Trigger Warnings: Some thoughts.

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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.

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9 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings: Some thoughts.

  1. PurpleSole

    Interesting post, trouble with triggers are that they are completely personal and no one person may react the same to potentially hurtful stimulus. There is therefore responsibility on the reader and a warning would be helpful to make that decision, although I can understand why it could be seen as a way of avoiding deeper issues. Maybe this is why it is so debatable.

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  2. May More

    I have found warnings helpful in the past – in fact I know on one occasion the lovely people on PurpleGem including a warning thinking of me.
    I do include them on my posts and actually on tweets too – thou in the wrong place it appears.
    Possibly a few people use the term “I have been triggered” too frequently – when as u say they simply felt uncomfortable. I think it is important that we sometimes feel conflicted when reading something.
    And I also agree with your thoughts that perhaps a post might actually benefit a person if they actually got around to reading it – sometimes we need to risk a little…
    Interesting post and TY for sharing
    May 😉
    May More recently posted…God is a Concept: Believing in MeMy Profile

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    1. ams Post author

      Thank you! I also read the comments and posts on the other blogs (Floss especially) and I find it very heartening that we can all have civilized and inspiring conversations.

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  3. Sweetgirl

    A very well reasoned post, and one that I completely agree with. Far too much coddling in the world in my opinion, and as you say avoidance isn’t helpful.

    Sweetgirl x
    Sweetgirl recently posted…This is meMy Profile

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    1. ams Post author

      Thank you as well. I speak for myself now: Some coddling helped me with my childhood experiences but eventually I had to face some unpleasant truths if I wanted to get better. There needs to be a balance I guess.

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  4. melody

    ‘Trigger’ is most definitely an overused and overloaded word and it’s always worth going back to the psychological definition to remember that. A Content Notice, even if it’s displaying tags can be couched as a polite warning. I know people who see a CN one day and decide not read, but are more than willing to come back when they feel stronger.

    I agree that your policy is great. Sadly, people wanting to take offence, especially on behalf of others, just can’t be taken into account.

    Thank you for a very interesting post. 🌹

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  5. SassyCat3000

    Yes. I’m in agreement with you. When i created the list for SB4MH it was for a reference point. As you can see the list is very long. Makes a person think doesn’t it? If i start writing with someone’s else’s triggers (and that list for example) what CAN i write about and who exactly am I writing it for because it’s no longer for me because I’m thinking about people who might be triggered. I am of the mindset…i can not and will not be responsible for someone elses reactions to my work. I am responsible for my shit. If i need to take meds or go to a therapy session or whatever self care routine I have it’s my shit i need to deal with and work on.
    But it’s SB4MH that most are concerned with triggers. (I think) anyway enough said. Your post is level headed and respectful. Thank you.

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  6. Marie Rebelle

    When I started my blog, I knew nothing about trigger warnings, and I was only writing for myself. I am still writing for myself, and when I write, I don’t think about it being triggering or not. Once I have written it, I will think whether it needs a content warning, but honestly, sometimes I am just so busy that I forget. However, if someone would contact me and say it needed a content warning, I will gladly put it on there. That said, I also do think we can’t avoid reading everything that triggers us, that if we do, we will not grow stronger, and work through difficult things. Sometimes we have to read something difficult in order to grow. Thank you for writing such a well-reasoned post.

    Rebel xox
    Marie Rebelle recently posted…Don’t stop believin’My Profile

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