Tips For Watching Potentially Triggering Movies And TV Shows

Healing from trauma is a lifelong process that can become more difficult as you get older, according to Psychology Today. Along the way, it's inevitable that you'll run into depictions of the same type of traumatic events you've survived in movies and television shows. While including real issues in popular media is important for societal awareness, watching these scenes can be profoundly triggering. You may find yourself experiencing vivid memories of traumatic events, physical symptoms of anxiety, or even a full-on panic attack (via Government of Alberta). This is especially true when the scene takes place unexpectedly or when you're toward the beginning of your healing journey.

If you're a highly sensitive person (HSP) — defined by Medical News Today as someone who is "greatly affected by social stimuli" — you might experience a visceral reaction to depictions of violence, even if you haven't survived a traumatic event firsthand. These feelings are still valid. Fortunately, struggling with triggers doesn't have to mean you have to cut watching movies and television out of your life. Here is a guide to navigating triggering scenes in media with a level head and through a lens of self-compassion.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Do your research

One of the perks of living in today's online era is that you never have to blindly watch a movie or show without having an idea of the content it holds. If you've been invited to watch a movie with a friend or a romantic partner, search the internet for ratings and reviews before you commit. You can also head to a site like Does the Dog Die for very specific trigger warnings to get a good idea of exactly what will be depicted before you decide whether or not to agree to watch.

Be honest with yourself

It can be tempting to try to rush your own trauma healing for the sake of feeling "normal" and engaging in behavior that may never have been a problem for you in the past. However, ignoring your feelings and pushing yourself to view content that triggers you before you're ready to will only overwhelm you (via The Guest House). If just the thought of encountering a realistic portrayal of a sexual assault, for example, causes your heart rate to increase and your palms to sweat, you're probably not ready to view one. Be honest in your self-assessment and accept that where you are now isn't where you'll always be.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Take control

Viewing, reviewing, and analyzing movies and shows are highly social activities that tie humans together through pop culture, as detailed by Philosophy Now. Struggling with triggering content can leave you feeling left out and left behind. Rather than viewing your vulnerability as a hinderance, view it through a lens of empowerment. You have every right to choose your own experiences. Don't allow individuals or society as a whole pressure you into viewing content you know will trigger you. Instead, take matters into your own hands. Find shows and movies that bring you joy and share them with the people you like to spend time with or others facing trauma recovery.

Communicate your needs

You may not be ready to share the story of your trauma with your loved ones and that is okay. However, the desire to keep your own story private doesn't have to keep you from expressing your needs. Rather than leaving your friends, partner(s), and family members to wonder why you keep turning down their movie date and watch party invitations, be clear about your boundaries. Simply state the types of content you aren't comfortable watching and let go of the need to explain or justify your decisions. Be prepared to give polite reminders when necessary but don't give in (via Science of People).

Consider getting help

If you feel frustrated or limited by your trauma responses, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Explore the possibility of joining a support group online or in person where you can connect with people who understand what you're going through. Considering scheduling a consultation with a trauma-informed counselor or therapist to learn about traditional talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. If conventional treatment doesn't feel right to you, consider seeking out a holistic practitioner to guide you through alternative therapies, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping. Tapping is considered an "evidence-based" treatment, according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine.