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“Triggered” jokes cause real harm

“Oh my god, I’m triggered!” These are words that we hear on a daily basis about everything from a math test to Beyonce getting pregnant with twins. Being “triggered” is basically saying that whatever you’re talking about has caused some sort of emotional response. They may seem harmless, but in reality saying “triggered” as a joke is insensitive to a hardship that some people face everyday.

By the dictionary definition, a trigger is “anything, as an act or event, that serves as a stimulus and initiates or precipitates a reaction or series of reactions.” Triggers can stimulate negative memories– for example, someone yelling at you can trigger memories of abuse. After being triggered, people can have panic attacks or anxiety attacks. It can also cause flashbacks or serve as a reminder of painful memories. They can cause people to act out in ways that might be out of character.

One way people can react to triggers is by having a panic attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, a panic attack can be caused by “a traumatic event, such as sexual assault or a serious accident or a history of childhood physical or sexual abuse.” People who have PTSD can have triggers which can take them back to the time of their original traumas. These can be terrifying for them and the people around them– they are literally living their worst nightmare. Whether it’s from being in the army or your parents getting a divorce, triggers are real problems that can be stimulated through everyday activities.

By saying “I’m triggered” on a daily basis you are romanticizing mental illnesses and comparing your small problems or jokes to someone’s actual trauma. Imagine if you had a real trigger. Maybe you do. By hearing someone say “I’m triggered” it can make you feel like you’re overreacting to your problems.. By comparing someone’s emotions to them being triggered you are taking away from the fact that mental illness is a serious problem that many people struggle with everyday.

In the same way that saying “retarded” is a slur to people with mental illnesses, triggered is another way that our society sustains a stigma against them. By downplaying the meaning of the word, the idea that mental illnesses are “all in your head” or can be fixed by “just being happy” just gets rooted deeper in our society.

So what can you do? The answer is very easy. When in doubt, just don’t say it. Unless you have a real trigger that’s an actual problem for you, it’s not your place to say it. Most of the time when saying “I’m triggered,” there’s an alternative that will get your point across the same way without being insensitive. It’s a small easy fix.