Why Trigger Warnings Matter



Ever since the word “triggered” became the subject of a meme, it’s hard for people with actual triggers to be taken seriously.  People use the word “triggered” as a hyperbole for being irritated or slightly uncomfortable, or to mock anyone that reacts to something in a way that other people don’t understand.  As a feminist, I habitually call out sexism when I see or hear it.  If I had a penny for any time someone’s response used the word “triggered,” I could pay off my student loans.  But sexism doesn’t trigger me.  Sexism just annoys and disgusts me.

The misuse of the word “trigger” leads to people poking fun at trigger warnings online.  Basically, a trigger warning is used when something is posted online that might mess with someone’s mental, emotional, or even physical state.  You might see a trigger warning on a picture of a violent crime scene, or on a rape victim’s retelling of events.  You might also see a trigger warning on a picture of a dog, of a beach, or almost anything else.  At times, it might seem silly and pointless.  However, trigger warnings play an important role in helping people not relive the events that brought them pain.

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What are trigger warnings used for? Below is an incomplete list of people who can benefit from trigger warnings:

  • People with PTSD
  • People with eating disorders
  • People with epilepsy
  • People who self-harm
  • People with phobias
  • People with depression
  • People with OCD

Why should we bother with them? Simply put, we need trigger warnings because they spare people from experiencing unnecessary physical and/or emotional distress. There are so many people that can benefit from a trigger warning, which means there are many different kinds of triggers.  You never know what might be triggering to someone.  Of course, it would be impossible to try to guess every single thing that might trigger others. As a person with PTSD, I don’t expect people to know what triggers my flashbacks and panic attacks right off the bat.  Although I can’t expect every single person online to use a trigger warning, the few people that do use them spare me from having to cope again and again.

But shouldn’t people with triggers learn to deal with them, and not run from them? We already are.  Certain types of therapy teach coping mechanisms for dealing with triggers, and medications can decrease the severity of panic attacks, etc.  However, trigger warnings prevent us from having to cope in the first place.  We can’t prevent what we witness off the Internet, but we can decrease the amount of triggering content we see online.

How can you help people with triggers? The typical format for trigger warnings is as follows:

“TW (or CW, or Trigger Warning): item 1, item 2, item 3)”

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-content-

This format lists the potentially triggering items at the top, and leaves a gap between the warning and the content (if it’s a text post, this means that a reader can view the warning and nothing else). For a more subtle approach, you can include a warning statement such as, “This post is about items 1, 2, and 3.  Please read at your own discretion.”  If your content is in the form of a picture or video, remove the video/image preview from your post and simply include the link.  If that doesn’t work, simply share the link in the post comment (without the preview).

Here is an incomplete list of potential triggers that you should include a warning for:

  • Rape (images, videos, descriptions)
  • Murder (images, descriptions, videos)
  • Violence (images, videos, descriptions, threats)
  • Gore (images, videos, descriptions- and include a disclaimer if it’s fake gore)
  • Flashing lights/screens (videos)
  • Death/dying (images, descriptions, videos)
  • Self-harm (images, videos, descriptions)

Comment below if you have any other tips on trigger warnings!

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