Trigger Happy

Trigger Happy December 14, 2019

***TW: This post deals with PTSD, abuse, trauma, and triggers related to those and other sensitive topics.***

Preternatural rage seethes through me every time I see a post online ranting against “trigger culture”.

The writers of these posts are usually male, feeding into the unfortunately substantiated cliché of the asshole guy mansplaining details about trauma he hasn’t the slightest idea about.

I wonder, when I read their venomous, condescending, vicious remarks against the younger generation, or just women, asking for warnings in regards to very particular topics, whether these men are aware that the trigger warnings aren’t just for the younger generations, or for women. They’re for men, too. But I digress.

My friend Mindy Selmys (writer of Patheos blog Catholic Authenticity) wrote an excellent blurb on Facebook talking about triggers. The basic summary of it was, why is it so difficult to be kind to those who have experienced terror, abuse, trauma, and horror? Why do triggers have to be treated as though they are a scourge on humankind? It is basic decency to let others know, just FYI, if you have experienced any of this, you may want to skip this video, article, blog, etc.

“Just deal with it.”

My favorite response to people talking about triggers.

Let’s say one day you get shot in the leg. There’s blood gushing everywhere, you’re in horrific pain, and you’re unable to move. Fortunately, you get to the hospital to stop the bleeding, remove the bullet, and get physical therapy.

But what if you still needed a cane? Your steps are hitched and awkward even with the assistance, but at least you’re able to walk with it. No one would fault you for needing a bit of help. After all, you were shot in the leg.

Now, let’s apply this to trigger warnings.

True triggers involve traumatic events like rape, self-harm, suicide, abuse, etc. 


This is one of the greatest injustices in regards to victims and trauma. Whoever started the trend of using the word “triggered” for being angry or upset needs a serious lesson in empathy and even basic psychology.

I’ve written a guest post on something similar to this before on Suspended in Her Jar, talking about victimhood not just being something emotionally experienced by the victim, but an actual reality that is physiologically and verifiably true and valid.

Keep that in mind when looking at triggers, whether in your own life or in the lives of others. To acknowledge the reality of triggers and how they affect those who have endured traumatic events, you have to acknowledge the reality of victimhood. They go hand in hand.

Otherwise, you fall into the trap so many others have of comparing a PTSD meltdown brought on by a trigger to having a bad day and getting upset.

They are not the same thing.

I have the unlucky advantage of being in “trigger mode” nearly every minute of every day.

The way I’ve found to describe it to people is that it’s like having a static channel constantly running in the back of your head. Granted, I live with one of the sources of my triggers, both in domestic abuse and in religious trauma, so that certainly doesn’t help, but the hum in the back of my thoughts, in the clench of my muscles, in the hurried breath when I’m woken in the middle of the night, leave me in an exhausting state of fight, flight, or freeze. 

There are only so many ways you can anticipate what may or may not happen to you.

When I encounter a particularly disturbing trigger, I still don’t know how to cope. I’m learning, and you’d think I would have more resources by now, but even I have my meltdowns when I’m left shaking and shuddering at yet another paralyzing nerve, exposed and searing, screaming through my brain and my heart, begging it to stop.

Having survived trauma that leaves in you a state of possibly being triggered means two things: one, you’re hella strong and badass for making it through, and two, you are perpetually aware, in every sense of the term, of all the ways that same scenario can happen to you again. Being triggered is far more than just supposed psychobabble or a completely misused buzz word that has so often lost its real meaning. It’s how your body and mind try and keep you from experiencing it again, or when they simply don’t know how to keep you from reliving that horror, or both.

The next time you rave about trigger warnings and people just needing to “get over it” and “deal with it”, I’d like to place before you a six year old girl, left in the same bed with her older relative for god knows what reason–a little girl who still doesn’t quite understand what happened to her.

Talk to the people around you about triggers the way you would talk to a raped child, a beaten mother, a shell-shocked soldier.

Just because something doesn’t trigger or traumatize you doesn’t mean it isn’t triggering or traumatizing.

Moral of the story: don’t be an asshole.

Let people find their way to healing, understanding, love, and peace at their own pace. You don’t get to decide that pace just because you’re uncomfortable facing the reality of trauma and its effect on human lives.

And who knows? When you face those latent traumas in your own life you pretend aren’t there, you’ll finally understand what you were railing against, and find more understanding in others than they did in you.



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About Jennifer Riley
Jennifer Riley is our co-leader. She’s an emotional writer, engulfing people in her tidal wave of life experiences and interpretations. She’s a bad Catholic, a good sinner, and a pernicious writer who tries to find who she is to herself and to God through her words. You can find her writer page at You can read more about the author here.

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  • Erica

    Thank you for writing this. “Trigger warnings”/”content warnings” are so incredibly misunderstood and maligned, when they should really be seen as a simple act of courtesy. Why is it difficult or controversial to put a note at the top of a post, or add on to a film recommendation, or what-have-you, “By the way, this includes some heavy stuff like ___.”

    I developed secondary post-traumatic stress after my sister’s death in a terrible car accident; I would have extreme and all-engrossing flashbacks to the accident as if I’d lived it. (My doctors hooked me up to sensors and took physiological measurements and everything!) After an experience in a literature class where an in-class reading concluded with an accident very similar to my sister’s – which resulted in my having to scramble out of the class to nearly pass out in the hallway – I decided, hey, it would be sensible to talk to future professors about whether there might be any car accidents or drownings on the class syllabus. I didn’t even use the term “trigger warning” – just met them during their first office hours and said, “Hey, my sister died, is there anything we’re going to be reading that includes XYZ? I’ll still read it and participate in every class; I just need to know what I should plan to read at home where I can take care of myself before and after.”

    Most of them were understanding, but I’ll never forget the one who took the opportunity to give me a lecture on censorship and how “dangerous” trigger warnings are. It was honestly bizarre, and goes to show how some people are letting a knee-jerk reaction totally blind them to basic courtesy.