Trigger warnings have been a bit of a controversial topic lately. Some people say we need to be sensitive to people’s different traumatic experiences. Others are saying we are being over-sensitive.
As a survivor of sexual assault, I can tell you one thing.
I appreciate trigger warnings when it has to do with rape.
A few months ago I went to see a show at my university’s drama department. There was a general warning sign outside: some of the material would contain mature content.
They showed a few scenes, had a break, and then showed a few more. Before each scene, the director introduced their play and gave us any context needed to understand their scene.
In one scene, there was theatrical performance of rape. I found myself in a bit of shock, trying not to get emotional in the middle of the performance. I had flashbacks of my sexual assault in the middle of the show and felt isolated.
I just wasn’t expecting it. The “warning” didn’t say much about what mature content there would be, and the director hadn’t said anything about it at all.
Yes, I would have liked to have emotionally prepared myself for that.
But at the same time… I know the world isn’t going to stop just because of my personal experiences.
I have to learn to be part of the world, even with my terrible experiences.
It’s important to be as respectful as possible, but just like being politically correct can be overwhelming, so can the whole concept of trigger warnings.
I mean, are we going to have a trigger warning for car accidents in movies? How about pets dying?
Car accidents are awful, and they happen all the time. People lose family and friends every day to car accidents.
People lose pets all the time too, and that’s not easy to deal with either.
Why are we okay not having a trigger warning for those, but we must have one for sexual assault, racism, and war?
Because someone decided that those traumatic experiences are worse than others.
It’s getting a bit out of hand.
Trigger warnings are considerate, not required.
I really truly appreciate trigger warnings because it makes my life that much easier, and I’m sure anyone has experienced any trauma would agree with that.
Here’s where people are going to start arguing with me, though: I don’t think we can grow if we are to be sheltered from everything all the time.
I learned a lot from my shock during the show that day.
I realized that despite feeling as if everything was okay for me, I was still holding a lot of it in. I realized as well that my experience isn’t rare — as unfortunate as that is — and that people are talking about it. I know that there are movies and plays and books about rape, but seeing it right in front of me had a different effect on me.
It made me realize that people were taking it seriously.
They’re not trying to hide it. They’re doing something about it.
And that made me realize something.
It’s not helping me to run away from material just because it has rape in it.
Having a trigger warning is almost like telling me, “Sweetie, do you want to run away from your problems? It’s okay, you do just that.”
Don’t make it okay to run away from my problems. I’ve done that for the past five years.
It just gives people an excuse to say that’s healthy.
[Author’s Note: I’ve edited some of this post because I recently realized that arguing that trigger warnings allow trauma survivors to “run away” from their problems is a little insensitive, and everyone’s healing process is different. It is really important for survivors to have control over themselves and to make the choice that allows them to feel safe, especially when trauma is recent, and sometimes that does mean avoiding the material. I realize that while I may have come to a point where I don’t need to avoid the topic of rape, that doesn’t mean that everyone who has experienced trauma is at the same place.
However, I do think that it is important to recognize that sometimes we do need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to learn, and trigger warnings can sometimes slow us down or change the focus of the material at hand. That is the main reason why I think trigger warning cannot be expected from everyone about everything.
My apologies to anyone whom I might have been insensitive towards — I hope this clears things up, and thank you so much for reading.]
Don’t get me wrong — I know that trigger warnings are a comfort for many.
I realize that not everyone has the exact experience I have. And like I said, I do appreciate the warning because I can mentally prepare for it. I can make the choice to engage with it or not. For some, that choice is the most important part, especially when trauma is recent.
But none of those “trigger warning” topics are comfortable, whether you are directly affected by them or not.
And when dealing with an uncomfortable topic, well — it’s not supposed to be comfortable. How else are we going to learn?
That why I think it’s considerate of people to add trigger warnings to their material.
They don’t have to. But when they do, I think a lot of people appreciate it.
People shouldn’t expect a trigger warning, especially when it comes to art.
The entire purpose of art and education is to encourage critical thinking and to think about things that make you uncomfortable.
How can we approach uncomfortable topics if we aren’t able to delve into the really gritty stuff?
If you warn people of controversial or emotional topics, they are going to have preconceptions about whatever the material is. It’s going to change their expectations. It might even change what the piece is about, because all of a sudden the focus is on whatever the trigger warning is about, whether or not that’s what the main focus is.
It distances people from the emotion in the first place.
And with art and education, you need to get into the difficult material in order to give it the attention it deserves.
You can’t sugarcoat this stuff.
Trigger warnings also make survivors out to be weak.
For example, if the material deals with racial violence, and there is a trigger warning, it’s saying that survivors of it are “sensitive.”
It’s the exact opposite of how I’d want to be seen.
Trigger warnings are almost saying to anyone who has experienced trauma that their experience is outside of normal and needs special attention.
And the biggest thing with traumas and phobias and things like these is learning to live with them, and learning to participate in society while doing so.
The problem with trigger warnings is that while we are trying to help survivors of trauma by giving them agency, we are also telling them they are weak. And that’s just not true.
So if you offer trigger warnings, thanks for being considerate.
But don’t hate on people for not offering them, either.
They have good reason not to.
Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts or experiences on trigger warnings?