Easily Emotionally Triggered by TV, Movies, & The News? : Ways to Protect Yourself


For most of my life I’ve been very sensitive to certain types of content on TV, in movies, and on the radio.  How I ever managed to watch and enjoy the HBO series The Sopranos for years is really beyond me, because now all it takes is just a brief image of violence in a commercial, and I get upset.
I’m highly sensitive, and for the most part I make the choice to do my best to avoid programming that has any type of violence. Occasionally, something unexpected will happen in a show that I consider safe (such as “The Office,”), in a movie, or even on a commercial break during what is marketed as a “family” show (such as “America’s Got Talent.”)   Even though I Tivo pretty much everything and can fast forward through commercials, I inevitably often, if ever so briefly, exposed to upsetting content.

We obviously can’t avoid all triggers when it comes to the media. Even if you don’t have a TV and do not go to the movie theatre, and let’s say you don’t even listen to the radio, chances are you’ll be exposed to these type of media when out and about in the world.
So how do we cope effectively as emotionally sensitive people?

Therapist Alicia Paz explains in this guest post, which arrives at HFBPD just days after the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, an event that triggered PTSD symptoms in people who were not only near the site of the events but also those who witnessed the happenings on television from afar.

-- Debbie Corso

Please welcome back guest blogger, therapist Alicia Paz, MA, LLPC.

During a recent online DBT group at DBT Path, the topic came up about feeling unsafe when watching TV.  Some group members spoke about watching TV and how the content can be upsetting or overwhelming.  From my point of view this topic comes up in almost every group I facilitate, not just DBT, and as a counselor I always tell my clients they are not alone. 


(Trigger Warning/ TW) On a date once, the movie The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo was recommended. It  was a bestselling book, and it seemed like everyone but I had read it.  About 30 minutes in there is a very violent rape scene and my body began to react before my mind could have processed it.  I jumped up and fumbled for the remote and start crying.  After calming myself down, I realized that the movie triggered me, not from my own experience but from a client who had recently been raped and processed it with me. 
(End TW)

Being triggered can happen to anyone and at any time, but those who have experienced previous trauma are more easily triggered.  Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 there numerous PTSD studies were conducted, including this one. to see how it affected the people in the area where the incidents took place.  

In these studies they found a correlation between the hours people watched the events replay on TV and PTSD-like symptoms.  The most interesting finding to me occurred within one of the largest studies: those who had experienced previous traumas had higher rates of PTSD symptoms following 9/11, as they were re-traumatized. 

There are many articles out there about numerous coping skills to handle the aftereffects of a trigger. I am a firm believer in the “ounce of prevention,” motto, so here are some tips on how to protect yourself from being triggered as best as possible.  Keep in mind there are going to be times triggers are unavoidable, and some may come without warning.

Ways to Protect Yourself:

·        Read your news: - There is more control in being able to select what stories you will read rather than watching the TV news. There are also less pictures in print news.

·        Create Google alerts:- If you are interested in following a certain news story or topic, you can sign up and receive a daily e-mail or news stories from Google on that topic.

·        Check Reviews:- Before watching a movie, visit imdb and check out the “plot” section.  Although this can include spoilers, it will also include some basic information regarding topics that will be covered in the movie.

·        Watch Children’s Films- This might seem silly, but especially if you are feeling vulnerable, choosing children’s movies might be the safest choice.

Pretend You are a Parent:-There are numerous sites on line that have family friendly reviews of movies and include ratings for violence, sex, drug use, and profanity.  Parent Previews and Kids in Mind being my favorites. 

Stay Safe: Remember that keeping yourself safe is most important, and if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed with emotions, you have the right to ask someone to turn something trigging off, no matter who they are or what the situation.  

Always honor your experience. It is real and valid for YOU.  

-- Alicia Paz, MA, LLPC

Alicia is a licensed therapist and works in a women’s prison providing counseling and teaching Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). She also co-facilitates entirely online DBT courses with Debbie Corso of Healing From BPD at DBT Path where skills are taught to help emotionally sensitive people create the lives they want to live.

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