Over the past few years, it's become common for people to throw around the phrase "triggered" as a joke or an insult when they feel someone is being "too sensitive." But what many don't know is that it's a mental health term that's commonly used by therapists and psychiatrists, typically when discussing patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a history of trauma.
"The term 'triggered' is very commonly used in the field of psychiatry to refer to the psychological and physical response to a disturbing stimulus, which is often overwhelming and unnerving for the person who experiences it. Being triggered is much more than feeling uncomfortable. Rather, a trigger often leads to negative emotions and anxiety responses that impair a person's ability to think or function in that moment.
For people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in context of a traumatic past event, the trigger acts as a reminder and may make the person experience the trauma all over again. This re-experiencing of trauma is also referred to as a "flashback."
What Causes a Trigger? Triggers can be either internal or external. For example, they can be a specific thing said by someone during a conversation, a sound, a smell, or seeing something in your environment that reminds you of the traumatic event or the thing that you fear. Some triggers may be directly related to the traumatic event while others may not be that obvious, such as being more anxious and upset during certain times.
Triggers are personal and will look different for everyone. They can include certain words or language, scents, sounds, visual cues — anything that sets off challenging emotions because of past traumas.
Although the term "trigger" is most commonly associated with PTSD, it's a broad term used by mental health professionals, and triggers can also occur in the context of other mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, phobias, or substance abuse disorder. For example, hearing discussions about weight and dieting can be a trigger for people who have eating disorders.
What Are Common Causes of PTSD? It's crucial to remember that trauma comes in many forms. PTSD was initially identified in 1980 after doctors observed that veterans who returned from Vietnam were experiencing symptoms of the disorder. Today, we know that PTSD has myriad causes, including car accidents, sexual a
ssault, natural disasters, or the loss of a loved one. In fact, in some cases, the trauma cannot be linked to a single event. Chronic trauma often results from prolonged or repeated or recurren
t exposure to a stressful event over time. For example, bullying, domestic violence, which can last for several years.
If any of this sounds all too familiar, and especially if triggers are interfering with your daily life and your ability to function, it's important to seek help. This reaction can eventually be overcome with proper treatment in therapy. However, until that connection has been cut, when someone with PTS
D is triggered they will struggle to focus on anything else for a significant period of time while their body calms down from thinking it is in imminent danger.
If you're not sure where to start, please reach out to our OHF Counseling Director, Nicole Pingel, at email@example.com or our OHF Counseling Manager, Candace Guelzo, at firstname.lastname@example.org to help find a therapist who specializes in trauma in your area.