In Defense of Trigger Warnings

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about trigger warnings. Places such as the LA Times and New Republic are speaking out against them. Many think trigger warnings are some silly signs of weakness, some mark of humanity becoming more and more fragile as time goes on.

These people are just wrong. trigger

Let’s think about the word trigger. Trigger. A device which sets off a weapon. A chain reaction. A tiny little explosion that propels a piece of metal to collide with…flesh? Other metal? Fur? They’re dangerous. Triggers are dangerous.

Humanity is becoming more violent as time goes on. Many people are experiencing rape, abuse, PTSD, death each year. And more and more people are speaking out against their experiences. Human fragility isn’t increasing, the need for humans to treat one another with care is.

In my personal experience, I have seen an increase of people willing to share their experiences with trauma. They are some of the bravest, nicest, most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of calling friends. Trigger warnings are a way of showing these people who have seen and lived traumatic things some respect.

Why would you want to cause someone unnecessary harm?

A trigger warning is a way of telling people, “Hey, this has some nasty stuff in it. You don’t have to read/watch/listen/see/feel/witness these things if you feel you can’t handle it.” This very act gives people who have experienced some awful things the power to control their life. The power to say no, I would not like to relive that memory/feeling/trauma again.

Why is this a sign of weakness?

This topic came up on Facebook in a group I am a part of. It began with this post.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.28.15 PM I understand this writer’s frustration. Being asked to change a piece of writing by people who do not know you or your work can feel offensive. However, I do not think these people were being unreasonable. Even in the quote, they did not tell the author to change the language of the piece. They only asked to provide a warning. A sign to let people know there is a dead end ahead, maybe you should turn around.

Because that is what triggers do. They stop you dead in your tracks. They can cause severe emotional, psychological, and physical trauma. Really. Triggers are serious business. They can cause panic attacks, hyperventilation, nausea, flashbacks, and a slew of other awful things. Everyone reacts differently to different triggers, but one thing is common among all of them. Pain.

I understand that we cannot have trigger warnings for every single possible trigger out there. There are some obvious possible triggers that we can deduct: rape, war, violence, and abuse. Maybe one person’s trigger is the sound of a fly buzzing. I understand we can’t know that. But why in the world wouldn’t we expose the obvious ones and lessen possible harm to other human beings?

Another important note. PEOPLE OVERUSE/DO NOT UNDERSTAND/INCORRECTLY USE  THE TERM TRIGGER WARNING. Not everyone knows what they are talking about. Sometimes I search trigger warnings on Twitter and see people using the hashtag “trigger warning” in the same way they would use the hashtag “spoiler alert”. Some people get it wrong. It is those people that are not helping others see trigger warnings as a valuable and important integration into the artistic field.

rated-r-logo-black-stock3004My friend Haley Muench brings up a number of valid arguments in her blog post about trigger warnings being beneficial and necessary. One of the most important points to highlight is the fact that other forms of art have trigger warnings. She uses the example of movie rating. Yes, this is a way for the audience to know if their child should be watching this film/T.V. show or not, but it also offers information as to disturbing or triggering events. This little square at the beginning of a movie, which you barely notice, is all people  with traumatic pasts are asking for.

A way to know what they’re getting into. And an opportunity to get out.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Brittany Means
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:34:32

    THANK YOU. Posts like these are really important with voices like CA Conrad and the writer from that LA Times article spreading misinformation and negativity without knowing what it is that they’re feeling negative toward. I think it’s really hard to communicate why trigger warnings are so important when there are so many other people misusing the term and blowing it out of proportion. But you’ve done a great job.


  2. Trackback: Trigger Warnings in Art and Academia | Adventures in Storyland
  3. Haley Morgan
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 10:14:46

    You make a good point that the fragility of humankind isn’t increasing but our awareness of these issues is. We’ve come a long way to understanding the mentality of those who have experienced trauma, especially for soldiers in combat, and hopefully these kinds of conversations will lead us to accepting that being triggered is similar to PTSD and it needs treatment, not ridicule.
    Awesome post, roomie! 🙂


  4. emstclaire
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 20:34:39

    I didn’t even think about the MPAA warnings! There are some on video games as well, called ESRB ratings, that not only give appropriate age ranges, but content as well. They are also used in manga and comics and even on CDs, so now it kinda seems surprising to me that the same does not apply to literature.


  5. andywelk
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 20:57:00

    One of the things that I like about the idea of trigger warnings is “This very act gives people who have experienced some awful things the power to control their life.” It gives them the power to say “no”, but it also gives the ability to say “yes.” When I was dealing with the major traumatic moment in my life, I read a lot of novels that dealt with people dealing with the same thing and a lot of it was really tough, but it helped me notice how I could assimilate myself back into society. I think having the power to choose want you want is the most important thing, and if trigger warnings let that happen, then they should be used.


  6. leebannister03
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 04:59:58

    I’ve been seeing the trigger warning argument pop up here and there, and it’s something that I’ve found confusing… It’s interesting that this concept has reached the level of use that it currently has and that it hasn’t existed much earlier. I’ve kind of got a tough love approach to these things, though; I don’t necessarily think that it’s a good idea for us to feel that we are entitled to filter out everything in life that elicits a negative response from us. Maybe I’m just seeing the worst case scenario on this… However, I DO think it’s extremely important to know yourself on this level – to KNOW what triggers you and to be adamant about not falling into whatever your trigger(s) bring out. That’s empowering. And I’m rambling. Great post this week 🙂


  7. Kate Wilhelm
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 15:27:26

    Oh my gosh, thank you so much for explaining what this was. I saw this topic being blown up everywhere and had no idea what it meant. You did a really great job of stating your opinion and not being over the top about it, you know what I mean? This was a really great, informative post for someone who had no idea what trigger warnings are and why they are so controversial.


  8. ejlong0
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 15:55:17

    This is news to me, but I think such disclaimers are just silly. Let people write. If you have a problem with the concept then just walk away. Not everything is for everyone, and I think providing a notice for every little piece of media is an overreaction.


  9. siamonea
    Apr 21, 2014 @ 22:38:24

    Honestly, some people are just very inconsiderate. A lot of us are raised to look out for ourself and our own needs and amusement. We are taught to be afraid of anyone who might need help or has issues and that breeds ignorance which breeds fear which turns into a lack of sympathy and respect. Also, just considering the word “trigger” and it’s relation to guns probably makes those who are very pro-gun very uncomfortable.


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