We see ‘trigger warning’ at the beginning of magazine articles. I’ve heard children describe their discussions with their parents as being triggering and vice versa. I’ve seen people refer to an outfit that doesn’t meet their approval as being a trigger. Nope. None of these are triggers. And while it’s hard to reel in language once it’s jumped the clinical into the mainstream, misusing trigger as casually pathologizing everyday irritations is problematic for those people who are actually experiencing being triggered and are already marginalised and often isolated.
Perhaps we need to start specifically talking about trauma triggers to place the language within the lived experience. For people with trauma, it is an incredibly personalised world, and their trauma triggers can be anything: sensory, like smells and sounds; visual; situational; the most unexpected moment.
As therapists we can work with the client and their trigger once it’s happened, help them befriend it, understand it and help to integrate it so the trapdoor reduces to a little crack or a stumble, not a disembodied falling into a moment of dissociation that seems unrecoverable and often retraumatising.
Time to rethink your language around being triggered, and rethink how you use language more generally. What are your key words and phrases that are subtly reinforcing belief systems that are at best unhelpful, and at worst building neural pathways to not being enough?
It’s a subtle, mindful, and conscious process, asking you to pay attention, to catch yourself, and be kind to yourself as you gently redirect to a word that is stronger, more accurate and real. Instead of using the word ‘triggered’, you could try using emotions: that conversation upset me, made me feel angry, raised fear in me.
Explicitly naming how you feel also removes the numbing or bypassing of your actual experience – you are sitting in the actual discomfort, and in doing so, are bringing yourself closer to your own reality and healing. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above resonates for you in light of your own situation.