Trigger Warnings: Yup, I’m Going There


Where do I start? I didn’t really see too much about this whole “controversy” because to be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention. When I first read a little bit about the trending of the word, it took me back to my early thoughts on the word retarded. I’ve posted many times about it and it’s well known how much I abhor it. So, when this word started getting a lot of attention, I started paying attention.

As a survivor of domestic violence, there are many things that can actually trigger a strong emotional response in me. Anyone who *yells* at me, is condescending about my appearance in a dramatic fashion (that’s NOT a joke like a friend saying, “Dude, you need a haircut!” I’m talking about hostile things that have happened to me in the past related to those two specific types of behavior). Since the loss of my husband almost six years ago, to this day I remain in therapy to figure out many aspects of what I dealt with, beginning with choosing this type of individual in the first place, to what I went through and my transformation after his death.

I am now in a place with my life that there is not ever going to be an opportunity for someone to treat me like that again. Defining these personal opportunities would include relationships, friendships and acquaintances. I am strong enough now to demand and expect courtesy, equal and fair treatment and a rational approach to conflict and its resolution. When you have survived abuse and other forms of emotional neglect (which is related to my family which is another whole universe of shit by its own right to be discussed later!) the resulting anxiety, depression and other responses can wax and wane, intensify and resolve, only to return in other ways. THAT is why I continue therapy and am proud and happy that I’ve chosen to do so.


It seems that what is now happening is that the word trigger, which has a strong basis in mental health with real connectivity to what people go through, is that it’s being abused. There is nothing I can do about it, nor do I care to try. People are going to joke about what they want and there’s not much anyone can do about it. Humor is very subjective and what offends one person makes the other laugh. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be talked about or addressed.

In order to help explain what a trigger is for me, I shall give an example. Yesterday, I was out shopping in a local food store. The store was relatively busy, but not packed. As I shopped, one couple became very obvious to most people in the store. This couple, a man and woman in their late 50’s, were shopping with us. The woman was pushing the cart and the man walked with a list. Typical scene, nothing to see here right? Wrong. The first time I noticed something was the volume and tone of his voice. He wasn’t trying to be discreet or hide how he was treating her. I am far from being any type of professional in the mental health field, but it was extremely obvious that this women suffered from sort of mental confusion.

As they made their way through the store (very small store with limited aisles so proximity remained close) she would say, for example, “Oh here’s the milk, let me get one.” He would proceed to sigh loudly and chastise her, “ONCE again, I have to REMIND you that we don’t need milk. How many times do I need to tell you this?” I cringed (I’m cringing now) at how her head drooped down and she said, softly, “Oh, OK, I’m sorry.” This type of banter continued. At the bread kiosk she remarked, “Oh look, they have muffins, let’s grab some”, to which he replied after yet another loud sigh, “For crying out loud, do you see muffins on the list? DO you? No, there are no muffins on the list. What does that mean? WE don’t GET muffins.” It was SO difficult to watch and listen to. Other people and myself exchanged upsetting glances and worried faces.

When I see people being treated like this, I experience what someone might consider a trigger. Sometimes my anxiety rises (heart rate increases, palms get sweaty, I might shake visibly), sometimes I might feel angry and want to intervene (I don’t) or I might have to leave the area or distance myself greatly from what is going on. It’s REAL and not a joke. The same occurs to me when I am treated poorly by others. When you try to explain the reasons why you are upset, sometimes that person doesn’t understand and thinks you are either making it up, exaggerating or unable to cope with life on the most basic of levels. I don’t want or need that kind of negativity in my life.


Now, obviously, this meme above is making strong light of the issue. Perhaps in another “state of mind”, I might find this amusing. It’s meant to show how ridiculous the issue has become and how overused it is. I get it! I woke up this morning thinking about the woman in the grocery store. Perhaps she has dementia and the man is her main caregiver. Maybe he has no help and he’s exhausted trying to be with her full time and can’t afford professional assistance. I’d like to think that’s it, although it still doesn’t excuse the behavior.

How many times have we been tired, preoccupied or otherwise busy (like on the phone for every parent ever?) when our child has come to us with an exciting drawing they want to share and we yell, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” So, yes, we are all capable of not being nice or exhibiting absolutely no patience whatsoever.

So, while the word “triggered” is currently trending and being used for many different forms of entertainment, I just don’t think it’s taking away from it. Is it aggravating? Yes, but the world is a different place now. All one has to do to see what everyone online is talking about is to open Twitter and look left. All the popular and trending topics are right there. On Facebook, one can find out all the latest news in sports, entertainment, politics, weather, etc with the click of a mouse.

I wish that people could/would be more kind to each other. I took the time to say to that woman in the grocery store while at the milk display, “Look at that sagging rack! With my luck, it would be like that old game, “Don’t break the ice” if I took one. (The rack was sagging so badly that it looked like the milk cartons on top might crash through and cause a huge mess) She smiled and laughed a little and it made my day a little bit brighter. I waited until the man she was with was far enough away that he couldn’t hear me. No matter what she’s going through, I hope that she remembers our little 15 second exchange. There’s no need to be mean to each other, really. All it does is hurt and yes, it can trigger bad memories and pain for some.


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