Psychological Triggers

By Monique Hassan

Social media comments and memes criticize and ridicule others by saying “triggered” and laugh it off as emotional weakness. This word has become a meme in itself and is often said with a tone of sarcasm. Yet, the concept of psychological triggers is not only very real; it is an integral part of treatment plans and recovery. As a patient, one is often asked to identify their triggers and their coping skills. As a provider, one can better assess why a patient reacts the way they do by isolating their triggers.

What is a psychological trigger

A trigger is a stimulus that acts as an alarm system, causing the person to recall an experience or a specific memory. They are transported back to this moment of trauma and it can be debilitating. The trigger itself may not be traumatic, but it can stimulate a previously traumatic event.

Types of triggers

The scent of apple pie may cause a smile at the thought of one’s Mother baking homemade pie or one may instantly recall the intruder that attacked their family while a pie was in the oven.

Highways may trigger a panic attack in Jane as she experiences flashbacks of the horrifying car accident that put her in the hospital for months.

A rape victim may not be able to handle the touch of man who has tattoos since her trauma memory keeps replaying his tattoo-covered arms restraining her.

Loud arguments cause John to hide in his room because his parents always fought loudly before they abused him.

Time for an exercise. Identifying your own triggers.

  • Write down 3 triggers that are personal for you
  • Write down why these triggers impact you
  • Write down how these triggers make you feel. angry? sad? anxious?

Being able to identify your own psychological triggers and understand them helps you recognize where they stem from and how you can begin to control them.