The Irrational and Holistically Meaningful Nature of Triggers

Triggers - experiences or events - which can bring back bad, painful, or traumatic memories. By Peter DonnellyI recently spoke to a friend on the phone who says he can't see me lately because of his mental health problem. Earlier, he told me that he is avoiding hot drinks and hot food because he believes that the heat from them is affecting and damaging his brain. When he avoids hot drink and foods he feels fine and so I told him to do what works for him.

I asked this friend what symptoms he gets when he is drinking hot drinks and eats hot food and he said that he felt less alive and, basically, that he felt more empty. I asked him if he felt empty of emotion or energy. He responded that he felt empty of memory and confirmed to me that his memory was going away. I suggested to him that he may be repressing painful or complex memories, which some people do in order to stay sane. Some exploration and catharsis of bad memories is good, but self-repression isn't all bad and can also be very useful; and helpful.

I also mentioned that he might have a form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), in terms of the avoidance behavior (people with OCD repeat or avoid harmless things, or they fear bad things will happen to themselves or their loved ones if they don't avoid the triggers), but he said it wasn't a compulsion, as he has stopped drinking hot tea and hot food altogether.

Psychological Triggers Aren't All Bad

I explained to my friend that there are such things as triggers - experiences or events - which can bring back bad, painful, or traumatic memories. In his case though, the trigger of hot drinks and food repressed his memory, and therefore doesn't flood or cathartically release it.

However, I felt it was necessary to point out to him, that contrary to the psychotherapeutic view that triggers are linked to bad, painful, or traumatic memories - triggers can be completely irrational and have no causal meaning to them.

When I was very mentally unwell in 2000, before I stayed in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks, I thought that there was something implanted in my computer and television which was firing radiation at me and destroying my brain. There is no psychotherapeutic link to this trigger for me because I only have happy memories of watching TV and using my computer, although it could be argued that those things had stopped me from socializing face-to-face with other people.

The other key thing about triggers is that although they can be irrational and not linked to past or recent bad, painful, or traumatic events, the triggers all make sense and have meaning and explanation when they are all linked up and understood holistically together. This is the approach which is needed in psychotherapy, against the old simplistic, dogmatic, and sometimes inaccurate model.

About the author: Peter Donnelly is an anti-psychiatric campaigner in the UK who advocates a more humanistic approach when it comes to mental health treatment.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, April 27). The Irrational and Holistically Meaningful Nature of Triggers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: July 4, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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