If you don’t have PTSD, it’s not a “trigger”

One of the hardest things about admitting publicly that I have PTSD is its association with the hordes of young people who wear their disorders like fashion accessories. The internet has begun to throw around the word “trigger” like it’s rice at a goddamn wedding.

It’s now at the point where “triggers” are inextricably linked with teens who wallow in self-pity over mental illnesses that they’ve self-diagnosed. This is not to say that everyone on Tumblr is faking it; I would say the majority are probably not. But “triggering” has now been picked up as a trendy term to describe anything that bothers someone. Stop it. Seriously.

What “trigger” actually means:

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

Common triggers:

  • War footage
  • Loud or sudden noises
  • Locations that are similar to the trauma. Back roads, alleyways, basements
  • Graphic violence in movies
  • Vomiting, or other pro-ana activities

These aren’t the only possible triggers; 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.

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But the openness of the term has allowed some people to stretch it so far past its intended meaning that they seem to be free associating without any real understanding of what “triggers” actually do.

What happens when you’re triggered:

People respond in different ways depending on who they are and how 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
  • Uncontrollable shaking

These are real reactions to being triggered. It’s not something that offends your sensibilities. You may even be downright infuriated by something, but that doesn’t mean you’re being 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.

About “trigger words”:

…What the fuck does that even mean? Trigger… words? Were you assaulted while you were reading? Attacked by a librarian? People who survived concentration camps have gone 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 some kids feel they can’t even be in the presence of certain words.

In all my life, I’ve 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 one of the reasons people don’t take triggers seriously.

The spread and dilution of this term are 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 Münchausens. 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: In psychology, “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, special, or dark and complex, you’re probably fine. And stop using “trigger” for every little thing that’s remotely controversial.

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  • Hitchmeister

    I don’t have this problem (or these problems, whichever is more appropriate) so I don’t really understand what this is about. But I realize that and do my best to be sympathetic and not trivialize these terms by misusing them. It does bother me that more people don’t do the same. I want to call people out on their bullshit, but I’m afraid that I might be wrong and go off on someone correctly talking about their own real problems.

  • HylianMadness

    Protip: If your “mental illness” is self-diagnosed, YOU HAVE NO MENTAL ILLNESS. Except maybe stupidity. If you’re really concerned that you might have a mental illness, go see a psychiatrist. Don’t go on Tumblr and cry about how you’re so depressed, or how someone saying mean things to you gave you PTSD.

    • SithSmurf

      I dunno. I looked up “hypochondria” on-line, and I think I might have it.

      But you might be right. Maybe it’s all in my head.

    • Jeff Jenness

      Most psychiatrists suck….if you arnt planning on killing yourself, arnt able to go outside, or arnt hallucinating, chances are the psychiatrist will misdiagnose you and throw you on some medication that doesn’t do jack shit. Well if the medicine does work, chances are its more of a hard drug than medicine.

      • Tristan Finley Collins

        I can think of a few real cases where evening if you are planning on killing yourself, arent able to go outside, or are hallucinating… that the psychiatrists got it wrong, so terribly wrong.

        Conversely, not all mental illness leaves a person completely without rational. They may not fully realize how bad they are, or what caused it, or how to get past it. But they can potentially realize they’re experiencing a kind of mental illness and seek help. I’d say I knew what mine were and only sought out the opinion of a professional as confirmation.

    • Anya

      this comment is really fucked up, jesus. not everyone has access to mental health professionals and not all mental health professionals are good at their jobs… lots of people get misdiagnosed (e.g. kids in low-income, high crime areas are often diagnosed with ADHD when they have PTSD), lots of mental illnesses have standards of diagnosis based on particular demographics (e.g. ADHD is often diagnosed based on the symptoms of little boys despite adult women WITH ADHD experiencing similar but different symptoms), and sometimes people’s identities will be used to pathologize them instead of help them seek services (e.g. transgender people will have any mental health concerns blamed on them being trans). the system through which people can acquire diagnoses isn’t objective, it’s not accessible to everyone, and there are a lot of shitty people with degrees who will fuck mentally ill people over.

      also a lot of things are harder to get diagnoses for… a lot of people being treated for depression will not have an Official Diagnosis of Depression. I know I didn’t get anything close to that until about two years into being treated for it. same with anxiety. like yeah it sucks that there are people who overreact to things but what sucks more is people like you trying to convince mentally ill people that they’re not mentally ill because they haven’t had some expensive person in an office with a degree tell them something they already knew.

    • Eoin

      In that case love when your car overheats and has steam coming out the grille don`t tell us it overheated unless a mechanic has inspected it and pronounced it so.

      • ms nonymous

        good one

      • Moxie Miscellany

        I know this is an old comment, but I heard this argument from someone who recently diagnosed herself with – and I quote – “multiple personality disorder.” She roleplays characters (one of whom is a half-dragon-half-werewolf, yes really) as a form of escapism; all of them are aware of each other & are “friends,” there’s no fugue state, and there was no traumatising event, mental scarring or brain damage to account for it. She has no PTSD, but has been previously diagnosed with depression. She claims that referring to her clean MRIs & psych evaluations as evidence that she’s merely escaping & not suffering from DID, are “triggering.” As is writing or saying anything that she disagrees with (no exaggeration).

        I warned against self-diagnosis, and she said roughly the same thing. The problem is that, in many cases, it’s more like claiming the car is overheating because the steering wheel is hot.
        If one is suffering from actual mental illness, there are signs that can be noticed by a halfway decent health professional. Granted, not everyone has access to those services (especially in the US), but self-diagnosing can be dangerous. It’s basically Münchhausen’s, at least in practice.

    • Bex vanKoot

      Protip: “Just go see a psychiatrist.” Hmmm, okay, well the only therapist in the city I live that speaks my first language just retired and even if I had $1000 to fly back to Canada for free health-care, there is a six month waiting list for out-patient appointments at my local mental health facility. Thanks though. Really helpful advice. /sarcasm

    • Nathan

      If that’s true, then mental illnesses don’t exist until they’re diagnosed. In which case, the best way to treat mental illnesses is to simply not diagnose them anymore.

      • Susie Krause

        You’re being rude.

        • Nathan

          How so?

          • Susie Krause

            You know I reread everyone’s comments and I think I might have messed up. I thought you were responding to Anya’s comment, I didn’t notice that in fact you were addressing HylianMadness. Sorry!

          • Nathan

            No worries! I was more or less making the same point Anya was.

    • Bristolian&Proud

      With the greatest of respect, I was self-diagnosed with depression for two weeks while I waited to see a doctor who agreed (First one I saw by the way) So your pro-tip is kind of a neg-tip

  • friendly reader

    To be fair to the internet, I’ve seen more and more people move towards using “content warning” rather than “trigger warning,” because they realize that they’ve been appropriating a medical term. But I too have had a person tell me that a card in “Cards Against Humanity” triggered her… as she was talking to me quite normally, without any of the effects of actually being triggered that you note here. I politely said that I could understand why it was *upsetting.* Because that’s what she meant, and that’s what most people mean, and we’ve unfortunately delegitimated emotional reactions so much (especially from women) that I think people clamped on to “trigger” as a word to get around that. But it is wrong, and I really appreciate you writing this.

    • Deadgirl_X

      Excellent points. And if somebody is a sensitive type, they probably shouldn’t be playing Cards Against Humanity in the first place. 😉

  • Larry

    If it doesn’t have a tail it’s not a monkey, even if it has a monkey kind of shape. If it doesn’t have a tail it’s not a monkey, if it doesn’t have a tail it’s not a monkee it’s an ape.

    • Alice

      Or a monkey who had an accident.

      • Greenhornet

        The monkeys have no tails in Zoambanga.
        The monkeys have no tails in Zoambanga.
        Oh the monkeys have no tails,
        They got bit off by the whales.
        Now the monkeys have no tails in Zoambanga.

  • Alyssa Cooper

    “A trauma trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone who has experienced trauma. A trigger is thus a troubling reminder of a traumatic event, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic.

    The term ‘trauma trigger’ is not used or recognized in scientific literature but is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.[2]

    Triggers can be quite diverse, appearing in the form of individual people, places, noises, images, smells, tastes, emotions, animals, films, scenes within films, dates of the year, tones of voice, body positions, bodily sensations, weather conditions, time factors, or combinations thereof[citation needed]. Triggers can be subtle and difficult to anticipate,[3] and can sometimes exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which sufferers cannot control the recurrence of emotional or physical symptoms, or of repressed memory.[4][5] A trauma trigger may also be referred to as a trauma stimulus or a trauma stressor.”

    Not exactly limited to just PTSD. “Related to”, not “exclusive to”.

    • Rick Jaeger

      As far as its weight as a recognized psychological concept is concerned, it’s quite limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

      Outside of that realm of diagnosable PTSD, these people may very well be triggered in small, emotional ways… but so long as it’s not diagnosable or related to a larger, diagnosable problem, they should not expect anyone to give them the kind of consideration about their “triggering” incidences owed to a rape survivor or a war veteran. That’s f***ing nonsense.

      • Alyssa Cooper

        As a psychological concept, yes, but as an emotional/psychoreactive concept, no.

        Additionally, the only reason for the rise of the term’s use is to label potentially triggering materials for those who do suffer PTSD and to label those articles of media that contain content that maybe offensive/emotionally harmful. No one is asking for consideration on the level of survivors or war vets, just a level of consideration and given that the term does of meaning in sociological context, using “trigger” was just an ease of use/understanding measure.

        • Rick Jaeger

          Agreed, but you can’t say “no one” is asking for consideration on that level. Most people probably aren’t, but some people out there certainly are.

          • Alyssa Cooper

            Oh, I would never say there’s no one asking for consideration on that level. Sadly, there are those that over inflate their own issues and grievances.

      • Bex vanKoot

        So you can tell just by looking at someone’s posts on the internet whether or not they are a survivor of sexual assault? Because I can tell you right now that the vast majority of women I know have experienced assault. It isn’t rare to be a survivor.

        • Rick Jaeger

          I don’t claim to be able to, unless I’m misremembering what I said here. This was from a while back.

          All of that may well be true, and I pity women who have experienced assault. It is terrible. I’m not casting doubt on the existence of sexual assault; I’m not sure if there’s something else you meant by your reply.

          • Bex vanKoot

            My point is that if you deem only certain people with specific experiences to be worthy of our consideration around triggers, it’s still impossible to judge who is and is not worthy based solely on what they post on the internet.

          • Rick Jaeger

            That’s very true; it’s not possible to know whether whoever’s posting is telling the truth about their experiences.

            Practically, though, since we can’t judge each case individually, people who are distributing content online have to decide what sort of level of “triggering material”, I guess you might call it, that they’re willing to allow in whatever they’re distributing, and people who are receiving content online have to both be honest with themselves about what should and should not be expected of others.

            There’s got to be a clear understanding about how much leeway to give to strangers online claiming special consideration. The question to answer has to be how much we’re willing to accept of the risk of triggering someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by doing whatever they want, versus the risk of giving special privileges to people who are not portraying their conditions truthfully and therefore do not deserve them.

          • Bex vanKoot

            That’s not what this discussion is about at all.

          • Rick Jaeger

            Then you can come to your own conclusion in your head and pretend I agree with you about whatever discussion it is *you* think we’re having.

          • Bex vanKoot

            I guess I just don’t understand how wanting to treat everyone in a way that allows them the best access to the information we put online is giving anyone “special privileges” – there is nothing “special” about being able to live a normal, happy, healthy life without being put into a constant state of fear by assholes who don’t give a shit about anyone else’s feelings.

      • Bristolian&Proud

        I have to disagree, a number of Psychological conditions use the term triggered.

      • kait

        There are other (major) mental illnesses that involve the concept of triggers, and I don’t think these people are triggered in “small emotional ways”…especially if it involves psychosis. People on Tumblr will often get mildly upset by something and call it a “trigger”, yes but as other people have pointed out, there are other pretty severe diagnosable mental disorders out there besides PTSD, and often trauma will coincide with these disorders.

        To be honest, I do think anxiety and depression are often over-diagnosed/self-diagnosed in teens specifically because sadness and stress are pretty common emotions, especially at that age. This doesn’t necessarily make their feelings invalid and some really do have a diagnosable issue, but having emotions is normal and isn’t the same as having a major mental illness.

  • Wizkamridr

    And just because you see a mental health specialist still
    doesn’t mean you have a mental illness. I saw two different psychiatrists. The first
    one said I had an illness, the second did not. I went with the second.

    http://psychology.about.com/od/psychotherapy/f/psychvspsych.htm

    • Betty

      If you only went to two, then you are probably right, you aren’t mentally ill. People who have serious illness that interferes with occupational and social functioning, generally don’t spontaneously “get better” on their own, and don’t just stop seeking help or treatment because it consumes their life. I began therapy and treatment in HS, I’m still In therapy and seeing a pdoc. I’m now in my 50’s.

  • CDF-CRO

    Is having PTSD somehow fashionable? Too many people online try to excuse their behavior by blaming it on Aspergers or Bi-polar but then admit it’s self-diagnosed…

    I suppose if you write an essay and then put a trigger warning at the top of said essay out of consideration to people who might be upset with the subject matter then that’s your choice.

    But I’d say then having a go at someone for writing about say rape and not putting a trigger warning at the start of their tumblr post or whatever is ignoring their First Amendment rights or whatever they have in their neck of the woods.

    Thanks Nycea for mentioning that you’ve “never met another diagnosed PTSD patient who felt triggered by words”, which means at least I can write about say spilling ketup on the floor without worrying if I’m causing Marla Handy unwanted flashbacks to horrible events.

    But having said that what if Marla Hardy sees a G-rated family movie in which one of the gags has ketup being split on the floor and it triggers her to relive horrible events in her life…well I don’t think the movie should be higher-rated or the film makers should be held accountable, just that Marla Hardy is probably struggling with something a lot of people don’t have to worry about.

    Damn having PTSD and being triggered by even the seemingly most innocent and unimportant things? That really must suck!

    • Alice

      Just because someone exercises their first amendment rights doesn’t mean everyone else doesn’t have the right to criticize them using THEIR first amendment rights.

      • CDF-CRO

        Sure but I’d say there’s valid criticism and weak criticism. If somebody is being bigoted, biased or plain ignorant and you call them out on it? No problem there.

        It’s just you’ve got to have a better argument than “What you’re saying makes me uncomfortable” which isn’t an argument.

        Say you’re linking to a newspaper article containing images that some people might find
        distressing and out of consideration you warn them before hand? Sure that’s
        being kind.

        Writing a text article which contains references to assault or rape? Just check tumblr
        and you’ll find a few folk getting told off for not tagging the subject matter.

        Not that they’re condoning the subject matter or containing distressing images
        you understand, just that they wrote about it without warning labels.

        If you’re reading an article and it starts talking about something you don’t like? Just
        stop reading.

        (http://chaoslife.findchaos.com/societys-new-rules)

        • Alice

          There’s a pretty big differences between “references to rape” and “long, detailed description of rape”, though.

  • Danielle Osgan

    Yeah…triggers are not fun. Until very recently, being touched by someone I could not see would either cause me to respond with violence or become a fail pile on the floor. My boyfriend made the mistake of tickling me while I was half asleep and I ended up pinning him to the bed with my hand at his throat (idk why he hasn’t left me yet). So when ever I hear people throw trigger warnings around, I get a special kind of pissed. Content warning? Sure. Friendly disclaimer? Awesome and considerate. Trigger warning? No. People have literally died because of triggers, this is not something you want to become desensitized to.

    • FullofQuestions1

      Yeah. I think people like the term because it packs more of a punch than “offensive” or “controversial”. But really, there’s a reason we don’t call forgetting someone’s name “Alzheimer’s”.

  • I remember a time when somebody mentioned the word trigger, the first thing they thought of was Roy Rogers.

  • Cristiona

    “I was told to “stop policing other people’s triggers!””

    And this is why the internet is a horrible place. And, also, the kind of things people are referring to when they complain about “SJWs”.

    Of course, by avoiding Tumblr, I’ve found that the amount of lunacy like this I put up with is greatly reduced. Not reading comments (oops) takes care of most of the rest.

    • FullofQuestions1

      I recently saw “Trigger Warning: anti nerd language” and “Trigger Warning: Jared Leto.” This is why I don’t have a tumblr. It’s an angsty Twitter

  • Cameron Vale

    Maybe it’s because I don’t know a lot about it, but expecting everyone to watch out for triggers seems unusual to me, sort of like an injured man expecting everyone to carry him around.

    • friendly reader

      The way they were originally intended to work, it was more like “expect people to build ramps so that the injured person can roll their wheelchair into a building.” The idea behind “trigger warnings” initially (and you can usually tell who understands this, because they’ve probably switched to “content warning” by now) was to let people know that, for example, the article was going to discuss abuse, rape, or graphic violence, or if there were going to be photos of a similar nature, to let people decide for themselves if they wanted to go on rather than taking them by surprise. It’s not really any different than putting up a “NSFW” note on your article or blog, or letting people with photosensitive epilepsy know a video contains flashing lights. It’s basic consideration.

      BUT, as this article discusses, these warnings have stopped serving that initial role as people have started to use “trigger” as a synonym for “upset” or “infuriated.” Which is why I wholeheartedly support the shift to “content warning” (which is what they really are, anyway) and articles like this pointing out that “trigger” is a medical term that you should *not* appropriate.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    It does seem to be part of a trend away from the traditional “I just want to be treated like everyone else.” that I was brought up with to a modern mindset that says “I want everyone to acknowledge and understand my issues.” One of those points of view is practical and the other is not.

    • Nasro Subari

      It’s the usual “I want to be special and unique” that we find with teens of all times. Nothing special. 😉

      • Alice

        Except it is in medicine.

        • Nasro Subari

          I don’t think you understood what I said.

          • Nessus

            I think she meant it’s new for medical issues to be co-opted as justifications/excuses for one’s “specialness”. Adolescents have always had the “I wanna be special and different” thing going on, but psychology as a medical science (psychology in general, in fact) is pretty new. As psychological disorders as medical issues become less stigmatized as “just crazy/weak/an asshole”, these kids (and immature adults) see that as an opportunity to borrow some legitimacy for their quirks.

            The DSM has kind of become the angst equivelent of what the physicians desk reference is to a hypochondriacs.

    • $36060516

      “a modern mindset that says ‘I want everyone to acknowledge and understand my issues.'”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR7h-4yvd-o

      • Gallen_Dugall

        Misunderstood is another world from understood. Like how tolerance is a whole different world from acceptance.

        • $36060516

          My basic point is that I doubt that people wanting acknowledgement and understanding for their suffering is a new development in human psychology. There is greater acceptance of individual issues in some contemporary Western cultures (certainly not Russia, where gays are being hunted for sport at the moment), but the desire of human beings to be understood, recognized and accepted seems, to me, fundamental and unchanging to the human animal.

          • Tim Cooper

            There’s also a difference between “wanting acknowledgement and understanding,” which is valid, and “wanting to one-up each other with even more obscure problems” which is the basis for a Monty Python skit about Northerners.

  • FullofQuestions1

    I always thought “trigger words” meant a phrase that an attacker said. Like, if a survivor of sexual assault was told that he or she wanted it, hearing “I know you want it” in the song “Blurred Lines” might set them off (I don’t even like using the word “trigger”).

  • Jasper Jones

    I did not know that about that word. I can’t say I used it a whole lot, but I didn’t ever really think about it much, either. So I won’t use it anymore. Thanks for sharing!

    Also, agree with the whole fuck idiots for thinking it’s cool to have some sort of disorder thing. It’s not cool and it’s not fun. It’s hard and awful and about 90% bullshit and that’s on a good day. (In particular I’m transgender and hate all idiots who buy into/pretend they are “otherkin”. Like… just…. fuck, no. Just… don’t.)

    • FullofQuestions1

      Otherkin? This is my first time hearing about this.

      • Andrew

        In short, people who believe that they’re actually animals (or used to be animals)…or inanimate objects, etc.

        I’d advise not bothering yourself over it, the stupid is contagious and you could be doing something enjoyable instead.

        • FullofQuestions1

          What…This actually makes less sense than the people on Tumblr who identify as “Transable” and “Transethnic”. Yeah, there are people on Tumblr who have decided that they’re transblind or trans paraplegic, and they get very upset with all the “cis disabled” people for taking all the attention in the disability community.

          • Jasper Jones

            I love tumblr, but damn, sometimes stuff like that drives me crazy. Those ones are definitely trolls or teenagers too young to understand that being a minority doesn’t actually make you a super special snowflake and isn’t awesome.

    • kait

      The mental illness itself is awful enough and then, you have to deal with the stigma on top of that. To be fair, I think a lot of people romanticize their OWN illnesses as a way to deal with stigma, and the shame that comes with knowing you’re crazy.

  • LiteLaSouris

    Bravo! I wish more people understood this. They are trivializing mental disorders and making it so people don’t take the said disorders seriously. It frustrates me to no end. You don’t get triggered by words! I hate it when people misuse the word trigger.

    • Naomi Elsbernd

      you can in fact be triggered by words or phrases. a trigger in itself is something that is associated with a specific trauma that can set off an episode of severe reaction. this can be a multitude of things, INCLUDING words or phrases.

    • Meh

      I’ve seen severely shaking and sweating people with actual Ptsd being called special snowflakes.

  • chachi

    How about we try something different – quit being a baby and man up, butch.

  • trlkly

    The mental health profession does not have a monopoly on words. Do I get all offended when someone says “Oh, I’m so OCD?”

    I understand you had trouble discussing something, but you policing how other people speak is not the answer.

    • Danielle Osgan

      But saying “I’m so OCD” will not desensitize people to OCD. It might make OCD seem like a less serious issue, but it will not actually harm people with OCD. To bandy the word “trigger” about will give the impression that triggers can be silly, superfluous, or ignored, and that is the problem. People should not ignore real triggers, that’s how people get hurt. You are right that the mental health profession does not have a monopoly on words, but it can end up like the boy who cried wolf right down to someone dying.

      • Serpent

        you’re assuming that most people don’t take triggers seriously, i don’t think that’s the case. it still makes people think of what might be a potential trigger, even if they take the liberty to judge which triggers are legitimate and which aren’t.

    • Alice

      Actually, they do have a monopoly on words; when someone with some amount of actual clout and experience creates or uses a word in a certain way, they have coined it. The mental health profession DOES have a monopoly (government sponsored I might add) on MENTAL HEALTH. So if they coin a word, it behooves you to use it properly. For the good of all of us. Except the ones who are dead.

    • Rick Jaeger

      The mental health professional has a monopoly on the most quality meaning of phrases for much the same reason that a government has a monopoly on money: to assure that its value doesn’t immediately degrade, because everyone and their mother can say it or print it.

      Oh sure, you *say* policing people isn’t the answer, but obviously these people can’t self-police. If they’re using real phrases for imaginary problems, they’re doing a disservice to themselves and everyone else, so get off your cowardly, preachy, non-judgmental ass and start telling them what-for.

    • Serpent

      yeah i think it’s great that the word trigger is used by common people. visibility should come before accuracy.

  • Finally somebody call out those “trigger warnings” and other nonsense! I mean there are even people teling they have PTSD from TWITTER.. smh

  • Episteme

    Yeah, if you’re pointing out that something’s a trigger instead of panicking and dissociating at that moment, you’re pretty much the equivalent of that guy who stands up from his wheelchair and runs out of the room…

  • KateGladstone

    And why don’t survivors of, say, pistol shootouts claim to be triggered by the WORD “trigger” itself?

  • Selin Caka

    I appreciate your point of view, Nycea! Being made uncomfortable or upset by a topic or idea is nothing at all like having psychiatric symptoms triggered, but there is one quick clarification I wanted to make: PTSD is not the only mental illness that involves triggers. Panic disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders, and psychotic disorders can also involve the presence of triggers.

    What you nailed, though, is that in order to be “triggered” in the way that professionals use the word, there needs to be a mental illness involved. Thanks again for your perspective!

  • Jeff Jenness

    So what if a recovering schizophrenic gets pulled over by the cops and starts to think the cops are out to get him, which leads to a full blown relapse of psychosis. Are you telling me that this cant be called a trigger? I agree its overused…but there are tons of diseases where using the word “Trigger” is entirely legitimate, and often the most accurate word to use.

    • Hennalounge

      You’re right Jeff, “trigger” is also used in reference to other medical conditions. This author was speaking specifically about PTSD.

      • Jess Geez

        But no. The author specifically stated that “trigger” is ONLY valid in reference to PTSD.

  • Ashley

    I very much agree with this idea there are far too many
    people out there bandying around phrases like ‘i’m so OCD’ which served
    to invalidate mental illness. – However, I experience BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotion Dysregulation Disorder. and we do get triggered into a relapse or
    intensification of symptoms. Though BPD has overlap with complex PTSD,
    many people (including myself) with the condition do not have a
    background of severe trauma. It is that the brain is wired to percieve certain things as threatening, and then to overreact to that threat – hence people with BPD being labelled as dramatic/unstable when we have very little control over the episodes.

    The triggers for BPD can be imperceptible to anyone that is not familiar with the condition. I’ll give you an example – my most recent trigger was ‘Don’t spit on the ground, it’s disgusting’. This directly triggered an outburst of suicidal violence (i’m only 45kg but did manage to smash up the kitchen and walk 7 miles in pj’s and bare feet towards the clifftops before getting picked up by much of the local police force just before they called out a search & rescue helicopter. And that’s even with strong medication and ongoing therapy.

    I also take exception to your dismissal of word triggers. For someone experiencing suicidal ideation, or if they are, like myself, an attempt survivor, it is possible to be triggered into making an attempt by reading descriptions of suicide that include methodology or that are badly reported. The charities Mind, Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness have published guidlines for the press for exactly this reason.

    Again, I agree with the reasons for the article I just think the viewpoint is a little narrow and that it comes across as dismissive to survivors of other illnesses and experiences that do not specifically have a diagnosis of PTSD. Thank you for reading.

    • Marguerite Reed

      Ashley, thank you. I also have BPD, and I found the tone of this piece to be just a bit too condescending. I understand the dismay of a word being throne around too casually, but no, a person doesn’t have to be dx’d with PTSD to be triggered.

  • Bex vanKoot

    PTSD is not the only disorder for which “trigger” is a valid word. Eating disorders, self-harm disorders, and any other mental illnesses in the obsessive-compulsive category can be triggered. You don’t own a monopoly on the word.

    And if you didn’t struggle with the mental health industry to try and get your diagnosis, your privilege is GLARING. The last time I was in a place where a mental health professional spoke the same language as me, there was a SIX MONTH WAITING LIST just to talk to someone, unless I wanted to volunteer to spend three days locked in the psych ward.

    My anxiety and my panic attacks aren’t fake and they aren’t just going to disappear because it’s fucking impossible to even get a sit down with someone who knows a damn thing about mental health.

    • Tynam

      This. Please pay attention.

      I admire the point this article was *trying* to make. But in so doing, the language minimised the experiences of people with disorders other than PTSD.

      There are a number of other serious conditions – BPD, some forms of depression, some anxiety disorders to name a few – in which simple and otherwise harmless stimuli lead to debilitating flashbacks, violent outbursts, screaming or crying, overwhelming fear or uncontrollable shaking.

      “Trigger” may not be the medically precise term for these stimuli in non-PTSD cases – but it’s not wrong either; it clearly conveys exactly the problem. (What other word do you propose? There isn’t another choice.)

      Summary: While standing up for PTSD sufferers, please don’t minimise the struggles of those who deal with extreme depression, panic attacks or violent terror.

      (On writing or images, “content warning” is, of course, a much better term – and I’m always glad when sites use it properly.)

  • jul3097

    u had me until the “Munchausens” comment….ur over using that term in exactly the same way that ur complaining “triggers” is being over used

  • Serpent

    How do you know what kind of reactions people are having? I’m scared of dogs, and yes, I get a rapid pulse when I see a pic unexpectedly, and may shake uncontrollably too, and cry if the exposure gets overwhelming. Even if you’re speaking with someone in person, you don’t know how much they may struggle to appear “normal”.

  • This article makes a good point, and it seems to be written from the heart, but maybe it goes too far and doesn’t adequately take into account people with un-diagnosed disorders, nor people with anxiety-related disorders other than PTSD, nor people who “manage their damage” so well they might be diagnosed as healthy although everyday is a struggle to remain okay despite triggering experiences.

  • iAm

    for those seeking therapeutic intervention for PTSD see a licensed therapist who specializes in EMDR.

  • melonary

    Okay, but psychiatrists and psychologists use trigger to describe something that sets off an episode for a multitude of different disorders, not just PTSD. It can also be used to talk about eating disorders, panic attacks, psychotic episodes, manic episodes, and a variety of other disorders.

  • Naomi Elsbernd

    you can in fact be triggered by words or phrases. a trigger in itself is something that is associated with a specific trauma that can set off an episode of severe reaction. this can be a multitude of things, INCLUDING words or phrases. so before you go and try to say that trigger words are not real, see it for yourself.

  • Chuckles McTruck

    This. A million times this.

  • ms nonymous

    descriptions of events that could be triggering are written in words. they are used all the time on support groups online. they have meaning; yo use eyes to read them. why do you think it is not just as triggering as “war footage” or “graphic violence”?

  • Anne Johnson

    It’s interesting that you mention vomiting as a trigger for PTSD. Many people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have crippling phobias related to vomiting. Now, here’s where OCD and PTSD differ. Someone who suffers from PTSD has been in an actual life-threatening situation that caused the PTSD to establish itself. The person with OCD has often lived with debilitating anxiety since early childhood, with no rational reason for those episodes. I know two people, both medically diagnosed and treated for OCD, who are indeed triggered by someone just offhandedly mentioning a recent bout of the stomach flu. Words, just words. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. All serious mental illnesses can be triggered.

  • brittany burt

    Words can definitely be a trigger, spend 5 years getting the shit beat out of you by an abusive marine, and yes, certain words or phrases are triggers. Just because your PTSD isn’t triggered by words doesn’t mean that someone else’s experience isn’t valid.

    • Meh

      Couldn’t have said it better.

  • Invar Vigandun

    First, let me say that I definitely agree that “trigger” has become an overused term these days, and there are many poeople who don’t really know what it means. There also is, sadly, a trend especially among younger people to find mental illness somehow “chic”, which is disturbing.

    That said: There are other disorders for which the use of the term “trigger” is valid, among them phobias like for example emetophobia, eating disorders, BPD, certain anxiety disorders . . .

    Also, as somebody who has been diagnosed with PTSD myself:

    “In all my life, I’ve never met another diagnosed PTSD patient who felt triggered by words.”

    Pleased to meet you 😉 Only because you haven’t experienced something or met anybody who has experienced it, that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. By that definition, white sharks shouldn’t exist because neither I nor anybody I’ve met has yet seen a live one. But more seriously: Certain written/oral descriptions or words can of course be very triggering and throw somebody into a flashback or cause severe fear etc. It’s good that it doesn’t happen to you, but I see no reason why that should mean that it’s not happening.

  • Amelia Donald

    I found this piece so rude and condescending. My therapist – a qualified, experienced PSYCHOLOGIST – uses the word ‘triggered’ in relation to my anxiety and depression. If I see a picture of someone’s self-harm scars or even just see a tweet talking about self harm, my wrist begins to tingle and it’s very hard not to hurt myself – this is a trigger. When I hear people talking in hushed tones or see someone look at me in what I think is a funny way, it TRIGGERS my anxiety and sometimes even a panic attack. I am NOT self-diagnosed; I am receiving therapy and I have been prescribed anti-depressants. Do I have to validate my mental state anymore for you? Or am I just a young girl wearing my mental illness as a fashion accessory?

  • Leigh

    Okay: first of all a “trigger” is NOT a word only for PTSD. It’s to denote something that brings back feelings left over from trauma, or induces panic attacks, etc. even if the person hasn’t been diagnosed with the extreme disorder and flashbacks.
    As a survivor of abuse and trauma, there are situations, and even a phrase or two, that remind me intensely of abuse and makes me panic and throws me into a disordered pattern. This is totally valid, something both my doctors and I have investigated, and is not technically a symptom of PTSD. Yet, it was something that triggered symptoms of a disorder, and is therefore a trigger.
    Please don’t talk about mental illnesses you know nothing about, stop trivializing others’ legitimized experiences and do some more research please. I totally agree that it has been overused by tumblr users who think it’s cool to wear their self-diagnoses on their sleeves, but don’t dismiss and invalidate real things that are happening to other mentally ill people. Have a little more sensitivity to those who also struggle to live normally in the face of their mental illnesses.

  • TheCrazyFish

    You had me agreeing with you from the first sentence.

    Not only am I also disgusted that we have become a nation of pansies, but I’m especially disgusted at the over-diagnosis of PTSD, because I know someone who had it. SEVERELY.

    True story: my brother spent almost two years in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom. By the time he got back he was so screwed up that he would wake up screaming every night. It destroyed his life and took years for him to recover.

    So no, emo teens, you do NOT know what PTSD is like, and you certainly did not get PTSD just because your mom made you clean your room, or some kid on a message board made fun of your self-diagnosed Asperger’s.

    • kait

      A little off topic but since when do people actually diagnose THEMSELVES with Asperger’s (maybe I’m out of touch)?

      • TheCrazyFish

        On the internet? All the time, man. You probably just aren’t hanging out in the right (wrong?) places, and for that I envy you. :p I try to avoid those places nowadays myself, but trust me I’ve seen my fair share of admitted self-diagnosis cases.

        As near as I can tell, it’s mostly Cracked’s fault. They made a really poorly researched article claiming that Asperger’s “limits your ability to read non-verbal social cues, meaning you tend to piss people off without realizing” (which as near as I can tell is NOT what asperger’s even does) and suddenly every internet troll and general jerkwad had a go-to excuse for their behavior. :

        It’s sad, really.

        • kait

          I believe you. I don’t use it anymore, but Tumblr is a contest of who has it the hardest. It just seems like a weird thing to diagnose yourself with or be proud of.. I was diagnosed with it as a kid and it’s something I’m ASHAMED of/disgusted by/hope was a misdiagnosis.

          • TheCrazyFish

            My theory is, it’s because people have an innate drive to be special and/or unique. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that desire, but sometimes people are so desperate to be unique that they’ll even look for negative and hurtful things like mental illness just so they have something they can point to and call their own. :

    • “Not only am I also disgusted that we have become a nation of pansies,”

      Was the homophobic insult really necessary?

      • TheCrazyFish

        If you hear “pansy” and immediately think “gay people” I think that makes YOU the homophobe.

        • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LGBT_slang_terms

          Dudebro tried Deflection! It’s Super Ineffective.

          • TheCrazyFish

            Sorry. Normally I would write up a big long post explaining why you’re wrong and how your idiocy is poisoning our society, but if you can’t be bothered to form a coherent argument in defense of your own “beliefs” then I can’t be bothered to spend any time refuting them.

            Hell, I’ve already put more time and energy into this comment then you have into either of yours.

          • Your argument wasn’t exactly extensive either, and you opened with a homophobic insult. My idiocy? Look in the mirror. As for your claims of “over-diagnosis,” where may I ask did you get your degree in psychology? What’s your source to back up that claim, beyond the single example of your brother? As for “I’ve already put more time and energy into this comment then you have into either of yours.”, I doubt that very much. For starters, for you to be unaware that “pansies” is a homophobic slur, you’d have to have done approximately zero research, because I was able to back up my claim there with all of 10 seconds on Google. If you can’t be arsed to give ten seconds you have some nerve making claims about my so-called idiocy.

          • TheCrazyFish

            Let’s get one thing clear before you get too big for your britches there, chief. The reason I haven’t destroyed your argument yet is not because you’re smarter than me, it’s because I have no interest in spending a lot of time and energy (not to mention risking pissing off the site management) in a fight with some guy who can barely string two sentences together.

            Don’t delude yourself, we are NOT the same. My first post was 4 paragraphs. Your first post? A sentence, and not even on topic. So I pointed out how silly you were being. Your response to that? A weblink and an internet meme. Seeing a difference yet?

            That’s why I haven’t bothered to prove you wrong, but if you really want (And since you’ve now shown you CAN form a coherent thought, good for you!) here you go:

            You say I’m homophobic for calling people pansies, and you back that up with a wikipedia article saying that pansy is a slang term for homosexual. Well, I already knew that. I also know that it has other meanings, depending on context. Bet you didn’t.

            And hey, you know what else is a slang term for homosexuals (or at least a type of homosexual)? BEAR. Now, if I were to say that I’m scared of bears because they’re big and have claws, would you tell me I was being homophobic? Would you tell me that I have to call them URSINES from now on, because bear is a gay word now?

            For that matter, would you say Hershey’s has to call their product “chocolate-based western confections” now in order to avoid the job title of “fudge-packer”? Would you say that dikes have to be called “water-retaining constructs” now to avoid confusion with the derogatory term for lesbians? Would you tell everyone that fantasy books have to talk about “minuscule winged creatures of fae origin” so as not to offend you by using the term fairy?

            …or are we going to remember that context exists, and that not everything in this world is about your pet cause?

            And for the record, “pansy” in this case was a replacement for the word I wanted to use: “pussy.”

            Oh, and also? The person you’re talking to is openly bisexual, idiot.

          • Alice Cooper

            “I just feel like this whole generation maybe all need to eat a steak.”

  • Susie Krause

    That was hilariously explained. I have PTSD, triggers and the aftermath are a not so funny part of therapy. Best wishes to all who are currently in the thick of this process. Be well.

  • Lizzie

    Great post.. But wrong about PTSD being the only Co diction to be “triggered” that’s all I am going to say. Do a little more research. Just saying.

  • Amy Turner

    I have ptsd from sexual violence and the R word the trigger me off extremely fast so obviously that’s not what happened to you overall I liked your article however victims of sexual assault have a hard time saying that word when its happened to them because it evokes emotion flashback and a lot of things that I can’t even explain to you unless it happened to you just so you know

  • Purple Dreams

    Whilst I agree that content warnings for graphic discussions are more appropriate than trigger warnings, PTSD does not own the monopoly on the term, in addition to the other points made, both epilepsy and migraine can be triggered by external factors.

    trigger

    Type: Term

    Pronunciation: trig′ĕr

    Definitions:
    1. Term describing a system in which a relatively small input turns on a relatively large output, the magnitude of which is unrelated to the magnitude of the input.
    http://www.medilexicon.com/medicaldictionary.php?t=93911

    Additionally, as triggers are so individual, I think that society can’t possible account for them all, no matter how well meaning. For example, if one is triggered by a certain scent, one couldn’t reasonably expect everyone to stop using it in public spaces.

  • Fakename

    it is not fair to dismiss “trigger words” and extremely unsupportive of those with PTSD and trauma. It devalidates their pain. As a sexual assault survivor, for years the word “force” or “forced” brought back a lot of the feelings of being attacked and was definitely a trigger.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Something I’ve found, from my own experience, is that the things that trigger me have almost nothing to do with the events that gave me PTSD, so I say trigger warnings are a waste of time because you have no real way of knowing what might set you or other people off…

    • Gallen_Dugall

      They’re great if you’re a sadist who needs an excuse to berate people who haven’t really done anything to deserve it… those people are the worst.

      • MichaelANovelli

        …I think we may have turned over a few pages…

  • mangos121

    Just THANK YOU.

    • mangos121

      Well, to be fair I agree with others in this thread saying that other mental disorders can be “triggered” in a way too.
      But I’m pretty sure we all know that the real problem is that the tumblrina special snowflakes are making the idea of being triggered by anything seen as a joke of a concept by society and it’s hurting anyone who legitimately can get their symptoms triggered.

  • Yve

    I just wanted that there are people with trigger words, myself included. My mom always pointed out that being called “lazy” set me off into a rage or an emotional meltdown. This is incredibly personal but my dad would beat the shit out of me for being “lazy”. All my life I’ve been called lazy by him. When I got out of the hospital for not being able to walk(I had to use a walker for months after) he called and said “get off your lazy ass and walk”. Idk I just feel like I should add that. There’s more but it’s too personal.

  • 123Bri

    “Trigger words” are absolutely a thing. When I was raped, my attacker used a very specific phrase and to this day hearing that phrase will cause flashbacks, and nausea for me. Generally I agree with your stance but, specific words and phrases can absolutely be triggers, even smells can be. The application of the term “Trigger” has also expanded to include other panic disorders such as severe anxiety, which also cause symptoms similar to what a person with PTSD would experience when triggered (auditory hallucinations, dizzyness, nausea, shaking, etc).

  • JustMe

    I agree. Speaking as someone who actually knows a thing or two (or 10) about dealing with PTSD, I find it demeaning that so many people try to jump about this train. Trust me – dealing with PTSD and Triggers is not “cool” enough to self diagnose yourself into. It is debilitating.

  • PTSD bites

    Feeling exhausted and frustrated by having to interact with a friend who went through a bad divorce, and who says he has PTSD. He is self-diagnosed, and has a therapist who supports his theory of his PTSD, and watches loads of YouTube vids. about his variety of it as well. I have PTSD, diagnosed after years of doctors not knowing what was going on neurologically/cardiologically, by my neurologist and psychiatrist, from the abrupt death of my first spouse and physical abuse / terror of my second spouse. It has been debilitating, still is in cycles, and heartbreaking to wade through alone, with two daughters under my wing. I have a non-supportive family who think a person should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and who see my mental unwellness as weakness or simply not real. Having a friend spouting off about PTSD, triggers, etc. any time I mention I am in a very bad cycle again is so frustrating that I am inclined to end the friendship so that I no longer have to hear this “me too” that he offers in place of actual friendship. Ironically, his ex, a friend of mine as well, calls him abusive, though he was not. Both of them had a bad divorce, got their egos very hurt, and are flinging these terms at the other essentially, not realizing that those with actual PTSD (vets, victims of violence, etc.) and actual domestic abuse are drowning and wounded under their flippant use of the terms. Sigh. Thanks for the article anyhow. I needed to hear something un-lame on this misuse of PTSD/trigger terminology today.