Trigger warnings are great, so stop complaining

TW: Contains anger about trigger warnings


I’m not going to lie – I’m quite jealous of people who don’t feel that we need trigger warnings.

I’m jealous because it tends to mean that they haven’t been through trauma. However the truth is, shit things do happen and to a shocking amount of people – and really, shouldn’t we do everything we can to help them?

The crux of the issue is that there is a lot of misunderstanding around what trigger warnings are and what they do. Trigger warnings don’t stop you reading things, it just lets you mentally and emotionally prepare yourself before doing so. It means you can plan what order you do readings in, or decide if you have the emotional strength to watch or read a certain thing today.

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As a Politics student with an interest in gender studies, I end up having to read a lot of difficult texts and it is hard – but I can’t emphasise how beneficial it is when a lecturer gives us a heads-up that a text is going to graphically explore issues like sexual assault or self-harm. I still read it, but I will save it as the last reading I do in a day and do some self-care (aka watch Parks and Rec is bed while eating my weight in chicken nuggets) afterwards.

I realise that sometimes the opposition to trigger warnings does come from a place of understanding: I’ve heard the arguments that they wrap people in cotton wool and are overly protective. They say that you don’t have trigger warnings in real life, so you need to be equipped with the emotional strength to deal with it – but really that’s not true.

We do have trigger warnings in real life, it’s just that they’re not called that. They’re called ratings or guidance. You can find out if a film or video game has graphic violence, racism, swearing, sex, or drugs in it before watching it. You can be told a museum exhibition will be looking at sensitive topics. If we’re talking about content notes, how about the blurb of a book or an abstract of an article or tags on a blog post? Nobody complains about these.

ARTMARIE VIA GETTY IMAGES

ARTMARIE VIA GETTY IMAGES

It seems to me that opposing trigger warnings is often based on the fact that the people who most frequently or prominently use trigger warnings are feminists or people involved in social justice. This is really the only logical explanation, because the same people don’t oppose 15-rated films or parental guidance warnings or warnings about flashing lights that might induce epilepsy.

I realise that epilepsy and being triggered are very different – but too often mental illness is erased or seen as less important or severe. People generally don’t ask for trigger warnings to stop themselves being upset or uncomfortable – they are used to help people avoid having flashbacks to being raped or having urges to self-harm or restrict eating.

If it was just being a bit upset or uncomfortable, I could *maybe* understand the opposition because being upset when you read about sexual assault is expected – but we are talking about people’s mental health. We’re talking about panic attacks or flashbacks or urges for unhealthy or dangerous behaviours.

And yes, the real world might not be able to protect people or keep them shielded from this horrible stuff. Surely, this should just mean we should better help them where we can, rather than just throwing them into the deep end.

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In the toolbox of mental health, trigger warnings are fundamental. We have to realise that we don’t all have the same experiences and even the same experience can affect us in different ways. Trigger warnings are basically just giving a shit about other people’s emotional wellbeing – why is that a bad thing?

If a few words before an article or Facebook post offends you so much that you are unable to ignore it, maybe it’s you with the problem rather than us “social justice warriors”.