26 Aug

Language evolves. Words come to mean different things over time. But at a price. The price of using “triggered” in everyday parlance is that those who are “triggered” in the original sense have no language to describe what has happened.

A literal trigger is a device that releases a mechanism of some sort. The concept of an emotional trigger originates in trauma research with war veterans where the sound of a car backfiring would have them back on the battlefield. The sound caused a terrifying re-experiencing of a past traumatic event. This triggering is a rapid, unconscious, involuntary, automatic conditioned hard-wired reaction of the body to threat of death. In a similar way, pollen can “trigger” asthma. The pollen sets of muscle contractions in the airways of sensitive individuals.

The original concept of being “triggered” has been trivialised to mean the everyday uncomfortable experiences of being human. The experience of seeing, hearing, smelling something and feeling offended, upset, disgusted, afraid, saddened or hurt. While these experiences are unpleasant, they are not a “trigger” in the original sense. When a person who was violently assaulted and thought they were going to die is “triggered” they are no longer here-now. They are there-then. Their brain and body is back in the life-threatening event. Even if just for a flashback moment. They are flooded with terror. They are reliving their personal catastrophic event.

-Jennifer Grant

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