“Triggered” – A Personal Response to a Popular Meme


Though it’s already fading from Twitch chat in favor of newer, danker memes, I’ve noticed “triggered” popping up in streams, chats, and comment threads for a while now. As far as I understand, at worst it is a snarky pushback at the concept of hyper-sensitivity as a cultural currency. But often it’s internet shorthand for “this sucks” or “I’m frustrated.” It’s an especially potent meme because if someone says “hey, not cool, dude” they can just parrot it again and poof! A perpetual meme-tion machine. Babyrage ensues.

I’ve mentioned this a few times on social media, but in early 2015 I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I haven’t really discussed the root of it, and I’m not/may never be ready to do so, but I hope that you’ll believe me when I say it flat-out sucks. PTSD for any reason is shitty, and miserable, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

What I’ve learned is that the fight-or-flight control center of my brain froze the trauma in carbonite, and as a result it can’t get to my long-term memory. Any time something (a silhouette, a song, or seemingly nothing at all) reminds my fight-or-flight center of that frozen-in-time memory, I’m warped back to the emotional state I was in during the trauma, despite being entirely safe (and knowing it.) This is called being triggered. (Or, a more official definition: the Department of Veterans Affairs says “You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger.”)

I absolutely believe that “triggered” is overused in the zeitgeist. I can see how it feels non-malicious or inconsequential; as harmless as calling someone salty or a sellout. I suppose I just also want people to understand that even if the intent is to poke fun at one group, there’s another group of people with a really shitty brain thing who are getting caught in the crossfire. PTSD isn’t specific to any group: it doesn’t discriminate based on the subreddits you subscribe to.

When I hear “triggered” from my favorite streamers and gaming buddies, it feels like I’m shrinking. It takes me out of enjoying our hobby, and my gears start turning on my Thursday-evening therapy session that is either looming or has just passed. It trivializes the concept, which steadily perpetuates the powerless feelings that my original trauma created: you’re being too sensitive. Your feelings don’t matter. Be quiet. It’s all in your head.

I don’t expect every space to be safe, or for others to bend over backwards to help me out. But please believe me when I say it’s much more enjoyable to spend time, money, and mental bandwidth on the hobbies I love versus defragmenting the trauma in my brain. I play games to connect with friends, to decompress, to counteract the stresses of daily life. So the echoes of “triggered!” are simply a jarring reminder that the world is a shitty place.

Ultimately people using the meme and myself/people like me are on the same team. I mostly hear it said without malice: a casually chuckled “triggered!” in an awkward moment or frustrated “triggered” groan after their teammate blows it for the seventeenth time. It’s not about me; I know that. It’s a joke, a fleeting meme.

It’s just that these particular “shots fired” are an AOE with friendly fire enabled.

Jamie Dillion is a corgi cuddlemancer, gif wizard, and passionately enthusiastic about games and friendship. She’s also Deputy Director of the Take This board. She can be found at Twitter, Twitch, and Tumblr.

Originally posted as “Triggered” by Calamity Jamie. Republished with the author’s permission.

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