Concordia is known for being an open-minded and welcoming community of people, and its history of service, on campus and in the world at large, speaks for itself. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be a part of this community, and to have such a great system of support from my peers and my professors.
That being said, there is one aspect of this community that troubles me deeply. The trend is not exclusive to Concordia, but it has been alarming to experience it on such a welcoming campus. This trend is the rise of “triggered” jokes.
In the psychology community, triggers are known as situations or stimuli that set off a flashback, sending a person back to the moment(s) of their original trauma. The most common psychological triggers are visual and aural, although triggers can be activated through all five senses. Anyone with a history of trauma can be affected in this way, from war veterans with PTSD to children who have been bullied. Every person’s trauma is different, and every person is affected by their trauma in different ways. Some survivors may go so far as to avoid certain situations and stimuli that may trigger flashbacks.
With the rise of both widespread Internet culture and better education on mental illness, more and more trauma survivors have begun requesting “trigger warnings” on Internet content that may contain triggering messages or images. In response to this widespread plea for help, certain groups of individuals have reacted negatively and even cruelly. Trigger warnings have begun to be treated as trivial and not worthy of
our attention. On Urban Dictionary, “trigger warning” is defined (by user pottskiller, whoever that is) as a phrase whose purpose is “to warn weak minded people who are easily offended” so that they don’t “overreact or otherwise start acting like a dip****.” Internet users everywhere, from Twitter to Reddit to Tumblr to Facebook, have taken the opportunity to make fun of trigger warnings and the idea that people would need warnings on emotionally troubling content at all.
This trend isn’t exclusive to the internet. “Triggered” jokes have also become very common in everyday speech; if someone in class gets emotional about a topic of discussion, other people might say they’re “so triggered.” If two friends are joking around and one of them insults the other playfully, the insulted friend might say, “I’m so triggered right now!” I hear jokes like this all the time, and it’s particularly disturbing to hear them at Concordia. Triggered jokes are not just unfunny; they devalue the experiences of people who have been traumatized, and they make light of an issue that plagues mentally ill people everywhere, including at Concordia. How can we claim to be a welcoming and caring community if we consistently make mentally ill people feel unsafe and unwelcomed?
As someone who struggles with both mental illness and trauma, I cannot let this trend continue without speaking up. I offer a plea to anyone who reads this — don’t let triggered jokes become the norm. If your friend jokes about triggers, don’t laugh along. Tell them it’s not funny. You don’t have to be a trauma survivor to stick up for those of us who are.