Abundant Optimism

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Are Your Trigger Words Killing You?

by Tamara Martfeld

I believe everyone has trigger words of some sort – the kind that irk you, make your teeth grind, or make you angry every time you hear them, or think you hear them, in any context. If your reaction is very mild you may not have a real problem, just the inconvenience of being too aware of the word. However, if your trigger word(s) cause your blood pressure to rise or make you want to punch the speaker or writer in the face, you have a huge problem. If the fight you get into does not kill you, you may suffer a long an painful death from your reactions to your trigger words.

There are some trigger word out there that have created such violent reactions in some people that they are essentially banned. A group of people decide they do not like a word and, even if it is being used in the context of “don’t say this word” or “here is the history of why this word offends some people”, the speaker is attacked verbally or physically. If one is smart they never utter the word in any context. This creates problems for both those who are triggered by specific words and those who want to never hurt another person.

An example of two words with less violent reactions which create problems are “Mrs.” an “Ms.” I have a friend who absolutely hates the word “Mrs.”. To her the word represents inequality of women, discrimination against women, and the entire equal rights for women issue. I have another friend from an older generation who hates the word “Ms.”. To her it represents women trying to be more masculine, being pushy and trying to get into areas of work they really don’t belong, being ashamed of their marital status and/or disrespect for their husbands, and the virtual discontinuation of chivalry. Both are being triggered by a word based on the era in which they were raised and the values of those eras. The first friend is close to my generation when equal right for women hit the fan. The second is in my parent’s generation when being a wife and mother were careers of which to be proud. Neither is right or wrong in their beliefs. (For the record, the older friend does believe in equal rights for women.)

If both women simply did not use the word that would be fine. However, the younger one gets very vocal anytime anyone uses her trigger word. She bragged at one point of how she dealt with a telemarketer over the phone. The unfortunate individual asked for “Mrs. X”. My friend told the individual that her mother-in-law did not live there. She then tore into the telemarketer for even using the word “Mrs.”. This reaction was over the top. The telemarketer was just doing a job and could not even make an educated guess based on age as to which word to use. Both words are acceptable English word which are widely used. By taking his time to lecture him she may have prevented him from making a sale. This is a mild example. Unfortunately, you need only to catch a few headlines in the news to get lots of examples.

You can train yourself to stop these words from triggering you.

First identify the words which are your triggers. You probably know most of them, but there could be others you are less aware of especially if you were trained by someone else to be triggered by these words. The trigger can be so ingrained in you and such a habit that you are not aware you are being triggered by a given word or expression and only notice the effects. (When you notice the effects, tract it back to what caused the effects.)

Second, take a good look at the word and why it is a trigger. You will usually find the reason in history. In the example I gave above the history surrounding both words is the source of the problems. In other cases the word was a trigger for one’s elders and the elders taught their children to take offense at a given word.

Third, find a better reaction to the word. Some examples are to 1) find another word to substitute for the trigger word in your mind and recognize that it or a similar word was meant by the speaker – most speakers are not out there trying to offend you, and 2) train yourself to laugh the word off, especially if it is a word commonly used as an insult. Many people were raised using words now considered insults in a context that was not an insult and the habits of a lifetime are hard to break. When you hear your trigger words do your best to use your better reaction. It will take time, but it can be done.

Fourth, when one of your trigger words is used take a real look at the situation to determine if it was meant to trigger you or used as an insult. If it was not, recognize this and let it roll off your back. If it is one of the words which used to be acceptable you can quietly let the speaker know that it is now an insult and tell them why, or just let it be. If it was meant to harm, really let it roll off your back, at least on the outside. If the speaker sees no reaction eventually he will stop using the word in an effort to get a reaction. If you can, turn it around to look like you want to hear the word. An example from a similar situation: I went to school in an Italian community and was teased because I was part Polish. When people told Polish jokes I thanked them, telling them that I collected the jokes. The teasing eventually stopped. Some communities traditionally hurt by specific words have embraced the word and use it among themselves – a good first step. However, they have not yet taken the second step of not letting other people’s use of the word hurt them. See if you can take both steps.

An example appeared in the news recently where a real look at the situation could have prevented hurt feelings and a person’s job being threatened. A piece of luggage belonging to a couple who were unable to hear or speak got lost. When it was found a note was attached that said “text deaf and dumb”. A request was made by the mother of one of the individuals for the employee who wrote the note to be fired. As it turned out the writer of the note was not a native English speaker and used the traditional meanings of the words not knowing they had been used inappropriately enough times to become insults. The employee was simply explaining why the couple needed to be texted when the bag was delivered. It is unfortunate that the couple was hurt by a simple note intended to be helpful. Had the couple been able to take an objective look at the situation they may not have been hurt and we may never have known about the incident.

Fifth, do your best to eventually have no reaction to your trigger words. In other words, no longer let your trigger words be trigger words. When you have trigger words other people have the power to set you off by using them, and some will do so on purpose once they know your trigger words. Why give anyone power over you?

I wish you success in the elimination of your trigger words. They are not worth the hurt, and certainly not worth possible death from high blood pressure or heart attack caused by the reaction to the words. You can do it!