Unlocking The Mind: Triggers, Trauma And Healing Power Of Cinema

Explore the world of personal triggers and mental health on World Mental Health Day. Join SheThePeople's conversation with psychology experts, and cinema lovers and learn how art can destigmatise triggers.

Oshi Saxena
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Dear Zindagi

(Image Credits - Red Chillies Entertainment )

As we commemorate World Mental Health Day, let's embark on a journey into the profound world of personal triggers. These triggers, often stemming from past traumatic experiences, can manifest in various forms – from encountering specific phrases, odours, or sounds to reading or watching content that evokes emotional distress.


Through this exploration, ShethePeople sat down with Kratika Ramesh, Head Of Clinical & I/O Psychology to delve into the normality of experiencing personal triggers and the pivotal role of seeking professional help when necessary. Additionally, SheThePeople attended the Chali Kahani event organised by Humans Of Cinema, where they engaged with the founder, Harshit Bansal, and a bunch of cinema enthusiasts to explore how art and media can serve as potent tools to destigmatize personal triggers, fostering compassion and understanding.

What are Triggers?

At some point in the last few years, you’ve likely seen the phrase “trigger warning” or the abbreviation “TW” online or heard someone say they were “triggered” by something. Triggers are anything that might cause a person to recall a traumatic experience they’ve had. For example, graphic images of violence might be a trigger for some people. Less obvious things, including songs, odours, or even colours, can also be triggers, depending on someone’s experience

In mental health terms, a trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behaviour.

The Varying Nature of Triggers

Triggers can vary widely and may be internal or external. They include specific phrases, odours, sounds, or even content related to traumatic events such as rape, military conflict, physical assault, emotional abuse, or the loss of a loved one. Additionally, substance use disorders often involve triggers, making it essential for individuals to recognize and manage them as part of their recovery process.


The Misconception Surrounding Triggers

Despite their importance in mental health, the concept of triggers has led to confusion and debate in recent years. Some individuals mistakenly associate trigger warnings with being overly sensitive or incapable of coping with distress.

For people who’ve experienced trauma, being triggered is a very real and concerning phenomenon. While it may not be someone’s intention, using the term to refer to someone they believe is being very emotional or sensitive only adds to the stigma surrounding mental health.

The Psychological and Emotional Impact of Triggers

Triggers can take various forms, from specific phrases and odours to sounds and images. In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople, Kratika Ramesh, Head Of Clinical & I/O Psychology, explains, "how triggers can awaken painful memories, feelings, or symptoms. These stimuli can vary widely, from wanting to be in control to specific noises or images. The effects are profound. Triggers affect one's ability to remain present, leading to specific thought patterns, emotions, or behavioural changes."

She emphasises,  "The impact is not limited to emotional distress; it often extends to physical symptoms of anxiety like racing heartbeats, sweating, breathlessness, dizziness, and fatigue. Triggers, whether internal or external, can disrupt daily life, affecting personal, work, family, and social aspects."


Real-Life Experiences: Unmasking the Profound Impact of Triggers

Psychologist Kratika Ramesh shared experiences from her practice that highlight the profound impact of triggers on individuals' mental well-being. In one case, a 14-year-old boy faced relentless criticism from his parents, leading to a pessimistic self-view and constant sadness. Another case involved a couple grappling with anger issues and caregiving burdens, affecting their marital harmony. These scenarios, although different, underline the importance of recognizing and managing triggers.

Seeking Help and Reducing Stigma

For individuals who sense they have triggers, seeking help is essential. Kratika advises that individuals should, "neutralise the negative stigma surrounding triggers and understand that no trigger is too big or small." 

Seeking help from professionals, like Clinical Psychologists and counseling Psychologists, is crucial. However, the stigma surrounding mental health often discourages individuals from seeking help.

Real Stories: How Cinema Heals


Our exploration doesn't stop at psychology; it extends to the realm of art and media. At the Chali Kahani organised by Humans Of Cinema, SheThePeople spoke with individuals who shared how movies and art have resonated with their triggers and acted as powerful tools for healing.

  • Gayatri's Inspiring Take on 'Highway': Gayatri was moved by Imtiaz Ali's "Highway," which sensitively portrayed Alia Bhatt's character dealing with mental trauma. The film's portrayal of her outburst normalized the struggles of trauma survivors. She emphasizes the importance of open discussions about mental health across various facets of life, advocating for normalization.

    Triveni's Perspective on 'Ved' in the Workplace: Triveni found Ranbir Kapoor's character, Ved, in a workplace setting in "Tamasha" to be relatable. The film beautifully depicted the draining nature of navigating one's ambitions within the confines of a job, highlighting how this can trigger confusion about one's true self amidst societal expectations.

    Nandini's Wake-Up Call with 'Rockstar': Nandini, an entrepreneur, had a revelation through JJ's portrayal in "Rockstar." His depiction of pretence and detachment resonated with her, making her realize her tendency to wear a mask when facing the world. Seeking professional help for her depression has given her control over her triggers, underscoring the importance of reaching out in challenging times.

    Kanika's Perspective on Triggers and Mental Health: Kanika emphasizes the need to understand the concept of triggers and mental health in today's generation. She highlights the superficial judgments people often make based on appearances, advocating for a deeper focus on personality, skills, and behaviour. The portrayal of Ved in "Tamasha" reflects the struggle of becoming someone else due to societal pressures.

    Her experience with 'Tamasha' was akin to a breath of fresh air. Having lived in a constrained environment in Kota, she found liberation in Delhi. The film's theme of exploring one's true self struck a chord with her, emphasizing the importance of self-discovery and authenticity.

    Founder of Humans of Cinema's Healing Journey: The founder of Humans of Cinema shared a personal journey of healing through cinema. Imtiaz Ali's portrayal of Ved's character in "Tamasha" helped him confront his trauma and inspired him to work on self-improvement. His story serves as a testament to the healing power of art and cinema during challenging times.

These heartfelt experiences showcase how movies can deeply resonate with our emotions, offering solace and inspiration, and ultimately, helping individuals navigate their triggers and traumas.

On this World Mental Health Day, it's imperative to recognize that experiencing personal triggers is a normal part of the human experience.  In the ongoing debate about triggers and trigger warnings, there is no definitive answer. However, the conversation around mental health continues, and awareness grows, helping to break down the stigma surrounding triggers and trauma. 

Suggested reading: Why Middle-Class Families Hesitate To Address Mental Health Issues

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