Try to Avoid Being “Triggered” by the Overused Word “Trigger”

October 23, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

“Triggered” has become a more recent buzzword, relative to emotional interoception and self-regulation and use of coping mechanisms. Almost anything can be a perceived trigger to an individual depending upon genetics, upbringing, environment, experiences, etc. Burnt toast may be a trigger to a child or adult, where they express disgust, disappointment, anger and other negative emotions. Loud noises may be a trigger for a soldier experiencing PTSD from combat and relative life and death circumstances. Everyone interprets stimuli uniquely to their own circumstances. However, trigger is not too often being associated with positive scenarios. We don’t hear much of people being “triggered” into helping someone in need, triggered to complete a task, or offer a compliment. Triggered is becoming a bit overused and taking on a negative definition within our culture.

Doctor Erik Messamore speaks in some detail about how the word “trigger” itself can become overused and actually trigger its own negative emotional responses. The word often connects to definitions attached to weapons or a state of lack of control. Once the trigger is pulled or engaged, there is no way to un-pull the trigger (Ask A Psychiatrist, 2020). I have discussed this concept in other venues, where the topic came up about how it is possible to manipulate someone to remember any particular thought. For example, if we were to perform an online Google search asking for “cars other than blue ones” and then click images, all we will see our blue cars presented. So, regardless of us asking for no blue cars, artificial intelligence only picks up on the “blue” with no context of the surrounding words. If we ask a produce worker at the grocery store to find us some unbruised bananas, their attention goes towards finding the bruised ones and not choosing those. Regardless, their thoughts and ours gravitate towards not wanting bruised bananas. Similarly, if we are discussing something that is negative, stressful or triggering, but seemingly not personally affecting us, our words and attached thoughts will on some level affect our emotions and relative psychophysiological responses.

Alternative words instead of using triggering could be:

  • stressors
  • elicit
  • produce
  • bring about
  • manifest
  • cause
  • produce

Psychologist John Cacioppo states that “the processing of a word, like any other sensory stimulus is sensitive to experience,” (Cacioppo & Tassinary, 2016, p.515). I think that this brings us to the understanding that specific areas of the brain play roles in the processing of sensory stimuli which may be perceived as bringing us happiness, stress, or other emotional states in between. While all humans may have the same components within the brain, each person processes stimuli and relative happiness or stress somewhat unique to their own genetics, life circumstances, and behaviors and/or lifestyle choices (DocMikeEvans, 2016). When we choose to speak words, the Wernicke’s area of the brain is engaged to help formulate within our thoughts, what we will verbally say. Neuron signals are then transmitted to the Broca’s area of the brain in order to produce the strategy for the motor cortex to put together the sounds that will become words and sentences. From here we use our language to communicate our thoughts (Andrew Scott, 2013). I think that this process is the result of how each individual perceives stimuli and responds uniquely depending upon their own availability of coping mechanisms, resources, and life experiences. If someone is exposed to mostly negative experiences throughout their life, they may have a different “calibration” for what they perceive as happiness. Conversely, someone who has very little stress in their lives may see themselves as quite happy, until something they perceive as a major stressor forces them to re-calibrate their thinking.

So, I think that happiness and stress are both relative terms to the present moment. Perceptions of happiness and stress will continue to ebb and flow as we learn, grow, and then adapt to whatever we experience under whatever circumstances. Words have meaning, impact and influence. Choose words wisely.


Ask A Psychiatrist. (2020, May 12). Emotion Regulation. What causes emotional reactions and how can we modify them? [Video]. YouTube.

Cacioppo, J. T., Tassinary, L. G., & Berntson, G. G. (2016). Handbook of Psychophysiology. P. 515. Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

DocMikeEvans. (2016, August 18). The science of Subjective Well Being, a.k.a Happiness. [Video]. YouTube.

Andrew Scott. (2013, March 24). Broca’s area vs. Wernicke’s area – VCE Psychology [Video]. YouTube.


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