Stop Misusing the Word Triggered

My recent experience with triggers has taught me about the power of using correct language and the way people view mental health.


by Sydney Waldron, Design Editor

It was a cold winter day my Junior year, and I was watching a movie on my phone when a particular scene played, and suddenly I was taken back to one of the worst moments of my life. I felt my stomach turn in knots, my vision became flooded with small black dots, and my hearing went out. Moments later I was on my carpet, wondering what had just happened.

Over, the next month I would experience more blackouts, or simply feeling sick when certain words or actions would remind me of this painful event in my life. After talking to my doctor, I realized that there was a word for what I was experiencing: trigger or triggers.

When the word came from my doctor’s lips, I immediately felt a flood of shame and confusion wash over me. I had heard the word trigger a lot from my friends and others who would often say things like “that word triggered me” or “I am triggered by that math test” when something was slightly annoying. I mainly heard it on TikTok in reference to people with different political opinions. It was often used to say things like “how to trigger a liberal orconservative.”

The Urban Dictionary used to define triggered as “when someone gets offended or gets their feelings hurt, often used in memes to describe feminists, or people with strong victimization.” Although Urban Dictionary has since changed the definition after criticism, I find that many still seem to go by the old definition that describes triggered as people finding offense in things they shouldn’t. 

My doctor told me that triggers set off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma and is often used to describe some symptom of a larger mental health condition. This definition didn’t really make me feel any better and my triggers were something that I never spoke about until I talked to a friend who was struggling with eating disorder triggers.

Although our triggers had different sources and also looked very different, it was very comforting to know that it wasn’t just me and that I wasn’t stupid or weak. As my friend recovered, I saw how much strength it took her to do things that I had never even thought twice about. As she worked and worked to overcome her eating disorder, it made me realize that she was anything but weak. Even though she was overcoming something a lot different than what I was overcoming, it made me realize that having triggers is part of the recovery process and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Even though I have changed the way I look at triggers, I think that it’s important to change the way we use the word. The importance of correct language especially in mental health can change the way people view mental health as a whole. Triggered has come to mean frail or delicate when the people experiencing them are often strong people who are fighting to overcome a trauma. We need to stop viewing mental health as something that is weak or shameful and that starts with using correct language.