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 of 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]

Visual media[edit]

It has been suggested that the realistic portrayal of graphic violence in visual media may cause sufferers to encounter lifelike trauma triggers while watching movies or television.[7]

Trigger warnings[edit]

Trigger warnings are warnings that a work contains writing, images, or concepts which could act as a trauma trigger.[8] The term and concept originated on the Internet and then spread to other areas, such as print media and university courses.[8]

In an interview about trigger warnings for The Daily Telegraph, Professor Metin Basoglu, a psychiatrist internationally recognised for his trauma research, said that "instead of encouraging a culture of avoidance, [the media] should be encouraging exposure. Most trauma victims avoid situations that remind them of the experience. Avoidance means helplessness and helplessness means depression. That's not good."[9] Richard J. McNally, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, wrote in the Pacific Standard[10] that "trigger warnings are designed to help victims 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." McNally's article cites several academic studies of PTSD sufferers in support of these claims.

Now that trigger warnings have appeared in other media, Jay Caspian Kang, best known for his sports writing at Grantland, accused these warnings of "reducing a work of literature to its ugliest plot points".[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.[12] A professor at Texas A&M University argues "the purpose of trigger warnings is not to cause students to avoid traumatic content, but to prepare them for it, and in extreme circumstances to provide alternate modes of learning."[13]

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."[14] 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."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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): 253–65. PMID 9384857. 
  2. ^ "Post-traumatic stress disorder, a real illness". National Institute of Mental Health. 11 October 2007. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. 
  3. ^ Herman, pp. 37, 42.
  4. ^ "Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)". Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. 2015. 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. PMID 14758331. doi:10.1097/00152193-200402000-00048. 
  7. ^ Ephron, Dan (1 October 2006). "Battlefield flashbacks". Newsweek. Newsweek LLC. Retrieved 20 December 2007. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b "Trigger warnings: What do they do?". Ouch blog. BBC. 25 February 2014. Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  9. ^ Waters, Florence (4 October 2014). "Trigger warnings: more harm than good?". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 4 February 2016. 
  10. ^ McNally, Richard J. (20 May 2014). "Hazards ahead: the problem with trigger warnings, according to the research". Pacific Standard. Sara Miller McCune. 
  11. ^ Caspian Kang, Jay (May 2014). "Trigger warnings and the novelists mind". The New Yorker. Condé Nast. 
  12. ^ Jarvie, Jenny (3 March 2014). "Trigger happy". The New Republic. Chris Hughes. 
  13. ^ Lockhart, Elanor Amaranth (28 Sep 2016). "Why trigger warnings are beneficial, perhaps even necessary". First Amendment Studies. 50 (2): 59–69. Retrieved 29 March 2017. 
  14. ^ "On Trigger Warnings". American Association of University Professors. August 2014. 
  15. ^ Johnston, Angus (May 2014). "Trigger warnings: a professor explains why he's pro-trigger warnings". Slate. The Slate Group. 

Further reading[edit]