‘Triggered’ jokes can actually be hurtful


Hailey Boger

Hailey Boger, Reporter

Let’s cut to the chase – ‘triggered’ jokes are a trend that I greatly hope dies out in 2017. Before someone out there gets all riled up about me being triggered or whatever, hear me out; my main purpose here is not to dictate what one can and cannot say, because if I tried to do that I would likely die in the process. What I hope to get across is what a trigger actually is, and why joking about it can be harmful to people.

So, what is a trigger? I should probably start with what it is not, because I believe that its overuse has shaped the word into meaning something entirely different than its intended use. A trigger, in this context, is not something that offends, angers or annoys someone.

“But Hailey,” you may say. “Google.com tells me that a trigger is a verb for being provoked or stirred up!”

Yes, that is true. However, as I mentioned before, this debacle of the use of the word ‘triggered’ goes way beyond a simple dictionary definition.

You may be familiar with the website Tumblr, a blogging site well-known for its fandom material and advocating for social justice. A few years ago, things known as ‘trigger warnings’ began appearing in the tags of posts, warnings for things like blood, gore, rape – things that, well, quite literally triggered some people. I don’t mean a trigger as in an annoyance, I mean it as in ‘triggering a past traumatic experience,’ or a trauma trigger.

If someone has a trauma trigger, then being exposed to what triggers them can result in various reactions, depending on the person. It can range from mild anxiety to a full-blown breakdown. A trauma trigger doesn’t necessarily need to be scary or gross, either – it can be just about anything. A certain animal, a song, or a specific object can all be reminiscent of a traumatic experience to someone.

For example, every now and then you may hear people say to not light fireworks outside of holidays because it may upset veterans. This is because the sound of fireworks going off is similar to gunshots, which is a trauma trigger to some veterans.

So now that I’ve explained trauma triggers a bit, let’s go back to Tumblr. Once trigger warnings became a widespread trend across the site, some users began to make fun of other users who used or needed trigger warnings. The reasons varied, but some said that trigger warnings were pointless, and that there were no trigger warnings in the real world (which isn’t true, if you’ve ever looked at movie or TV ratings.) Eventually, the ‘triggered’ jokes came about to make fun of those who were “offended by everything,” a.k.a people who actually needed trigger warnings.  

This trend stayed on the internet for a couple years, and in the past year or so has spread to real life. I probably hear at least five triggered jokes a day, and to say that I’m annoyed by it would be an understatement. No matter what you think the jokes mean, the fact that it originated from making fun of trauma survivors leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We already live in an ableist society, and ‘triggered’ jokes are only adding flames to the fire, along with making trauma survivors feel unsafe. It can be compared to how racist jokes are harmful to people of color, or homophobic jokes being harmful to the LGBT community

Again, although I would love it if triggered jokes ceased to exist, it is ultimately your choice whether you do it or not. Just be aware that the choices you make can come with the consequence of hurting those around you.