If you browse art on dA or Tumblr, you've probably seen these words before.
What exactly is a trigger?
Triggers come in multiple flavors.
- Trauma triggers
- A person who has experienced a severe traumatic event—which isn't just limited to war veterans—may find that a particular sensory experience sends them back to that trauma. (Although as camelopardalisinblue rightfully points out, it may not always be a full-scale flashback. Plenty of grey areas.)
- I knew someone who had been abused in a room with fish-themed wallpaper. So while something like the Jesus fish was tolerable because it was so abstract, they found real fish uncomfortable, and sudden exposure to a similar type of fish drawing would send them into a severe anxiety attack and then flashbacks, where they were trapped in the event itself. (Details changed to protect privacy, of course.)
- Self-destructive triggers
- Images or detailed descriptions of self-harm, anorexia, or other unhealthy behaviors can trigger a relapse into that behavior. Why someone would want to engage in self-destructive behavior is a topic for a different article.
- Conditions like autism can come with a tendency to self-harm, and that will have its own set of triggers.
- Addiction triggers
A trigger is something that doesn't just cause an emotion like happiness or sadness, it makes a person act in a way that they don't want to act, either through self-harm, using, or literally re-experiencing a traumatic event.
What can I do to avoid triggering other people?Trauma triggers can be very individual. I was at a panel where they were discussing how a horror game went south because one of the people had been abused by a cult as a child, and did not react well to being surprised by people in hoods. Is that something they could have anticipated? Maybe, maybe not.
It's easier to anticipate harm-related topics being a problem, like rape, cutting, bulimia, childhood abuse, etc. A detailed description of any one of these things can be triggering. This doesn't mean you should avoid exploring these topics. They're unfortunate, but they are part of the human experience, and never discussing them isn't healthy, either.
Flag content when appropriate—though finding that line can be hard when you yourself aren't triggered. If someone asks you to add a warning, be respectful of their request. You don't know what they've been through.
What are my responsibilities as someone who is triggered?
Don't trivialize triggers.
Let's be clear: triggers are frightening for the person experiencing them. They're not simply an emotion like happiness or sadness. They can literally make trauma survivors feel as if they're reliving their trauma. Or they can drive a person to engage in harmful behavior.
I've seen some really absurd uses of the term. Every time you say something is a trigger just because it makes you cry a little, or makes you mildly uncomfortable, you are trivializing it for people who have real, serious issues. Feelings are part of the human experience. Losing control of your actions is not.
If you've read the above and rolled your eyes because you do have real triggers—please try to be patient with people when they fuck up. I know it isn't easy, but for instance in my first example, this person avoided aquariums because they knew it would be unpleasant. They didn't go around and yelling at fish owners for being insensitive, because they knew it wasn't meant to be personal. And they made sure all their friends knew what set them off, so we could help them avoid it or calm down before a full-blown panic attack happened.
With so many people on the Internet, it's likely you will run into something that causes you discomfort, or cause someone else discomfort. Being tolerant and understanding that we all come from different places, and that trivializing mental health—either by overusing the term or ignoring it—isn't appropriate either, can improve everyone's experience.
Feel free to add your thoughts on the matter