On the importance of trigger warning


Browsing through my Facebook feed, perpetually looking for a sign of hope that humanity isn’t actually doomed, I stumbled upon this article: How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campuses… The article angered me (dare I say triggered me?) because I’ve had that conversation quite a few times before: why are trigger warnings a good thing? The short answer is: in a world where certain identities and bodies are facing an onslaught of violence and trauma, trigger warnings are a measure of safety and agency.

I would not claim that I speak for everyone, or that my views are in any means a reflection of some sort of commonly held opinion – they are just my personal feelings about this topic; though being part of quite a few online groups that ask for trigger warnings, I feel that many others see their value. It is important to also realise that many trigger warnings (though perhaps not all) are for the benefit of those who ended up on the short end of the stick in terms of privilege; and if my Facebook feed is any reflection, then I’d say its prevalence is an indicator of the amount of violence that many of us face.

There is this line I read in another article:

Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder.

Really? Psychology all good and well, but to argue against trigger warnings means essentially forcing triggers upon people… Where is the agency in that? Where is the consent? It might be the “most effective way”, but that still does not justify forcing it upon another.

The discussion about trigger warnings is complicated perhaps about what necessitates a trigger warning, though being on the safe side probably the best idea. But it does not mean that my Facebook feed is filtered where I (as someone who values and needs trigger warnings) never engage with anything that has a trigger warning slapped to it. It simply means that I have an up front warning that allows me to make an informed to decision, and often I end up reading articles anyway, I just ensure that I do it when I am in a good space in my mind and can access support.

Going back to the original article, which talks about trigger warnings in lectures and campuses… I would refer to a beautiful, albeit hard, telling of stories and experiences from young Black feminists at a recent UCT Women’s month. The expereince of a campus as a violent space that does not respect bodies of colour, or different genders (other than male), etc. And in such an environment, it is important to understand that trigger warning are a simple tool that at least can bring awareness. I would not argue that it brings change, but being in a space dominated by white, male, cis people having a trigger warning explicitly spelled out on a regular basis can serve as a reflection of a hard reality of safety, trauma and pain… And for those that are faced by trigger warnings while not actually needing them, maybe after a while they would get that the fact that they don’t need them in the first place is very much a reflection of their privilege… (or perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part.)

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