The word, triggered, is much in use lately. My son uses it to mock me when I get upset about something. Kids use it to mock each other, probably without understanding its origins and meanings.
Like many phrases or words that rise to a status of overuse, its origins were murky to me until I did an online search. The term, trigger, comes from trauma work and the study of what triggers a PTSD episode. Trigger warnings first appeared on online feminist and social justice forums discussing traumatic subjects like sexual assault and violence. Fair enough. There is now a debate in university circles as to whether course material and assigned readings should or should not come with a trigger warning. For intelligent arguments on both sides, see here and here.
Triggered is an adjective. Like many words with well-intentioned origins, this one is frequently used to insidious ends. Anyone who objects to a slanderous comment or characterization, or to a casual (or blatant) marginalization, is said to be triggered. This is Kryptonite to any sincere attempt to speak one’s mind or heart. It shuts down understanding. The judgment of being called triggered is profoundly disempowering.
I want nothing to do with triggered. I don’t even want to spare more precious time trying to think of uses that could be positive, or illuminating. I will, instead, suggest other adjectives that do keep space open for understanding. The idea is to convey sincerity and curiosity, if empathy is not yet unavailable.
Instead of, “She is really triggered,” or “Why are you so triggered?” try these:
“She is upset. I wonder why.”
“She is justifiably angry.”
“You seem worked up.”
“You seem passionate about this.”
Actually, this is harder than I thought. Which probably explains why triggered is so in favor. It’s vivid and descriptive, connotes a lot with a single word. Besides the obvious—the loaded gun pointed dangerously—it brings up images of cartoon people (usually women) with red faces, puffed-out cheeks, buggy eyes, steam jetting out of ears. Scowls, mouths open from shock or shouting. Caricatures of passionate emotion.
Words matter. Some have respect built in. Some have ridicule. Let’s choose our words with care.