The phrase “I’m triggered” is certainly popular on social media…but how many people fully understand what emotional triggers really are? What it’s like to live with PTSD? To worry trauma memories could hit at any moment?
All PTSD and emotional triggers are a serious symptom survivors of abuse live with—and it’s something we want the general public to understand. There are too many myths and misunderstandings. So, this blog will debunk the 8 most common myths about emotional triggers.
Myth #1: Emotional triggers are always direct reminders of trauma
It’s understandable to believe that only very serious things, like sexual assault or other crimes, can trigger people with PTSD. But, in reality, anything can be a trigger. Food, smells, certain phrases. Anything that reminds the person of past trauma—no matter how seemingly benign, can be a trigger. In fact, I personally struggled with cherry tomatoes for several years! (Curious? Read the blog that talks about it here!)
Myth #2: Triggers always cause anxiety
Anxiety is a common reaction to emotional triggers, but it’s not the only response. Someone with PTSD might shut down, dissociate, get angry, or self-harm. They might be oddly calm, but internally feel incredibly frightened. Triggers can affect people in many different ways. There’s no wrong way to be triggered.
Myth #3: Triggers can only happen to survivors of crimes or war
PTSD can hit anyone who faces a trauma (or even people who’s loved one faces a traumatic event!). It also can affect groups of people. Like through racism or genocide or ableism. Generational trauma is another example. Essentially, whenever someone expresses they have a certain emotional trigger, it’s always best to err on the side of it being legit, even if you don’t understand the trauma they faced.
Myth #4: People who have triggers are “crazy”
It’s a natural emotional response to be triggered by a reminder of trauma. It’s just like flinching when you accidentally cut yourself! Your body and mind react to an outside stimulus. Sometimes that reaction can be strong, sure, but it’s logical—not “crazy.”
Myth #5: People with triggers can control how they react
I’m going to bounce off my earlier idea to explain this one. Think of it like stubbing your toe. Some people might shout, some might swear, some might cry, some might flinch and then feel barely any pain. Everyone’s reaction to stubbing their toe is different—and it’s certainly not something we can control in that moment. Triggers are the same. (Our responses can change over long periods of time, but it takes therapeutic trauma work and a lot of emotional regulation practice.)
Myth #6: Trigger warnings are censorship
Censorship is when the general public is banned from accessing something—which is not what trigger warnings do. Triggers warnings are a simple statement that says “This content talks about this difficult topic.” It allows people to consent to what they read and consume, which can be lifesaving for survivors of abuse and trauma.
Emotional triggers are no joke. It’s important to give people the chance to choose what they engage with, so they can take care of their mental health as needed. Trigger warnings don’t erase or hide any content in books or media, they just inform the reader what they may come across.
Myth #7: Students shouldn’t be exempt from reading triggering material
Why not? Are we teaching students they don’t have the right to take care of themselves? That they are obligated to go beyond their emotional limits? That they have no right to consent to what they experience? This isn’t a healthy lesson, especially since some triggers can cause suicidal crises in students. Other triggers could bring up previously repressed trauma. These are dangerous things and, if a student is clear they can’t handle a certain topic, they should be respected and not be forced to engage with something that could harm them.
Myth #8: You’re a bad person if you trigger someone
Triggers are often unexpected—and sometimes survivors of abuse don’t even know what their own triggers are until they happen! Unless you’re intentionally triggering someone, you’re not a bad person. It’s just like accidentally bumping into someone. You didn’t mean to, but it’s still good to apologize and do your best to avoid bumping into them again.
If you’re nervous about accidentally triggering people, use this question when you plan on talking about potentially sensitive topics (like violence, bigotry, death, war, etc). “I want to discuss (this triggering topic) with you, is that okay?”
How to Help PTSD Survivors with Emotional Triggers
Emotional triggers are highly misunderstood, so please share this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or wherever else you connect with others. Encourage your friends to share it too!
If you’re a survivor of abuse, or someone who lives with PTSD, what myths about emotional triggers do you want busted? Leave a comment below! The larger the conversation, the better the world will be for all us survivors.