Not a full deck #2: Removing triggering tarot cards as an act of self-care

I’ve been thinking about reasons you might remove cards from your tarot deck.

A few days ago, I wrote about taking out the ‘scary’ cards when reading at parties and events. This is about protecting the people you’re supposed to be entertaining from fearsome moments. Even though experienced tarot readers know that all cards are a balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and that perceived ‘scary’ cards often turn up for empowering readers, it’s hard to get into that when you’re powering through five-minute party reading after reading, and you might end up worrying or scaring your clients.

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What about you, the tarot reader?

What if there are cards that hurt or upset you?

I’m thinking about cards – whichever those may be – that end up acting as triggers for re-experiencing trauma, revisiting dark emotions, unhealthy places, scary feelings? What if a card represents a situation you’ve worked hard to overcome, are working through at your own pace, or aren’t yet ready to deal with? Or a perpetrator of abuse?

NB – there are things that make us uncomfortable, and then there’s being ‘triggered’, which is a whole other thing. Here’s a helpful description of what a ‘trigger warning’ is and why they are used, if you’re not sure.

So many of us use tarot as a tool to work through our *stuff*, it’s likely that a large number of survivors will associate cards with traumatic events in their lives. If that’s you, what do you do when this card comes up in a reading and triggers you?

As most survivors of trauma/abuse are aware, it’s an important act of self-care to protect yourself from being triggered. So if that includes removing tarot cards from your deck, so be it.

It’s your deck and you get to decide how you use it.

The King of Pentacles showed up in the very first reading I ever did, but as I was so new to tarot, I didn’t really have a lot of feelings about it. The second time he showed up, my notes say, I just was “not sure of this card.” Over the course of my (somewhat brief) history with tarot, he kept showing up, over and over and over again, and each time my reaction was pretty much just like: “this asshole again.”

I didn’t really bother to unpack my feelings about it until recently, though, when he showed up – not for the first time – in a position that seemed to reference my childhood abuser. Suddenly all my antipathy towards the card made sense. Shortly after that, I was talking to Beth about it and she suggested removing the card from the deck entirely. If I remember correctly, I probably shrugged off this suggestion – until I was doing another reading, and he showed up, and I was filled with a kind of immediate rage, such that I removed the card and immediately drew a new one.

Not having to worry about that card showing up has only improved my readings (for myself, anyway, I’ll put the card back in if I’m reading for someone else).


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For so many of us, tarot is a tool for self-care, self-exploration. For healing and growing. Simply ‘feeling uncomfortable’ about a card or having a difficult response to it does not in itself mean you should remove it – it could be that that you should look deeper into it, do some work on your feelings.

But if you’ve survived trauma or abuse, running the risk of being triggered every time you shuffle your cards doesn’t have to be part of that experience, it’s not ‘just part of tarot’ and you don’t have to deal with that stuff when you work with your cards.

It is 100% okay to remove triggering cards from your deck. Your emotional health is infinitely more important than the ‘system’ of tarot or having a full deck. And if you know a certain card is triggering for a friend, you can take that card out before you read for them.

Cards in this post are from the Collective Tarot (out of print).

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  1. This is really interesting! I never would have thought about certain cards being a trigger. I don’t have any trigger cards so far, but will definitely keep this in mind if that is ever the case.

    I really like these two latest posts! Always bending the rules 😉 I love it.

  2. Interestingly, to me at least, my major abuser also usually turns up as the King of Pentacles. It never would have occurred to me to remove the card, because I don’t have that reaction to it, and it also turns up for other people and situations, including warnings about my own behavior that can be very valuable (often something along the lines of, “be careful not to act like him”).

    Excellent post. Self care like avoiding triggers is extremely important.

  3. 3Jane says:

    I don’t have triggering cards, but I have cards that make me do “uhhh what, just NO” so hard that I can’t use decks that contain them (the biggest offender is the Tower from Pagan Tarot, another example is the Lovers from Secret Tarot). I still want to include the concepts symbolised by the cards so if I removed them, the reading would be incomplete. Creating substitutes is a bit hard because then you know which card is which when shuffling. Maybe I should just mix and match cards from several decks? 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Ugh that’s so tricky Jane. (Good that, even though you find them uncomfortable, they don’t actually trigger trauma, as that’s something else entirely.)

      It’s really worth examining your reactions to cards you don’t like. What is it that puts you off? Cos there’s the potential there that they represent something you really don’t wanna deal with. If it’s not actually triggering you (i.e. taking you to a really bad place) then maybe spend some time with them?

      If you can’t make peace with those cards then you know what I would just pass the deck on. Or just keep the cards you love, get rid of the ones you don’t, and use them for art, or for one-card draws, or frame your favourites. Switch to a different deck for your ‘proper’ readings. It’s not about *loving* every card but it’s distracting and annoying

      I used to have The Secret Tarot. I found it too problematic – yeah The Lovers was a major offender! – and was having way too many of this ‘uuuugh just NO’ moments. So many lithe naked women…but no men? And it had this smugness about it that I couldn’t handle – it felt really conservative, even though I really did love some of the artwork.

      I ended up giving the deck away. I still long for it occasionally, like when I see one of the nicer cards online, but then I just think about how the blatant sexism and so on just really pissed me off.

    • Grey says:

      If you can find ones that fit, you could use card sleeves. That way you could use a card from a different deck, or even just a paper placeholder, and you wouldn’t be able to tell it was different from the back.

  4. Sarah says:

    I’m using an oracle deck which I love but there is one card that is extremely upsetting to me as it reminds me of my abuser, and my cheating, deceitful ex. I feel like the man’s venomous eyes are searing into me. I am actually repulsed by it. I have decided to go ahead and remove it but now wonder what to do with it. Maybe burn it. Thank you for this post!

    • Beth says:

      Do whatever feels right, Sarah – I think burning this card sounds like it could be a really helpful and healing thing to do. Good for you for removing this man’s gaze from your spiritual practice <3

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