Trigger Warning

Mental Musings is a blog category where I will post about Mental Health topics. I've chosen trigger warnings as the first things I wanted to discuss. Be warned though, you might be triggered by this post. Let's face it, you might be triggered by everything talked about in every post in this category.

Trigger is a word that seems to be really popular lately. Everything has a trigger warning for fear someone may become triggered. Events can be too triggering for some and people might say or do something that would be considered a trigger to others. But what the hell does that all even mean? Because it feels like the term is being very overused, maybe we should take a look at what it actually means.

A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. People typically use this term when describing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and feelings associated with trauma. That's the key right there that I think is being missed when people are using any variant of the word trigger. The stimulus has to cause feelings of trauma. But what is trauma and what does it feel like? Let's continue the psychology lesson.

I once over heard a young boy, maybe about ten years old, quietly laughing to himself as he watched videos on his phone. "Ahh, he looks so triggered!" he laughed. My ears perked up. A little later he laughed again and said, "Oh man, I'm triggered now!" Wait, what?

I wondered what this boy was watching that he considered such a traumatic event that he said it was triggering him. I always thought that trauma was something so terrible that you really only used that word in serious situations, and certainly not when you are watching funny videos on the internet. From then on I started paying attention to when and how I was hearing the general population use the term trigger. I found the majority of the time I wasn't hearing it used in the correct way at all. I was hearing the word mostly used in slang to describe situations that were neither traumatic nor triggering in any real way whatsoever. (Please note: My research for this study was collected mostly by eavesdropping on conversations while in public, reading information on the internet, and watching popular television and movies. Very technical, lots of math.)

So what is trauma and what does it feel like? Here are the basics. I'll delve into this more in future posts.

Trauma is referred to as an incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, and/or psychological harm. This causes the person experiencing the distressing event to feel threatened, anxious, frightened, overwhelming sadness, or panic as a result. These are really serious and very intense things to feel.

Events that can cause these feelings of trauma are:

  • Death of a family member, close friend, or even a pet

  • Divorce

  • Severe accident or injury

  • Serious illness

  • Moving to an unfamiliar area

  • Witnessing a death

  • Rape / Domestic Violence

  • War

Events that do NOT cause these feelings of trauma are:

  • Watching funny videos on the internet

I had already experienced several of the events on this list by the time I had ever actually realized that post traumatic stress disorder wasn't just for soldiers returning from war. I knew PTSD was something serious for people who had been through devastatingly tragic things, but I never really considered that the things I have lived through were causing the same type of problems in my mind and body that actual soldiers can go through. I always felt like they certainly had lived through worse than me. I never felt like I was traumatized enough to even use the same term as a soldier. I've never been to war, never been shot at, and definitely never seen someone die in a hostile manner. But the reality is, I had been through trauma, a lot of different kinds of trauma in fact, and my body and mind were reacting to it. Your body doesn't differentiate between watching your father die from an aggressive illness and watching your buddy get blown up in a roadside bomb. Trauma is trauma. So I've warmed up to the fact that I have suffered some pretty legitimate trauma in my life. I even talk about these things in therapy now, which is something I never used to do. I thought if I ignored it all long enough it would just not exist. It actually took me a long time, two doctors, a nurse practitioner, a trauma counselor and my actual therapist assuring me that I do have very real and diagnosable PTSD.

My mind and body are forever changed because of the things I have lived through. Maybe that's why I get a little irritated when I hear people, especially young children, using terms like trauma and trigger so flippantly. Because of the things that I experience due to my PTSD, I whole-heartedly think that trigger warnings are a good idea. It's nice to have a head's up before you are about to be in a situation that could increase your symptoms. But is there any way that we can reserve the term for things that are definitively traumatic?

Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message about your thoughts on trigger warnings and the popular use of the term. But please remember, we aren't here to fight, argue, or trigger anyone's anything. Always be respectful because you never truly know someone else's struggle.

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