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OnWords: Avoiding Triggers

lafrijola, flickr Creative Commons

With the advent of the “trigger warning,” the word “trigger” to mean a sudden, uncontrolled emotional response, has burst into the public consciousness.

By using a specifically violent metaphor—a trigger is literally the part of the gun that incites it to fire—we sum up both the suddenness of the experience and its seeming unpredictability.

Triggers are often based on some difficult experience, often a past trauma, and can be the body’s way of reminding us to prepare to fight, freeze, or flee from danger.

In extreme cases, triggers can cause flashbacks, but more often, they cause high anxiety: a racing heartbeat, tensing muscles, an adrenaline rush.

Avoiding triggers is helpful when we know what our triggers are, but that’s not always possible, nor is it always desirable, so trigger warnings, while nice gestures, aren’t guaranteed to work.

However, developing individual ways of coping with triggers is a necessary life skill and an important part of recovering from trauma.

If a discussion about these real-world issues is not part of how we’re talking about triggers, we’re missing tremendous opportunities to turn the increasing use of the word into positive change in the lives of real people.

A positive outcome here is about how we direct the energy of triggers; it’s about how we avoid muffling suffering voices in the chatter of an overused word.