Why We Shouldn’t Use The Word “Triggered”

Megan Ravenhall provides a thought-provoking perspective on the way we use the phrase “triggered”. She emphasizes the pressing need for sensitivity in our day-day communication, as the casual use of a word which has deeper, more serious connotations may end up causing more harm than we think to those around us.

‘Oh my god, I'm so triggered.’

‘Stop, that’s so triggering.’

‘Yo, I got so triggered last night dude.’




Let me start by saying that I am probably one of the worst people for this and I genuinely hate myself for it. It is a fad. It is something we have come to use so casually and colloquially as a term to describe anything from being offended to shocked, from being upset to being disgruntled. See? There. I’ve used four different terms that have no connection whatsoever to the act of triggering in order to describe a situation which probably, in all honesty, is completely unconnected to ‘being triggered’. 

When I anticipated writing this diatribe of shaking fingers and guilt-tripping to all you “trigger”-users out there, I had a clear tunnel of vision for where my piece would go. These are some things you should think about, when you’re about to use this phrase:

1.    Don’t use a term which is heavily associated with serious afflictions of mental health to capture your frustration at some random girl’s bold outfit choice, reminding you of a night you wore that same skirt and ‘omg, nearly died from sambuca shots’.

2.    Educate yourself on how triggers are real life catalysts for real life people. For example, telling a recovering eating disorder (ED) sufferer they look “healthy” can actually knock their progress more severely than you would expect. A random, off-hand comment which may have (and probably has been) said in honest kind-hearted congratulations, can actually be misread as the very opposite to the intentional meaning - and probably will by those struggling with recovery.

3.    Use one of the other million words (in whatever language you fancy), in order to capture your deep distastes for whatever it is exactly that is getting on your nerves or colouring your good humour today.

It’s not hard. It’s pretty simple actually.

I’ve tried to ignore it now that we seem to have normalised its usage, but I cannot seem to find a way to stop it bothering me. The fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, we are human beings. I, for one, very rarely use the right word in the right context. I blame this on being dyslexic and generally (most of the time) too sleep-deprived to realise that what is coming out of my mouth is in fact utter rubbish. Arguably though, that is the beauty of words and enjoying the freedom of speech. However, sometimes, words develop connotations which they were perhaps not originally associated with and this, in turn, is a product of social circumstances. In these cases, we have to be more sensitive to our use of language because of the impact that our carelessness may have on others.

Though the case of the term “trigger” is a very explicit and unique one, human beings have laced other words and phrases with derogatory meaning as our vocabulary continues to expand and develop. “Gay” was originally a term used to describe happiness. It then came to be used in the singsong mockery of primary school playgrounds ‘Hahahah, you’re so gay’. Until, now, where in recent times, our awareness and acceptance of homosexuality has progressed to the point where if I hear someone use the word “gay” in an attempt to make an offensive statement, I will call them out on it. Just like I call myself out every time I accidentally use the word “triggered”.

Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of mental health issues which seems to have hit the western world especially in the past twenty years or so, we have to be very careful about the way we use certain words and phrases.  It is impossible to censor our speech and language 100 percent of the time because it is not practical and we will slip up. It is inevitable, especially in the company of people we feel more comfortable with and people we know will not be offended by our comments or take what we say too seriously.  Perhaps it is too radical to suggest putting a complete stop to using the term in day-to-day discussions. Instead, we need to just be a little more sensitive to what the implications of our words may mean in the company of individuals we do not know that well.

Instead, why don’t we encourage people who genuinely are “triggered” by certain comments, words or phrases because of their state of mental wellbeing, to tell us what it is that does just that. In being educated and aware of the consequences of these “triggers”; we can then prevent situations from occurring where other people’s comments lead to something much more serious than committing “social suicide”. Like wearing tracksuit bottoms in the library or smelling a certain alcohol and reminding you of that time you ‘almost died’.

 See? Again? Two words – social suicide - neither of which are “triggered”, and both do a perfectly reasonable job of emphasising how a certain situation affected you.

All of this is, of course, easier said than done. I know that it consciously takes a lot of effort to stop yourself from doing or saying something which you have come to do without thinking. But, if we don’t normalise things like this in the first place, then we can put a stop to trivialising the implications of certain words before it catches on. I speak with an incredibly optimistic outlook and vision. I know it is unrealistic and, in asking people to be cautious in their choice of language in the first place, we are already attempting a form of “relaxed censorship”. Ideally, all I’m suggesting is that we be mindful of those around us and develop a greater sensitivity and awareness of how our words may actually affect others more than we initially comprehend.

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