14 October 2017
"Triggered" used to be a useful word.

It was never a good word. Nothing that painful can be good. But it was useful. It was a useful word to describe exposure to stimulus or reminders so painful that, for survivors of trauma and abuse, it can take them right back to the traumatic incident, back to the feelings of horror, terror, shock and grief they experienced - or suppressed - at the time. We needed that word, and it's been taken away.

When I was first a member then an online counsellor at a forum for survivors of abuse, we used trigger warnings to warn other members that we were about to discuss painful and difficult things that may cause grief, guilt and flashbacks. Letting them know what was up ahead so they could avoid it if they needed to. 

And we've had trigger warnings in the media for a long time. Television news bulletins warn viewers that stories up ahead contain disturbing images, content that may upset some viewers, so they can avoid injuries, child abuse, animal abuse.

But now, being "triggered" has become a joke in the hands of the likes of this guy:

Being triggered does not mean what they think it means. It does not mean being offended, being exposed to ideas you don't agree with, or having your feelings hurt in the normal course of things.

A trigger is something that, well, triggers the memory of experiencing trauma. It can be something seemingly minor; a smell, a few bars of a song, certain word combinations. Something that was never meant to offend, certainly something that was never meant to be edgy. But what's often triggering are direct reminders of the trauma you went through yourself. Like when that sort of trauma comes up online or in the media.

What does being triggered feel like? It's different for everyone. It might be feelings of helplessness, anger, intense sorrow.

It's falling to the floor, hitting your fists or head against a wall, sobs that start so deep inside they seem to come from somewhere beyond your body and can't get out fast enough. It's fear and shame and grief and guilt and anger and rage and disgust.

It's not something which can be caused or explained by a Facebook comment saying "LOL! Triggered!"


I know there are a lot of people who have been triggered by the discussion of the sexually predatory behaviour of Harvey Weinstein. It is necessary and important that these matters are discussed. But for people being triggered by their own abuse, this is a really hard time.

Triggered is the best word we have to describe what's happening. It's not a joke.

To all the people feeling shaken up, upset, and triggered by what's going on right now. You're not alone.


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