According to Dr. John M. Grohol of PsychCentral.com, a trigger is, “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her or his original trauma.” A trigger is caused by one of the five senses — including sight, sound and smell — and can be activated by something as simple as a cough, an unexpected sound, or an image displayed in the media.
In other words, a ‘trigger’ is a psychological response to trauma.
As a victim of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder,) I am prone to and suffer from anxiety attacks due to events I’ve experienced in my past. As a result, I am triggered by certain things — including, but not limited to: authority figures (such as police,) loud noises, and conflict that involves yelling or physical altercations.
The media has been populated with stories about students on college campuses who claim they cannot participate in classes because the subject matter is ‘triggering’ to them. A simple search of college campus trigger on Google yields dozens of articles on the subject. Most of the headlines include words such as ‘coddling’ or question whether or not ‘they [trigger warnings] can be stopped.’ Trigger warnings, in other words, are no longer being seen as a preventative actions for the mentally ill and are instead being viewed as annoyances.
Someone on Facebook once said the content in a book was ‘triggering.’ I asked them if they suffered from PTSD or had experienced any sort of psychological trauma. When they replied no, I inquired why they had used the word ‘triggering.’ They replied, I just don’t want to deal with it.
The trigger warning — which was initially designed to alert those who’d survived severe psychological trauma of specific content — has now become a way to disregard something when you don’t want to deal with it.
I understand that certain subject matter is difficult to discuss. Rape is horrible. Murder is abominable. Abuse against animals or children is downright evil. But unless you’ve actually experienced those things — and as a result, experience intense, uncontrollable emotional and physical reactions at the thought or even mention of it — you can’t claim to be ‘triggered’ by them. By saying ‘you’re triggered’ by something when, in fact, you have experienced no trauma at all, you are not only minimizing and diminishing the experiences of those who have survived such events, but giving the mentally ill a bad name.
I used to be able to say if I was triggered by something without bringing about immediate speculation (because 95% of the time, people would ask why I was triggered by it and what it did to me.) Now, people automatically assume I just don’t want to deal with it (and am therefor ‘copping out’ of serious discussion matter.)
It’s sad that, in this day and age, the mentally ill are ridiculed when they express that something is upsetting to them. It’s bad enough to have gone through such traumatic events. It’s even worse when people discount your experiences.