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.

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