“Microaggressions”, “Trigger Warnings”, and the New Meaning of “Trauma”

I’m no stranger to trauma, and I’ve dealt with it by writing and talking about it. I suppose I’ve always defined “trauma” the traditional way: a terrible experience, usually involving significant loss or mortal danger, which left a lasting scar. However, I’ve recently discovered my definition of trauma is wrong. Trauma now seems to be pretty much anything that bothers anyone, in any way, ever. And the worst “trauma” seems to come not from horrible brushes with death like I described above; instead, they’re the result of racism and discrimination.
Over the last year I’ve heard references to “Microagressions” and “Trigger Warnings”. Trigger Warnings tell trauma victims that certain material may “contain disturbing themes that may trigger traumatic memories for sufferers”; it’s a way for them to continue avoiding what bothers them, rather than facing it (and the memories that get triggered often seem to be about discrimination, rather than mortal danger). Microaggressions are minor, seemingly innocuous statements that are actually stereotype-reinforcing trauma, even if the person making the statement meant nothing negative.

Only on college campus do the words, microaggressions and trigger warnings, have any meaning.


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