Triggered! Why we need trigger warnings to engage in inclusive and constructive conversation

Trigger Warnings for brief mentions of: abuse and eating disorders

I feel as though there is a fundamental misunderstanding on what trigger/trigger warning is. “Stop censuring us!” people cry, “You can’t hide in your safe space forever, you have to face the real world!”. These statements always make me laugh because triggers/trigger warnings have nothing at all to do with censorship. No one is preventing you from talking about whatever edgy or controversial topics you want to discuss. In my opinion trigger warnings are actually the opposite of censorship because they allow people who have experienced trauma to better participate in the conversation. Wait… so trigger warnings aren’t just for people who are easily annoyed and oversensitive to avoid opinions they don’t agree with? Nope! Being irritated by something, or even upset by something is extremely different from being triggered. A trigger is something that sets off a memory or flashback transporting the person back to the event of their original trauma. The brain forms a connection between a trigger and the feelings with which it is associated, and some triggers are quite innocuous. Being triggered can cause someone to have a panic attack, relapse or self harm and can be set off by any of their 5 senses. Triggers can also be anything. A trigger maybe directly correlated to the trauma, such as someone who has suffered from an eating disorder being triggered by images of skinny bodies. However, some triggers maybe seem less connected, for example someone who was abused may be triggered by seeing cans of soda that the abuser would drink while around them. It is important to remember that all triggers are valid, and that they should all be taken seriously no matter if they make sense to you or not.

So if triggers are an actual psychological response to trauma, what is with all the push back against trigger warnings? As I mentioned before, I think it has to with the false idea of censorship. If I put trigger warnings in my article that gives people the excuse to click away because they don’t want to deal with difficult topics! But that’s not actually how trigger warnings work, at all. Trigger warnings just give someone who has experienced trauma a little heads up. Many victims of trauma may avoid a lot of news, books and movies in fear of being triggered and having to relive their trauma without warning. However, if they see a trigger warning, that gives them advanced warning that what triggers them is being discussed. Then it won’t be as shocking or upsetting because they had  time to prepare for it. And if a person is in a bad place and does not want to relive their trauma at that moment in time, which is always valid, trigger warnings allow a person to save a piece of media they want to digest for later, when they are in a safer space and a better state of mind. Trigger warnings allow victims of trauma the agency to decide when and where they want to revisit traumatic experiences without being blindsided.

But if a trigger can be anything, do I have to give a trigger warning for everything? No, of course not. No one is asking that of you. You should be aware, and give trigger warnings for broader topics of trauma such as: rape, suicide, eating disorders, abuse (mental/physical/emotional), war, mental health, self harm, murder, violence/brutality. These take maybe a second to type, and can help so many people live easier and happier lives. I think a lot of push back for trigger warnings comes from a place of ignorance and abelism. We should be promoting and actively helping the wellbeing of people who have experienced trauma, not calling them whiners.

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