Trigger Warnings

I think most of us might be a little confused over what being ‘triggered’ is. I suspect a lot of us think it’s simply having an emotional response to the events in a story. More than that, I suspect most of us think we all share the same emotional responses, and hey, if I can get past the sorrow/pain/disgust/hurt of events portrayed in this fictional universe. Why can’t everyone? 

But I also suspect that being triggered is a little different to simply having an emotional response (no matter how strong that response is) I suspect it’s more like having an uncontrolled physical and mental reaction to stimuli that brings one back to one’s own specific trauma – a type of PTSD. And while I’m ambivalent about how trigger warnings would affect the average reader’s experience of a book (would it be reductive for example?) I can see how someone who is suffering from PTSD might like to be forewarned that certain threads in a book will be potentially difficult for them. Especially if the study/reading is being done in a group or classroom setting. *

I don’t think trigger warnings equate to saying ‘don’t read this’, as much as they say ‘prepare yourself’ to those prone to occurrences of PTSD.

I’d like to think we’d all take a minute to say that to anyone we cared about, ‘prepare yourself, this might hurt’. That we’d hope others would do the same for them were we not around. What harm does it do to say, ‘hey, this book might bring you back to a place of hurt. This book might challenge your physical and mental well being. But if that happens we’ll be here for you. We’ll discuss it with you. Because you are more important than this class, you are more important than this exam. You’re important. We’re here for you. Lets do this together.’

*for those saying, ‘anyone suffering such strong reactions is in need of professional help. Yes, they are. And support. Isn’t a TW a type of support? Is it so difficult to grant such a basic, decent, kindness?

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5 Responses to Trigger Warnings

  1. Pingback: response to Milk fed veal calves | orlamcalindenwrites

  2. Celine, i hope you don’t mind, i copied your link into my blog. i should have used the reblog button ( I see that now) but i am pretty new to blogging. i just thought your response was so calm and sensible that i would like to share it. Thanks.

    • Thank you so much, Orla. I very much appreciate the discussion! (I had no idea what a re-blog button is for either btw! Didn’t even know it existed until you pointed it out!)

  3. Trish Reilly says:

    That’s a really interesting perspective Celine, and one I confess had not occurred to me.

    I wonder however whether trigger warnings are really useful in this context. I have no experience of PTSD (fortunately for me), but think that if I were in that situation, I’d probably do some research on a book before throwing myself into group situation for example. It’s hard to say what one would do without ever experiencing something I suppose, so I can’t be sure this is the better solution.

    For the majority of readers I think TWs are most likely to either dampen the experience of an evolving narative or allow readers to (perhaps unconsciously) select texts that fall within their comfort zones, depriving them of the opportunity to experience new ideas/emotions/reactions.
    On balance, I don’t like the idea much, but it’s more complex an argument than it seems at first glance, so thanks for raising the possible benefits.

    Great blog btw!

    • I think the trigger warning discussion started off in a university/school setting, in which case I don’t suppose the students would have much choice over becoming part of a study group? In that situation I think TW’s would perhaps be beneficial as a tool to prepare folks prior to public engagement with the text? So if, for example, a text you might find problematic came up in the curriculum, rather than be taken by surprise and thrown into a distressed state where all your work is affected, you could prepare in advance for any adverse reactions this one element might trigger in you, and so prevent a meltdown which affects the rest of your term?

      (I agree re the effect a TW might have on predisposing one to a particular reading of the text btw – I think there’s a real danger of inducing reductive interpretations or readings of a text via TWs but I’m not sure that danger out weighs the benefits? Such a lot to think about.)

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