What are these things we call “trigger warnings?” And what does it *really* mean to be triggered by something? These are the two questions that I would like to explore the explanation of in this article.
Firstly, to be triggered by some form of stimulus is *not* synonymous with being offended. The Internet, especially, tends to confuse these two terms as the term “triggered” became equivalent to being offended by something online and, as a result, was turned into a meme.
But really, being triggered by some either external or internal stimulus is a term most often related to mental health issues. Triggers can be literally anything. Our amygdala’s are the center house for associations, as in, if I experienced some form of trauma by someone in a yellow jacket, my amygdala may form an association between yellow and being harmed and therefore make me very uncertain and triggered by seeing yellow again in the future (because I would be gearing up to being injured again). Triggers, like mental health conditions, do not have to make sense. I may be able to logically understand that the color yellow was coincidental in my experience of being harmed, and I could still get incredibly triggered by it.
Triggers can be words, phrases, objects, colors, experiences, topics, and the whole shebang. Triggers elicit some type of response; for a while I associated snow to my crises, so when I saw the snow falling outside I would be mentally transported back in time to crises I had that just so happened to involve snowfall. Triggers are pretty common place for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and still can be affecting people without that specific condition. Some of my own triggers involve night-time, not being able to fall asleep within ten minutes of going to bed and, a little specific, veins because my brain in the last two months has linked that with suicidality which results in me getting urges.
And urges can arise from triggers themselves, too. Urges are like cravings, like when you are on your period and you’re craving chocolate. Urges can be like wanting to misuse substances, self-harm or act out in other self-destructive ways. For me, it is almost like an internal build-up of excitability, something I really want to have (or think I do) and act on even though in the long-term it’s a very bad idea. Equally important is knowing that having urges does not mean you are inevitable in acting on them and, technically, it is an opportune time to test out your coping strategies (I know, probably not what you want to hear) so as to practice them and hone in your skills.
But back to triggers! Triggers are legitimate, valid reasons that a person may, if they encounter them and it’s likely you will at some point in life, act out with an old behavior that may not be healthy or self-preserving. Triggers are different and unique to each individual and their psychiatric history, someone I know at my day program has issues with swear words, and time of day and anniversaries can be particularly difficult.
So how do we prepare for an instance where our trigger may come up? First, it’s important to know what your triggers are, so I would suggest making a list of them either on paper or in a digital format. I would also encourage you to have a physical copy with you wherever you go.
Second, know your safety or relapse prevention plan. Spend time with your outpatient provider (therapist, psychiatrist, etc.) to come up with both a list of your triggers and more importantly your specific coping strategies for combating those triggers, your resources available to you (your therapist, hotlines, friends, family) and what you can do if the situation overwhelms you and you no longer feel safe (which is a crisis that may lead to hospitalization).
Another way to prepare for coming face to face with a trigger is if the content you are about to observe contains a trigger warning itself. This is synonymous with a “content warning”; picture one of those black screens that come up before a TV or film that has little abbreviations for violence or adult content. It’s the same thing but for psychiatric hot potatoes.
I actually believe that more content should have a trigger warning attached. I’d say ninety-five percent of the time my articles have a trigger warning and books should have them too. The amount of times I’ve been triggered because some book wanted to explicitly discuss suicide without having pre-warned me about it is absurd. Two of the most recent books were actually ironically from a psychiatric unit of all places.
This is the moment where I would complete my circling back to the start of this article but I ran out of room. So, stay tuned for part 2!
This piece was written February 27th 2018.
I had a lot of things to say 😀 Please consider sharing this around with your social media platforms! I’ll probably put up Part 2 tomorrow, unless after I take my midterm I feel frisky enough to upload it here today, too. :3
Hope you’re doing well! I will have more articles to come soon 😉
Stay safe, ❤ ❤ ❤
PS I forgot to add that I totes used my brain to write this article and the amygdala portion was inspired from my DBT group at the day program I’m going to–which is awesome because it shows I was actually paying attention! Ahaha, 🙂