Trauma Button

Butters: What kind of competition is it?
Stan: It's a dance-off, we heard you were tap-dancing state champion two years ago.
Butters: (terrified) No...
Stan: ... But you were, weren't you? You went to the nationals in Nebraska?
South Park (it turns out that Butters had caused an accident that killed 8 people at the said Nationals.)

This is when someone suddenly suffers from the onset of repressed traumatic memories because of some trigger, such as another character unknowingly saying or doing something related to the memories. This typically results in the traumatized individual getting extremely anxious, and may even lead to them breaking down in tears or engaging in sudden violent behavior.

A trauma counterpart to Oblivious Guilt Slinging and closely related to Berserk Button. Compare Innocently Insensitive and Trigger. May involve a Shell-Shocked Veteran.


Anime and Manga
  • In Monster Rancher, Genki gets chewed out by Suezo for asking Holly about her family (turns out she has a Disappeared Dad and a Doomed Hometown.) She decides she needs to talk about it, anyway.
  • In Ranma , the title character is deathly afraid of cats, as a result of the time his idiot father bound him up in fish sausages and threw him into a pit full of hungry cats in an effort to teach him the "Cat Fist" technique. His secret is accidentally revealed after Kasumi brings home a cat that she'd promised to take care of.

Comic Books
  • When the Runaways visited Avengers Academy, Reptil shows off his dinosaur-impersonation abilities by turning into a deinonychus. This doesn't go over too well with Klara, who was once trapped under a deinonychus corpse. It's apparently enough of a trigger for her (and her teammates have enough awareness of it) that Karolina is compelled to immediately run over and try and calm her down.
  • In Batgirl, the Mirror manages to induce a panic attack in Babs by pointing a gun at her in exactly the same fashion as The Joker did when he paralyzed her. He probably hadn't known how effective it would be.
    • Later in the same story arc, Batgirl defeats Mirror by projecting the images of his dead family onto his armor itself. He has a total breakdown. How's that for returning fire?
  • In Avengers: The Initiative, Terrance "Trauma" Ward has the ability to morph into the worst fear of anyone around him. He was quickly reassigned to the black-ops Shadow Initiative after causing severe anxiety attacks in several of his fellow trainees.

Fan Works
  • In the Emergency! fic "Lost and Found", John is staying at Roy's house while recovering from an 18 month ordeal of kidnap, torture and rape. When Roy's kids are reunited with John, Jennifer starts talking about a previously planned Disney vacation. She innocently says she wants Uncle Johnny to have some fun. Unfortunately, this phrase was often used by John's captor, especially when he wanted to get sexual. Johnny ends up retreating to his bedroom.
    • The sequel has Roy giving John a gift certificate for a photo for father's day, so Johnny can get his first picture with the baby daughter born while he was away. But, Roy kicks himself later because he forgot Johnny was forced to pose for pornographic pictures by his captor, and John has a panic attack at the studio. There's a double example of sorts, because Roy forgets, and the photographer, who Johnny incidentally ends up marrying later, has no clue either that John will have a panic attack.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, of all people, Sarah has one revolving around her time in captivity with the Flood. Given what happened to her, it's understandable and very similar to Cortana's experience in canon background.
  • In Guardian, Lulu refuses to explore a cave on Besaid Island with Wakka, Chappu, and Yuna and gets angry when pressed thanks to her traumatic experience in Yojimbo's cavern with Lady Ginnem.

Film Animated

Film Live Action
  • In Iron Man 3, any mention of what happened in New York, or anything that makes Tony think of it, causes him to have a nervous breakdown, which makes it tough on him when kids, who now idolize him as a hero, keep asking him about what happened there, not realizing the effect it's having.
  • Played for Laughs in Airplane! where Ted Striker regularly goes into flashbacks about his traumatic war experience when someone mentions something tangentially relevant.
  • In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, we see that the Grinch was an outcast in his childhood and that the final straw that drove him to hate Christmas and the Whos was his entire class laughing at his botched attempt at shaving his green fur off. Later, when the Grinch is invited back to Whoville to be the Holiday Cheermeister at a big celebration, he actually begins enjoying himself...until his old grade-school bully, now the Mayor, presents him with a gift: a shaving razor. Then, things go downhill from there.

  • In Alan Dean Foster's Star Wars novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye, when Captain-Supervisor Grammel mentions an Imperial Governor, Princess Leia remembers her interrogation in the Death Star while she was Grand Moff Tarkin's prisoner. She starts breathing unevenly, beads of sweat appear on her forehead, and she starts crying.
  • In More Tales of the City, a rose peddler accidentally causes a panic attack in the amnesiac Burke, though it also enables him and Mary Ann to begin figuring out how he lost his memory - his memory loss was the result of discovering a cannibal cult, who tried to compel him to feast on a human arm with a tattoo of a rose.
  • Possibly subverted (depending on your interpretation) or played straight in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Professor Moody seriously upsets Neville Longbottom by displaying the Cruciatus Curse for the class - Neville's parents were driven incurably insane by the Cruciatus Curse. The possible subversion comes in that "Professor Moody" was actually one of the people who tortured Neville's parents into insanity and, as a thoroughly evil bastard, may have known and enjoyed what he was doing to Neville.
  • Played with in Venus Prime 2, in which Sparta hires massage therapists to work over her whole body, hoping that their ministrations will trigger some of the memories that the Free Spirit stole from her.

Live-Action TV
  • In one episode of The Drew Carey Show, Mr. Wick grows tired of Mimi's outlandish outfits and garish makeup and tries to seal her up inside a cubicle so that he won't have to look at her. However, she turns out to be severely claustrophobic, and Drew ends up convincing Wick to remove the partitions, because her usual bitchy self is far more preferable to the nervous wreck that she's turning into.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a young man at a party suddenly goes berserk and kills one of the revelers. Goren and Eames learn that the young man had been locked up in a basement for long periods of time and subjected to loud house music as part of some cruel therapy for his Ambiguous Disorder, so when he heard the same kind of music being played at the party, it caused him to want to kill.
  • In Halt and Catch Fire, Cameron meets Joe McMillan's father, Joe Sr., and they actually get along for a while... until Joe Sr. says that Cameron must make her own father very proud. Cameron lost her dad when she was only 10 years old, and the mere mention of him upsets her so badly that she retreats into another room to cry.
  • In the pilot of Tyrant, Barry's carefully-maintained stoic façade is jarred when, during his nephew's wedding, his brother Jamal fires a gun into the air and then hands the gun to Barry, expecting him to do the same. This causes Barry to experience a flashback to the time his father tried to force Jamal to shoot someone, but Barry ended up having to do it because Jamal was too scared. Barry hands the gun back to Jamal, and quickly walks away before his panic starts to show.
  • In an episode of Necessary Roughness, TK hires a massage therapist to try and speed up his recovery after getting shot. However, he repeatedly throws her out because she keeps touching the area where he got shot, causing him to remember the shooting. After he finally relents and actually starts to remember the shooting, he shows up at Dr. Santino's house looking utterly wrecked.
  • Narrowly averted in the pilot of Defiance; Tommy goes to arrest Irisa, but Nolan talks him out of using handcuffs, saying that Irisa had some really bad experiences with being chained up, and if Tommy tries to put cuffs on her, she will flip out and probably kill him. Since Irisa happens to be a ferocious-looking catgirl, Tommy wisely decides to follow Nolan's advice.
  • In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, "Making Friends and Influencing People", Fitz discovers that Ward, the man who tried to kill him and left him with permanent brain damage, is being held in SHIELD's basement. He proceeds to experience an anxiety attack.

  • Played for laughs in the Vaudeville sketch "Slowly I Turned." A man tells another the story of how he took revenge on an old enemy, and gets so caught up in his tale that he attacks the innocent listener. He soon regains his senses, only to go berserk again each time the listener mentions a certain proper noun—usually "Niagara Falls"—associated with the teller's past trauma.

Web Comics
  • Curio from morphE has this reaction to any mention of "where they came from". In Chapter 4 Amical threatens to send the seedlings back and he freaks out. Billy also suffers a horrible flashback to his own torture at this mention.

Western Animation
  • The page quote comes from an episode of South Park where Stan attempts to recruit Butters for his dance crew because Butters used to be a champion tap-dancer. This being Butters, he has traumatic memories associated with his tap-dancing days.
  • The Family Guy episode "The Fat Guy Strangler" has Peter dressing up as Ralph Kramden and repeating the phrase "Pow, right in the kisser!" in front of Lois' brother Patrick, who had been traumatized as a child from seeing his mom have an affair with Jackie Gleason. This causes him to go on a fat-man killing spree.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Office Spaceman", Hayley and Steve discover that Francine has an intense hatred of left-handed people, despite being a lefty herself, taught to her as a child by the nuns at her orphanage, who made her comply to their teachings by whacking her with a fish (it was usually a piece of beef, but it was a Friday). Later, they try to get Francine to face her past, but she tries to blow them off about it...until they show a fish to her. At that point, she is reminded of her abuse and tearfully breaks down, completely ashamed with herself.

Real Life
  • The trend of "trigger warnings" is intended to avert this trope.

Alternative Title(s): Oblivious Trauma Triggering