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Trigger
A PTSD Trigger, also known as triggering content, is material that affects someone who has gone through trauma in a way that sets off Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other types of triggers exist: I Need a Freaking Drink is when something triggers someone to need alcohol (or another substance). A negative behavior trigger is something that triggers an addictive response as opposed to trauma. Seizure triggers are flashing lights or other patterns that affect people with photosensitive seizures, and suicide triggering is the invoking of suicidal or hopeless feelings in a depressed person. The Berserk Button is triggering of anger or irrational rage.

Information regarding triggering or specifically relevant quotes should be placed on the Useful Notes page, which has a more in-depth description of triggers and the meta concept for those interested. This page is for the discussion of In-Universe triggering only.

Do not put trigger warnings on any TV Tropes pages other than Fan Fic Recommendations. Works that have full pages should already indicate the existence of triggering content in the description or trope list in a natural way, and a trope's description should be a good indication of whether or not there will be any significant triggering content in its examples.

Compare the Ban on Politics (an attempt at handling a near-universal Berserk Button), the Nuclear Weapons Taboo, Trigger Phrase, and Too Soon. Not to be confused with Squick which may be unsettling, but is not a psychological trigger. If you were looking for a Tigger Warning go here.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In CLANNAD, Kotomi sees a bus crash and hearing that Ryou might have been on the bus caused her to have a Freak Out!. Observe.
  • In Kotoura-san, being called a "monster" is a severe trigger that causes Kotoura's hard-earned sense of self-worth and happiness to crumble, reverting her to her original pessimistic and broken persona—one that is caused, due to a decade of emotional trauma, her thinking herself as a monster as what people say, until relatively recently.
  • In Heat Guy J Clair "kidnaps" a little robot child named Teto (after the guy who built Teto illegally refuses to sell the robot to The Mafia), with the intent of reprogramming him to destroy J. Teto is programmed to ask, "Is this alright?" after obeying a command, and this causes Clair to flash back to emotional abuse and neglect from his father. Clair is visibly disturbed by Teto, and gleefully commands the robot to self-destruct after dealing with J.
    • Daisuke himself triggers yet another flashback (this one to physical abuse) when he gives Clair a Shut Up, Hannibal! speech. This earns Daisuke three gunshots. But he had on a bulletproof vest, so he's alright.
  • Shino Asada from Sword Art Online was traumatized at age eleven from having shot a bank robber in self defense. Several years later, just someone miming a gun with their thumb and forefinger will make her afraid, and physical guns (real or model) will make her vomit. She entered the gun-based Virtual MMORPG Gun Gale Online as a self-described immersion therapy to help her fight this trauma.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who only recently recovered from being paralyzed after being shot by The Joker, freezes up when a villain points his gun at the exact spot where she was shot previously.

    Fan Fic 
  • Near the start of Hard Reset's final chapter, Spike saying the words from the start of the time loop causes Twilight to freeze in shock, which is the first sign to the viewers about the effects of her experiences.
  • In Dirty Sympathy when Apollo tries calling Klavier an endearmentnote , it causes him to freak out and leave because it gives him flashbacks of Daryan's abuse.
  • In A Gun To Loves Head Light is triggered when Mello pulls a gun on him and L due to the psychological trauma left over from that time when L had his father put a gun to his head and stage a mock execution.
  • In Christian Grey Vs Pepper Potts, it turns out that an attractive woman tripping in front of Christian Grey triggers him into deciding on the spot that she's his true love and the perfect submissive for him, no matter how he viewed her before. This passes on to Rogue after she is taken over by his personality, causing her to chase down Hawkeye to try to spank him after seeing him trip.

    Film 
  • In the Alfred Hitchcock movie Spellbound, an amnesia victim becomes uncomfortable every time he sees a pattern of wavy dark lines against a white background, because it reminds him of the event which caused his amnesia - he had witnessed a murder at a ski resort, the dark lines were ski tracks in the snow.
  • In the Alfred Hitchcock movie Marnie, the title character is upset by patches of red. It has to do with her mother's murder.
  • The original version of The Manchurian Candidate. Actually one of the first films to explore triggering in depth, before the term was even generally used to describe it. While there's plenty of Critical Research Failure and such to go around and using triggers to create an assassin is likely impossible in Real Life (thankfully), and while it is definitely Played for Drama, the idea of using emotional triggers to manipulate people into doing things they would not otherwise do or act against their own self-interest is actually Truth in Television.
  • In The Muppets (2011), they find Animal in a therapy session to control his aggressive impulses. Turns out "drums" is a trigger word for him, to no one's surprise. It's also one for Jack Black.
  • Wreck-It Ralph has a scene where Felix calls Calhoun a "dynamite gal", prompting a series of flashbacks to Calhoun's relationship with Brad, a man from her backstory who was eventually eaten alive by a Cy-Bug at their wedding, with each flashback consisting of Brad calling her a "dynamite gal". The trauma is so horrible that Calhoun ejects Felix from her ship in utter panic.
  • In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark's PTSD is triggered by the mere mention of "New York", "aliens", "wormhole", or anything to do with the Chitauri invasion.

    Literature 
  • In Black Jewels, being told they were having "leg" for dinner is this for Janelle. Turns out one of her friends had her leg cut off and fed to the inmates (including Janelle) at Briarwood.
  • The protagonist of Use of Weapons refuses to sit in chairs. It almost feels as if this Played for Laughs at first, until the references to a white chair and "the Chairmaker" pile up more and more often. It isn't until the end of the book that you learn he has very good reasons for it.
  • Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five is either Unstuck in Time and/or suffering from PTSD. Seeing people singing at his daughter's wedding causes him to flash back to the aftermath of the firebombing of Dresden, where he remembers the survivors mouths' gaping like singers in a silent film.
  • In Stephen King's novel Desperation, the song "Good Lovin'" from The Young Rascals triggers Johnny Marinville's Vietnam War flashbacks (he was there as a journalist).
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the pyrotechnics of the Battle of Blackwater cause the normally fearless Sandor Clegane to have a breakdown, triggering memories of the attack by his brother in his childhood that left him permanently disfigured. Lord Beric Dondarrion's flaming sword has a similar effect.
  • In Pact, people touching Blake Thorburn without his consent triggers his fight or flight responses, leading him to react mindlessly and panic, a legacy of time he spent as a Homeless Pigeon Person, and the traumas he suffered there. This is repeatedly exploited by his enemies, with one of them finding the ghosts of his experiences on the streets and using them to Mind Rape him.

    Live Action TV 
  • Little House on the Prairie: Experienced by both Albert and Mary in the Season 6 epic episode "May We Make Them Proud." It all starts with a music box, which Albert presented to Mary, who has been in a deep catatonic state since her son (and Albert's nephew), Adam Jr., was killed in a fire at the School for the Blind. Albert plays the melody, and Mary snaps out of her trance-like state, screaming, "MY BABY!!!" repeatedly. Albert — who was smoking in the basement of the School for the Blind the night of the fire — realizes he may have unintentionally started the fire (he and a friend hid a lit pipe inside a pile of old rags) and screams, "I DIDN'T MEAN IT!!! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!!!" before running out.
  • On Cheers, when Woody's old girlfriend shows up, he constantly goes out eating with her. He reveals that he used to be obese back in Indiana but since he moved to Boston, he's thin. The other guys realize his old girlfriend is his eating trigger, but don't know how to break it to him.
  • True Blood:
    • After Lafayette gets out of the dungeon that the vampires held him in, Detective Andy approaches him in the kitchen at Merlotte's, where Lafayette works. The next scene is basically him threatening to put Layfayette back in exactly the situation he just escaped from. Terry, a veteran with PTSD who probably recognized the signs since Lafayette had fallen down, terrified, calls the officer in question on this in a sort of one-on-one Shaming the Mob.
    • Terry also appears to have gotten one just before we come on-screen. Which makes sense, since he's an Iraq war vet who had just seen his wife covered in blood. She's not dead, but the white sheets are dark red.
  • Josh from The West Wing has a flashback trigger in Christmas music, because his delayed-reaction PTSD erupted right around Christmastime, and he mentally associated the constant caroling of the band in the White House lobby with the sirens from the assassination attempt during which he was near-fatally shot.
  • Inspector Lynley: Barbara Havers, back on the job after being shot in the stomach in the previous episode, shows obvious signs of PTSD throughout the episode; she is nervy and jumpy even more than her usual. Lynley is concerned, but doesn't want to interfere. When she is held hostage at gunpoint, however, Barbara completely flies off the handle and attacks the man pointing the gun at her, using him for a punching bag until Lynley gets there, pulls her off and talks her down with a Cooldown Hug. It must be emphasized that he could only manage this because of Barbara's implicit and unconditional trust in him; anyone else trying the same thing would have also been used as a punching bag, and in fact Barbara obviously nails Lynley a time or two before he can get through to her and she recognizes him.
  • In Firefly, River has seemingly-random trigger moments which bring back memories of her time at the Academy, which coupled with her schizophrenia and Psychic Powers (and the Power Incontinence associated with them) result in very violent delusions. The most common trigger is anything relating to the Blue Suns corporation.

    Video Games 
  • Miles Edgeworth in the Ace Attorney series is severely affected by earthquakes. An earthquake and airplane turbulence cause him to faint in the fifth case of Trials and Tribulations and the second case of Ace Attorney Investigations respectively. This is because of the DL-6 incident where he, his father, and Yanni Yogi got trapped in an elevator because an earthquake forced it to stall, and his father was killed. Moreover, the incident causes Edgeworth to avoid elevators.
  • Alice Liddell from American McGee's Alice reacts pretty strongly when fire is brought up, probably because her whole family was killed in one.

    Webcomics 
  • In Sinfest, Slick sees the pit leading to Hell, and remembers when he was in Hell.
  • In Goblins, Kin is triggered by being trapped under a tree, since she used to be raped nightly be Dellyn Goblinslayer, who was part-tree.
  • In Homestuck, Karkat's ancestor/double Kankri is a parody of a social justice warrior on Tumblr. He tries to be sensitive to the triggers of others except he'll bring up the trigger first and then apologize in the most patronizing way possible. Paraphrased example: Latula, Terezi's ancestor/double can't smell. Kankri talks about how something smells then apologizes for triggering and insulting her (it doesn't, and she's actually amused by it), and congratulates her on being able to do so much despite not being able to smell and also being a girl.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Played for laughs (inevitably enough) in Family Guy, where Peter's impersonation of Ralph from The Honeymooners triggers Lois' brother's memories of walking in on their mother's affair with Jackie Gleason (an event which put him into an insane asylum and turned him into a serial killer).
  • From the Thomas the Tank Engine episode "Escape":
    Edward: You and Trevor have a lot in common, you know.
    Douglas: And what might that be?
    Edward: Scrap.
    Douglas: Don't use that word! You're making my wheels wobble!
    • For clarification, Douglas and his brother Donald are as close as two brothers can be, and when their old railway in Scotland stopped using steam engines like them, they were on the chopping block. Even going to the Isle of Sodor didn't give them any relief at first, as the Fat Controller had only intended to purchase one engine, and spent some time deciding which one to send back, which they both knew was a death sentence. Only a deputation by Percy saved them both.
  • The Fairly Oddparents: Want to send Cosmo into a Troubled Fetal Position? Just say "super toilet!"
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants: The word "evil" is enough to send Mermaid Man into a frenzy.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Rolf flies into a violent rage whenever he encounters something wolf related. In a rather disturbing twist, it's implied that his family was in a bloody conflict with a family who associated themselves with wolves in the past.

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