I recently followed a discussion and a few blog posts (examples here and here) about trigger or content warnings (I call them trigger warnings from now on). I have always been on the fence about those warnings but now that I write about topics that someone might consider triggering I really needed to think about it. Here is my train of thought not necessarily a final decision.
Definition and background
Let’s start by defining terms. What is a trigger? In psychological terms a trigger is something that can cause severe distress in people who have experienced trauma. This makes clear what a trigger is not. It is not a topic that is uncomfortable, controversial, unpopular, against one’s moral values or opinions.
To the latter people…I dare say it…grow up. You can’t expect people to warn you about things you might not like. You end up living in a safe bubble and you loose out on the learning experience that exposure with uncomfortable topics, different opinions or controversial themes brings. The rest of this post will deal with people who have genuinely suffered and whose trauma can be triggered (think PTSD flashbacks as an example).
Maybe a bit of background is necessary. I suffered from psychological abuse and trauma as a child. I was lucky though. I was able to attend therapy and analysis and mostly dealt with my childhood. It still affects me, my relationship style, my sexuality and the way I am raising my child. One reason for this blog is for me to be able to express this. I am also easily distressed by certain topics and behaviors.
Many good points
I see one big argument for trigger warnings. It is respectful and caring towards those who suffer from trauma and gives them the opportunity to avoid exposing themselves to their individual trigger. But I also see several arguments against those warnings.
There is a list of content and trigger warnings over at Sex Bloggers for Mental Health. It’s quite comprehensive. I am sure some people have traumatic experiences with dental procedures but at some point almost everything could be a trigger for someone. Do we start to check every bit of writing against an ever growing list of potential triggers? We will add more and longer warnings and will still miss someones specific trauma. On the other hand who decides which topic is worthy of a warning or not? Maybe common sense but then someones trigger is someone else’s kink or catharsis.
There are other topics on this list that everyone experiences in their lives at some point and in some way or another. Topics like death, illness, religion, divorce or violence. Some things are part of life. It fills me with sorrow when we start to warn each other every time we talk about the bad parts of life. I fear some people will decide to skip these topics because they are painful. But how are we as human beings and as a society able to learn when some of us avoid these topics? We want to try and help people with trauma but such warnings affect everyone else too. I’d like to consider these people as well. We might help some people but also help others create unhealthy bubbles for themselves.
And is it really helpful for those who suffer from trauma to avoid topics that might deal with it? I am not a psychologist so I am not going to give an answer. I am just pondering myself if the better solution is not helping people to overcome trauma and to better deal with triggers. As many warnings as we may post there are a lot of triggers that are still barely avoidable (think noise, lights, dark rooms, places, cars, music…anything really). So how much do warnings actually help?
My last point is that people who write (or any communicate in any other medium) about such topics in a respectful manner are not the main problem. Yes their writing might trigger someone but on the whole as a community of writers I believe our words are helpful. By using warnings I fear we risk driving away people who might benefit even when it is a painful topic. This is probably just me talking but I always think that avoidance is seldom a good strategy concerning mental health. And trigger warnings make it easy to avoid. Nevertheless the real danger are the jerks online who spew hate, who post their infantile and violent fantasies and who hurl abuse at others. They don’t put up trigger warnings. They want to trigger.
My decision for now
What does it mean for this blog? I will not put up explicit trigger warnings for now. I made the tags visible on the front page for each post so that people can decide if they want to click on an article or not (it is not a perfect solution though with feed readers or direct links). I will preface some posts with a reminder that they are either a fantasy or that ample consent was given. I don’t want people to think that my relationship is abusive or that actual violence happened when it was only a consensual scenario (or even a fantasy).
And I always strive to write in a respectful and compassionate manner. I also respect everyone who puts warnings on their content if they feel it is the right thing to do. There are many good points that I don’t think I could make a definitive decision anyway.