 2002). "Post-traumatic stress disorder". The New England Journal of Medicine. 346 (2): 108–114. doi:10.1056/NEJMra012941. PMID 11784878. 
  9. ^ Herman, pp. 159-174.
  10. ^ Ephron, Dan (1 October 2006). "Battlefield flashbacks". Newsweek. Newsweek LLC. Retrieved 20 December 2007. 
  11. ^ a b c "Trigger warnings: What do they do?". Ouch blog. BBC news. BBC. 25 February 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Waters, Florence (4 October 2014). "Trigger warnings: more harm than good?". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 4 February 2016. 
  13. ^ McNally, Richard J. (20 May 2014). "Hazards ahead: the problem with trigger warnings, according to the research". Pacific Standard. Sara Miller McCune. 
  14. ^ Coughlan, Sean (1 October 2014). "Tom and Jerry cartoons carry racism warning". BBC news. BBC. 
  15. ^ Caspian Kang, Jay (May 2014). "Trigger warnings and the novelists mind". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. 
  16. ^ Jarvie, Jenny (3 March 2014). "Trigger happy". The New Republic. Chris Hughes. 
  17. ^ "On Trigger Warnings". American Association of University Professors. August 2014. 
  18. ^ Johnston, Angus (May 2014). "Trigger warnings: a professor explains why he's pro-trigger warnings". Slate. The Slate Group. 

Further reading[edit]