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A trigger in psychological understanding is an event, situation, or impulse that sets something in motion, leading to a chain of reactions with strong emotions (e.g., fear, shock, anger) or even physical reactions (e.g., nausea, sweating, trembling, physical pain, freezing in motion, etc.). The trigger is recalling a traumatic event that happened in the past.

By not giving specific examples of possible traumatic experiences, this post ensures that reading it avoids triggering any distressing memories or flashbacks.

In mental health terms, these reactions are based on traumatic experiences a person had (e.g., being a victim of violence or indirect, e.g., observing violence). The trigger can be anything that might rely on this experience and reminds of the trauma. For instance, a graphic image of violence can be a trigger for a person that experienced violence. Sometimes, more hidden things act as triggers as well, including songs, odors, or even colors – depending on one’s experience.

The trigger influences a person’s emotional state through extreme overwhelm or distress. The experience feels very real to the person, sometimes causing a flashback of the situation. As a consequence, it might limit the person’s ability to remain present at the moment. It can even bring up certain thought patterns or influence behavior.

Many people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are experiencing triggers in their daily life, as well as people with substance use disorders and many more. For some people, it is helpful to know their triggers so that they can recognize them and either avoid them or learn to deal with them. Be aware that not everyone who experiences something potentially traumatic develops residual trauma or triggers. It can be influenced by the age during the traumatic event, underlying mental health conditions, family history, access to support networks, or cultural or religious beliefs.

Triggers aren’t anything new, but the concept has started popping up frequently in casual conversation and mainstream media, leading to confusion and debates on the topic. For a respectful and appropriate recognition of this certain suffering, it is important to distinguish between discomfort and trauma. Even so, these topics can be unpleasant, offensive, or distasteful for a lot of people. Certain topics won’t cause flashbacks, dissociations, or other distressing emotional experiences.

See more resources

Trigger – Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from

Trigger (verb) Definition – Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from

What really means to be triggered – Healthline. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from