Last Updated: August 20, 2019

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Definition - What does Trigger mean?

In psychology, a trigger is something which inspires feelings of trauma. Sights, sounds, smells, and places can all be triggers which inspire negative memories. Triggers are personal responses to traumatic events of the past, such as rape, sexual assault, or molestation. Something that triggers one person will not necessarily trigger someone else even if they have experienced similar trauma.

Kinkly explains Trigger

Exposure to a trigger takes a trauma victim back to the moment of trauma. Often trauma victims will re-live negative moments when they are triggered. They may feel upset, angry, anxious, or fearful. Exposure to a trigger can also cause trauma victims to regress into destructive behavior they used to cope with the trauma, such as cutting themselves or binge eating.

As exposure to triggers can be damaging, many trauma victims try to avoid their known triggers. They choose to avoid violent movies or may avoid visiting certain places where the trauma occurred, for example. Survivors of sexual abuse may actively avoid partners who look like their attackers. They may be unable to enjoy certain sexual activities, be touched in certain places, or in certain ways.

While triggers are individual, certain content is more likely to trigger certain people than others. For example, a story which depicts rape may trigger survivors of rape. Trigger warnings can help trauma victims make more informed, safer choices about the content they view. They might mentally prepare themselves for viewing the content or avoid it altogether.

Victims should be open and honest about their triggers, especially with their intimate partners. Open dialogue can help people understand the trauma their partners have faced and what behaviors should be avoided to minimize the risk of triggering them. Therapists can also help trauma victims manage their responses to their triggers.

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