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.[1] Trauma triggers are related to posttraumatic stress disorder, 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,[5][1] 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] to begin the healing process involves establishing a safe environment[citation needed], 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.[8][1] 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 warnings are warnings that the ensuing content contains strong writing or images which could unsettle those with mental health difficulties.[11] 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."[12] 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.[13]

In an interview about Trigger Warnings for The Daily Telegraph Professor Metin Basoglu, a psychologist internationally recognised for his trauma research 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".[14] Richard J. McNally, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, while writing for Pacific Standard,[15] 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.[16]

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] 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Kolk, Bessel van der (1994). "The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Evolving Psychobiology of Posttraumatic Stress". Harvard Review of Psychiatry, Vol 1 No 5., Jan/Feb 1994, pp. 253-265
  2. ^ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.[dead link]
  3. ^ Herman, pp. 37, 42.
  4. ^[dead link]
  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: What do they do? by BBC News
  12. ^ Professor Angus Johnston in Slate Magazine
  13. ^ Jarvie, Jenny (3 March 2014). "Trigger Happy". The New Republic. 
  14. ^ Trigger warnings: more harm than good?
  15. ^ Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings, According to the Research
  16. ^
  17. ^ Jay Caspian Kang, The New Yorker


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

Further reading[edit]