Triggered: When is a Joke Hurtful?

By Nicole Beaver


If you’re like me, you’ve come across a plethora of inside jokes circulating the varying forms of social media. More specifically, you’ve come across some good old memes. There’s a new one circulating the internet, and that is #Triggered. Since this has been brought to my attention, I feel that I should attempt to share an alternative perspective on this potentially offensive expression.

Because it is related to a disorder that 9.2% of the Canadian populace struggles with, #Triggered can be quite offensive. I am talking about Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though the hashtag is meant to be humorous, it may be perceived
as downplaying someone’s trauma. It seems like people say they are “triggered” by something if
they are angered, upset, disgusted, or offended by it. In the context of PTSD, a trigger is anything that evokes the memory of a traumatic experience/ event. It’s no joking matter. It’s one thing to be mildly bothered by something you see and another to actually be psychologically triggered by it.

Let’s take a moment to dive into the disorder itself: PTSD occurs after someone experiences or witnesses something traumatizing. In fact, just learning that a traumatic event occurred to a close family member or friend can lead someone to struggle with PTSD in certain cases. Childhood trauma, other mental health problems like anxiety and depression, a lack of a good support system, and being biologically wired to experience mental health issues may put an individual at risk of developing this disorder (although it doesn’t happen to everyone). First responders, journalists, police officers, and other professions that deal with trauma are even more likely to develop this disorder. Symptoms don’t always manifest right away and they vary between people, but they mostly include the following:


  • Reliving trauma via intrusive and distressing recollections of the event (flashbacks or nightmares)
    • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the
    • Increased difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered

We often associate this disorder with soldiers who have faced combat and protected our freedom. I come from a family of veterans and I’m very proud of their service. However, they aren’t the only ones who have gone through hell and back. People who suffer from PTSD are survivors of assault, abuse, disasters, and other traumatizing experiences. They’ve lived through the unthinkable and, when they are triggered, they are brought back to that traumatic experience and are forced to relive it. This can affect their everyday lives, making those afflicted avoid certain situations/environments that could lead to a flashback.

Hence my point. #Triggered can come across as insensitivity about a very serious mental illness. By taking this term out of context, you may be subconsciously minimizing the trauma that these people have lived through. As a nation who cares so much for its veterans, perhaps we should not be cracking jokes over people’s real pain. Veterans, and others, deal with triggers every day. Please be considerate of your audience when you joke.

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