Stop saying things are “Triggering” you if you don’t have PTSD

One of the hardest things about admitting publicly that I have PTSD was it’s association with the hordes of young people who wear their disorders like fashion accessories. The internet has begun to throw this word around like it’s rice at a goddamn wedding. To the point where it’s now inextricably linked with teens who wallow in self pity for self diagnosed mental illnesses. This is not to say that everyone on Tumblr is faking, I would say the majority are probably not. But it’s now been picked up as a trendy term to describe anything that bothers someone. Stop it. Seriously.

What does “Trigger” mean?

A trigger is a term created by mental health experts to describe an event that triggers a flashback or volatile response in PTSD patients. It is something that is either directly or indirectly linked to the traumatizing event(s).

What are common triggers?

War footage.

Loud or sudden noises.

Locations that are similar to the trauma. Back roads, alley ways, basements.

Graphic violence in movies.

Vomiting or other pro ana activities

These aren’t the only possible things, far from it. In her book No Comfort Zone, Marla Handy talks about how, as a child, her father beat her for spilling ketchup on the floor. So now the very specific event of spilling ketchup can trigger her to have a flashback. But the openness of this term has allowed people to stretch it so far out of shape they seem to be free associating without any real understand of what “triggering” actually does.

What happens when you’re triggered

People respond in different ways depending on who they are and they got PTSD. But common reactions include:

Debilitating flashbacks

Auditory hallucinations

Violent outbursts (punching walls, knocking over furniture)

Screaming or crying

Overwhelming fear or rage

Uncontrollably shaking

These are real reactions to being triggered. It’s not something that offends your sensibilities. You may even be downright infuriated by something- that doesn’t mean you’re triggered. Specifically, if you don’t have PTSD you’re not being triggered. You’re just having emotions and despite what the Gods of Stoicism tell us, that’s completely natural.

“Trigger Words”

…What the fuck do you even mean by that? Trigger words… were you assaulted while you were reading? Attacked by a Librarian? People who survived concentration camps went on to write thousands of words about their experiences. Victims write blogs, teach seminars and actively seek out books written about PTSD trauma. I don’t understand why these kids feel they can’t even be in the presence of certain words.

In all my life I have never met another diagnosed PTSD patient who felt triggered by words. This is a fictitious extension of normal triggers invented by social media. It also pisses me off immensely. Because it’s, in part, one of the reasons people don’t take triggers seriously.

The spread and dilution of this term is having a negative effect on people with legitimate PTSD. For example, the last time I tried to explain this concept to someone I was told to “stop policing other people’s triggers!” by a person who had admittedly self diagnosed over the internet and- oh my God -the amount of FUCK YOU I had for this woman was immeasurable. People who are trying to speak up about their experiences are being lost in a sea of Muchausens. It’s already difficult to talk about this sort of thing anyway without the fear that you’ll be lumped in with a crowd of people who treat mental illness like a purse poodle.

So here’s the bottom line: trigger is a word specifically for PTSD. Use it accordingly or not at all. It’s just as easy to say advisory or warning. I know “trigger” sounds cool, but trust me there’s nothing cool about it. PTSD is fucking lame. Here’s a tip, if you think your mental illness makes you unique, cool, or dark and complex- you’re probably fine. And stop using “Trigger” for every little thing that’s remotely controversial.

6 thoughts on “Stop saying things are “Triggering” you if you don’t have PTSD

  1. I understand what you are saying here. I would like to point out that trigger is used for other disorders as well, when something can cause a certain behavior (like self-harm or suicide attempts). While triggers started specifically for PTSD, mental health professionals have expanded them to other disorders.

    I do agree with you that it has become a trend, and that is annoying and it feels as though it minimizes what people are really going through.

    I wish you luck.

  2. Most of the time I see trigger warnings attached to descriptions of traumatic events: people talking about rape, abortion, sexual abuse, racist/homophobic/transphobic violence, domestic abuse, etc. I just assumed that people who have lived through those events might have the reaction you described when reading accounts of similar things happening to others. I’ve never heard anyone talk about “Trigger words”, but I agree that sounds kind of stupid. I guess I just assumed that a description or a story could be triggering if it was similar to the traumatic event a person suffered. Are you saying it can’t?

    • I think it’s understandable to have advisories on these kind of topics. Mostly because people are in different stages of healing and often don’t want to expose themselves to those kinds of topics too often. I have a hard time reading about sexual abuse and rape. It’s not “triggering” as much as it is really emotional. But there’s a huge difference between having negative emotions toward something and being triggered. I am not just my mental illness, and neither is anyone else. We’re all complex human beings, so not everything we feel is related to our illnesses.

  3. I have a question, but cannot get a answer to. I was wondering if PTSD also includes emotional and/ or mental abuse in 90% of romantic relationships a person has. Let me clairify. Almost every relationship I got into it turned into emotional and/or mental abuse took place and one relationship left me with more questions then answers.

    Such as when I was in one relationship a few years ago, the woman cheated on me with 3 guys at the same time meanwhile lying to me constantly, got pregnant with one guy, dumped me right after and even brought the guy to the place I was living at the time (which was a group home type of setting) then moved in with him the next day and continued to bother me even when she moved out by parading her new child around at the place I was living at and the staff obviously didn’t care about my feelings towards everything that had happened (even though they were so called professionals in mental health) and continued to let her come over whenever I objected. Even worse she admitted to a few of my friends she enjoyed what she did. Problem still didn’t stop there. She even turned a few friends against me with her lies and now I refuse to even go near the city that we both lived in at the time.

    Since my last relationship more recently the same pattern of emotional and mental abuse took place. Sometimes I find it difficult to trust. Thats why I’m unsure if that counts as PTSD.

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