Trigger Warning: No, Seriously, This Thread is About Trigger Warnings


#1

(It may be needless to say, but this post will make reference to things like violence or sexual assault, but no such things will be discussed at length.)

The term “Trigger Warning” has become somewhat of a weird fixation in a lot of social discourse. For most of us (at least here), trigger warnings are just a useful tool to make sure everyone is safe and healthy. To those further on the right-wing, however, it is often treated as a joke, and something to snarl about the “regressive left”.

For those uninformed, a “trigger” is any stimulus that can cause a strong emotional response. This can be a word, a sound, an image, a sensation, even just a concept. These triggers are usually associated with negative emotional responses, such as intense feelings of anxiety. The terms “emotional trigger” and “trauma trigger” share similarities, but are meaningfully different. These are also distinct from something that is stressful or uncomfortable to think about but does not cause a strong involuntary emotional reaction. (To those with education on psychology, or anyone for that matter: please inform me if I can refine this definition! :slight_smile:)

Despite how many polemicists might speak of them, triggers are not a new concept, by any means. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a history in study back to 1952. “Shell shock” and “battle fatigue” referred to this, and we can find it in art going back to Shakespeare and in records going back to Assyria. But it’s not just limited to those who experience war. Survivors of abuse and assault experience this, and triggers can come from many different experiences. Triggers can also have an effect on those who do not have PTSD. (Again, inform me if I can refine this immensely brief background!)

I more often use the term “content warning”, for the reason that, in my mind, it more accurately represents its use. Informing someone of the contents of something, particularly the more visceral pieces, is just common courtesy. We have rating systems in place for similar reasons. In fact, I often just say the word “warning”. It’s just a courteous thing to warn the audience “hey, this gets into some heavy stuff”. This doesn’t just help trauma survivors, but also those who just want to know what they’re getting into. Many use it to know what they should and shouldn’t go to, but many also use it to simply brace themselves for oncoming information.

I also recognize, though, that this has to do with my own relationship with triggers. It would be inaccurate to say that I have any form of PTSD, but I do have strong emotional triggers. A small set; those that I know could probably be counted on my hand. The problem being that, more often than not, these are not things that would ever come up in a content warning or trigger warning. I experience voluntary responses to banal things that comes up in everyday conversation. My response has a lot to do with my mood and the situation. Sometimes, it just causes a twinge of stress. Other times, I have entire emotional meltdowns. There’s no easy way to warn for this; these normally go completely unmentioned in warnings. I know that I’m not an exception in this regard, of course; someone once mentioned to me of an emotional trigger from the sound of a ticking clock. However, that response was the product of their trauma. My responses do not come from trauma; they come from my history and neurodivergency. I don’t think the term “trauma trigger” is applicable for me. Point being: triggers can come in many different forms and can cause a wide range of responses.

So, I guess, some starter questions for the discussion:

How should warnings be handled and presented?
Why do you think trigger warnings have become such a hot topic in social discourse? What kind of arguments to you present to those who think they’re asinine?
What kind of language do you use around warnings? Do you prefer “content” or “trigger”?
Do you think warnings prove effective? How do you think they could be improved?
Do you think there are systems that could be put in place for warnings that would make them more effective?

If you have emotional triggers or trauma triggers, how do you handle them? What responses do you experience? Do you have any methods you use to help yourself?
Do warnings help you? How do you go about avoiding the triggers? How do you go about sharing your triggers with others, and those close to you?

On the flip-side, if you need to know about someone’s triggers, how do you feel is the most helpful way to be informed about it?

If you come from a psychological background, can you provide us with any enlightenment to the dynamics at play here, or provide any advice?

(For obvious reasons, sharing of the actual nature of anyone’s emotional triggers should be voluntary, so please don’t ask people if they don’t wish to share. I’ve deliberately avoided expressing mine, even though may choose to do so later. At the same time, please be cautious to tag potentially upsetting subject matter if it comes up.)


#2

I tried not to make this (first) post “about me”, but my reason for making this post in the first place is very much about my recent experiences. I’ve found it increasingly difficult to regulate my emotional responses to certain emotional triggers. They don’t come from a traumatic event, but just my own inner mechanisms. These can come up in everyday conversation and can come from things as simple as a sequence of three letters in a row. (Both my psychiatrist and therapist have expressed surprise when I’ve explained them.) They make my day-to-day life difficult. Recently, I had to express to a friend of mine just how little I am able to handle these subjects. She was aware prior, but this is still a difficult conversation to have to have. There is also irony in that trigger warnings wouldn’t help me very much, because my response frequently comes from the mere offhand mention of the subject matter. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of looking for some support. (god im a mess lmao)


#3

On the one hand, forcing people to be virtuous by presenting undisclosed hard subjects probably lessens their ability to make informed decisions about what to read/consume. On the other hand, many regard them as infantilising, ineffectual solutions to the stated goals of TW proponents in the classroom, and hard to generalise across disciplines/topics.


#4

This mostly affects me in trying to share content. My main worry is that listing words describing potential triggers could itself be a trigger, but it seems like content warnings is the best we got.

An aquaintance of mine’s wife has epileptic seizures. I asked him about triggers. At the time I was thinking about things like frame-rate. He informed me that for his wife, she can’t even look at an electronic screen because it could potentially trigger a seizure. He gave the example of someone starting a chainsaw a few doors down triggering seizures.
The intensity of her experiences has stuck with me when thinking about this type of thing. I can’t make a computer-game that won’t trigger anyone, but I can still try to increase the amount of potentially relevant information to folks who are effected, but but who are still on the problematic platform.

So much of social justice discussion online seems to be based on the premise that we can get to a point where we do no harm. I feel like it is important to reach a consciousness where we realize we will never avoid all harm, but that we can do much less through observation and receptiveness.


#5

Wow that was a pretty gross read.

The argument came off as “we refuse to do the bare minimum now to help people who might need it so we can try more permanent solutions that will take far, far longer to implement when we could easily just do both and actually research potential triggers.”

Plus it’s academia so I’m going out on a limb and suggest the vast majority of their proposed solutions will never get proper funding.


#6

the idea that trigger warnings are infantilising only works if yr assumption is that their use is abt just Not Wanting To Hear About An Icky Thing! rather than, you know, it being something literally detrimental to your health

like im not Upset at discussing things that are traumatic, i am at risk of having flashbacks which can seriously endanger my safety. if i have a warning i can at least take a sec to think “ok am i ready to deal with this Right The Hell Now” and if im not i can, y’know, not.

ps while we’re at it. because i have seen this a bunch on this Very Forum: trigger warnings have to be specific. please for the love of god. “trigger warning for everything” and “HUGE trigger warning” tell me literally, absolutely nothing abt whether or not i’m safe to read a thing.

pps what IS infantilising is asking for The Psychologists And Academics View on this like maybe listen to the ppl actually affected lol


#7

I typed a systematic breakdown of why that “higheredlearning” article peeves me off but I decided not to post it. If I’ll say this much, I find it frustrating that these faculty talk about making trigger warnings as if that is what is doing the triggering, which it isn’t. Also literally what is wrong with being asked to start warning for a trigger if you are a teacher? Like?


#8

I too use “content warning” a lot more than trigger warning. I feel that the word “trigger” should not be used in that context outside of the psychology and psychiatry world. I find that the harassment and abuse arseholes use that word to achieve is so common that people are more likely to take the warning seriously (and not question whether the one giving it is one of those said arseholes) if you use content warning instead.

As for if they are effective, I really haven’t done enough reading or know enough about them to say beyond my own experience. For me there are only really two things that set me off: blood and certain behaviours that remind me of my abusive childhood.

The first one is just a phobia that I am slowly getting over (I used to not be able to even play games and watch movies with blood in them), but I can still get extremely lightheaded when seeing blood in videos, pictures, real life, or, hell, if its described to me clearly enough (thank you, sibling that works in an emergency room, for constantly pushing that one). So content warnings for blood, especially in news footage or images posted on social media, can be the difference between me having a good day and me feeling like I’m going to (or sometimes actually) passing out.

The other is something I’ve only begun to notice recently. I feel that, now that I’ve cut off my parents for good, the wound can finally heal instead of constantly being reopened. Content Warnings on media that parental abuse is tackled in it has helped me to avoid them for now until I can work with a professional on better, healthy ways to deal with it.


#9

Sorry but linking out to trash is trash. Fundamentally, this stuff is against students (required reading on this topic and the wider changes in academia caused by marketization).

The moral panic around trigger warnings is a very good pedagogic tool: we learn from it. Trigger warnings are assumed as being about being safe or warm or cuddled. I would describe trigger warnings as a partial and necessarily inadequate measure to enable some people to stay in the room so that “difficult issues” can be discussed. The assumption that trigger warnings are themselves about safe spaces is a working assumption (by this I mean: it is achieving something). Indeed what I have said is rather misleading because the assumption that safe spaces are themselves about deflecting attention from difficult issues is another working assumption.

Let’s reframe the conversation: Trigger Warnings are Content Notes. They’re as old as discussion and completely standard. Anyone against them is flagging their position in a much larger discussion where regressives attempt to push back against social progress by finding a topic to twist. They see classrooms that increasingly accept people with PTSD, who have experienced oppression/suffering and have a concrete understanding of these topics via their own experiences and these regressives hate it.

“How can you have a position on this when you’re influenced by personal emotions!” being a common call (to try and silence), pushing a nonsense that there is some detached complete impartiality from the non-oppressed (cis straight White male) perspective that exists from lack of real consequences. The focus on content notes in cooperation with specialist support departments enables more people to engage with higher education (content notes are harm reduction) and also prevents the room being packed by only the people who don’t have experience of what they’re talking about. That’s universally good, that’s necessary.

And it’s also something so pedestrian that you’re used to it every day. Turning on the news for decades and getting a piece that opens “the following report contains scenes of violence that some might find disturbing”. See the rating at the start of a movie, in the ident spot while watching TV, and on and on. This is not new, this is not something that needs to be campaigned against. This is as boring as the singular they backlash (and acts as catnip to exactly the same reactionary sensibilities).


#10

It’s interesting that more people are willing to get angry over a TV show being spoiled than, I don’t know, a survivor of trauma experiencing PTSD :thinking:


#11

This is actually pretty consistent with lack of empathy. They get mad about television shows being spoiled for themselves, not it being spoiled for others.
I’m sure they would be upset about PTSD triggers if they themselves were the ones dealing with the effects.


#12

Isn’t the difficulty as a content creator knowing when and what can and should be called a trigger? With reference to the OP, they described it as:

a “trigger” is any stimulus that can cause a strong emotional response.

Any creative work is meant to elicit some emotion, ideally a strong one if you’re doing your job well. What that emotion is can be hard to determine because everyone will have a different read or reaction. That strong emotion or reaction can be a draw for someone. For others it can be a turn off. But we still want that in our media.

I’m personally more inclined to the content warning because it seems far more objective in stating that certain things are to be found within the work, whereas trigger warning is more subjective because of a person’s experience and how difficult that can be to account for.


#13

I use content warning because there’s things in work that can be both emotionally upsetting but not triggering, but also triggering. Being upset by say, pet death in movies is not the same response I have when I am triggered by sexual assault scenes sometimes.

We content warnings for sex, violence, graphic language and nudity already for TV shows and films, so people getting up in arms about it because it speaks to PTSD and trauma make no sense to me other than hating people who have these issues and want those accommodations made for them.

The problem really lies in that we don’t really understand or take PTSD and trauma very seriously, give very little impetus for the layperson to understand it and people don’t want to wrap their head around what being triggered feels like or that it’s not just “getting upset.” Some things hang on me like a miasma that I’m unaware of for a week straight until I have a disassociation episode and then I figure it out.


#14

This is one of my chief issues with society. I realize this sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Trauma is not an intuitive subject. The effects of trauma do not make intrinsic sense. They must be explained.

So often, people approach trauma with the same logic one would apply to learning the dangers of the physical world. They say you can only learn fire is hot by touching your hand to the stove. There, now you’ve had your academic lesson in pain, and have learned your lesson not to touch fire. It should all be very logical, and you - the ‘student’, the traumatized - now know the warning signs for things that might burn you, and you’re better and stronger for having learned that lesson.

Obviously, it doesn’t work this way. Often, it works the exact opposite way! But, I understand why the uninformed might think that it ‘should’ work this way. It’s this assumption that causes so much pain. I just wish we taught basic psychology as we teach arithmetic. I don’t think it would solve this problem, but I do think enough people are truly empathetic that their having this knowledge would make a significant positive impact.


#15

I personally don’t think that empathy is there because of society factors but if we could encourage that, it would make people caring about mental health issues easier. It also definitely has overlaps with things like racism and misogyny however, though, as well because of who typically has PTSD from things that are more nebulous versus “combat.”


#16

Do you think that a lack of empathy might, at least in part, come from having an incorrect understanding of how trauma works? My thinking is that people think they understand psychological trauma because they understand physical trauma, so they think they are sympathetic to those who’ve experienced psychological trauma and are therefore coming to ‘fair’ conclusions about what trauma victims need.

I don’t think those in power are sympathetic nor empathetic, and yes, I do think that socio/economic factors inform the status quo in general which is inherently unempathetic/unsympathetic. But, on a person-by-person basis, I think there are enough people who think they are being sympathetic, but are just wrong about the facts of trauma. If they understood trauma correctly, they might change their thinking to empathy, which would inform at least some cultural change.

I mean, at this point it’s basically a question of whether or not I believe in people, and I’m not really sure I do (I don’t, actually!), but I do believe in like, 30% of them - which I’d wager is a greater percentage than that which fully understands how trauma actually works.


#17

I think it’s a complex system of oppression that definitely affects mentally ill people in general and PTSD falls into that, so across the board it’s a latticework of how we understress mental health, mental disability, we undersell environmental and social impacts on people. We still don’t even really scratch how things like repeated exposure to things like racism causes PTSD and PTSD-like symptoms. We really do need a better, more broad approach to trauma because we just don’t understand it, we don’t tell people about it and we refuse to acknowledge that it can be caused by more than than solitary events, but lifetimes worth of injustice and other factors.