Trigger warnings, and why we use them

Last week, I added a 'trigger warning' to this thread. We've not really used these on libcom as a matter of course before, except for adding one to the introduction of Liberté Locke's excellent piece on workplace organising and sexual violence, 'My body, my rules'. But what are trigger warnings, and why do we use them?

Trigger warnings are inserted into the titles or opening lines of text, or can accompany links, the same way a 'NSFW' warning can give you a heads up before you find something you weren't expecting on your screen. Trigger warnings

Geek Feminism Wiki wrote:
are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called "being triggered". 1

Trigger warnings are often used to warn readers about potentially upsetting content (written or otherwise), commonly including sexual violence, self-harm, disordered eating, torture, suicide, domestic abuse and child abuse, although this list is by no means exhaustive. It's not just direct descriptions or depictions of traumatic events, some people find discussions and responses to traumatic events triggering too. Of course the subject matter people may find triggering is highly personal and wide-ranging, as is a person's response to triggers:

Melissa McEwan wrote:
For example, a person who was raped may be "triggered," i.e. reminded of hir2 rape, by a graphic description of sexual assault, and that reminder may, especially if the survivor has post-traumatic stress disorder, be accompanied by anxiety, manifesting as anything ranging from mild agitation to self-mutilation to a serious panic attack.3

Trigger warnings are commonly found in feminist and pro-sex web spaces, but the terminology originates from the study and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where avoidance of situations and behaviours that can 'trigger' flashbacks to traumatic events, and other unwanted symptoms like panic attacks and the compulsion to self-harm for example, is a symptom of its own. Trigger avoidance can lead to people becoming incredibly socially isolated, as they attempt to protect themselves from distressing situations, experiences and behaviours. It can also lead to the voices of survivors being silenced, as taking part in discussions can be too distressing.

Trigger warnings offer people who know they can be triggered by certain types of content choice, trigger warnings allow survivors the option to engage or self-censor as they see fit. We all respond differently to things depending on our mood, where we are, what our day has been like, and survivors of trauma are no different – what may be triggering to someone in one situation may not be in another situation. Perhaps someone who finds discussion of child abuse triggering is OK with it when they have ample warning, when they're at home, or when there's other people around, but not when they're reading an article on their phone to pass the time on their bus ride to work. Trigger warnings give readers the chance to choose whether or not they want to engage with something, and that's why we use them.

Trigger warnings help make media more inclusive. They're not trying to tell survivors not to read or engage with content, they're not there to patronise anybody – survivors of trauma are not dainty little flowers who need everyone to tread on eggshells, we just appreciate a little thoughtfulness sometimes. Survivors of trauma do not all respond in the same way, and survivors of trauma have as much right to read, write, and engage with triggering subject matter as anyone else – I'd argue the voices of survivors are in fact crucial to discussions on things like gendered violence, for example. Trigger warnings are about facilitating discussion, not shutting it down. As Melissa McEwan has said in her excellent article on trigger warnings, they're just about being polite:

Melissa McEwan wrote:
We provide trigger warnings because it's polite, because we don't want to be the asshole who triggered a survivor of sexual assault because of carelessness or laziness or ignorance.

We provide trigger warnings because we know that 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 10 men is a survivor of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, many of them having survived multiple sexual assaults, and just because the larger culture doesn't acknowledge the existence of this vast population of people doesn't mean we don't have to.4

Making sure any content on the site, with hundreds of thousands of posts, was all checked for potentially triggering material, and trigger warnings put in place for everything would be impossible. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make an effort to include trigger warnings for posts containing discussion of commonly triggering topics. It's a tiny thing to do that can make a huge difference to the inclusivity of the site – I'm not saying we can't discuss rape, for example, just that adding a trigger warning to the intro paragraph of an article or the opening post of a thread isn't really a big deal, and won't put anyone out of their way.

Hopefully this is mostly self-explanatory, and if you didn't know what trigger warnings were, now you do. But of course not everyone will know what they are, and I've seen criticisms elsewhere on the web, basically saying that trigger warnings are liberal, wishy washy crap, that they're patronising, that they're unnecessary, that they're just people being over-sensitive. So, if you find trigger warnings annoying, unnecessary, or smacking of some kind of yoghurt-weaving hippy third wave feminist self-congratulation, then I'm just really happy that they're not relevant for you. If you don't understand why they're necessary, that probably just means you've never experienced what it's like to be triggered, and that's great. But if you do know what it's like to be triggered, if you do find yourself responding in ways you can't control to certain kinds of content, chances are you'll already know what a trigger warning is and why we use them.

Posted By

Ramona
Jan 15 2012 22:52

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Noah Fence
Sep 1 2013 12:09

Izbl - all fair points. I think there is more familiarity with the term trigger warning amongst those likely to be affected though. That said...

Quote:
Still better practice to include some indication with either phrase imo.

I'd go further - without a note about content either phrase is pretty meaningless.

Ramona
Sep 1 2013 12:21

Thanks for replies so far everyone! I'll respond properly when I get in tonight but just to clarify: libcom stand by the original post and we are not considering scrapping TWs at all. The bump to this thread has only come from me in consideration of Izbl's post I quoted earlier which I thought was worth considering properly.

Noah Fence
Sep 2 2013 11:38
Quote:
I'm not sure "trigger warning" is more widely known among the people more likely to be affected, maybe in the scene but outside of that I really don't know. I thought Nate made a good point about this on the previous page.

Fair enough, I was just going on my fairly narrow experience with people that have EDs or drug problems and self harmers.

Also, I like the warning box.

Ramona
Sep 2 2013 12:03

Yeah if we could have a button to click when submitting posts and space to elaborate that'd be really helpful

Joseph Kay
Sep 2 2013 13:07

I think it would be as simple as adding an extra text/drop down field to the submission form (which any admin can do) then theming it to appear before the intro text (which probably isn't complicated but does require tinkering with the CSS).

hellfrozeover
Sep 2 2013 20:16

The message is there because it's a warning: you might not want to read this right now. "Content note" to me evokes "this is a 10Mb PDF," too abstract.

Plus, people who object to the term "trigger warning" deserve to be wound up and made to feel uncomfortable.

(No, I haven't fully engaged with the new points raised by IzbI.)

[edit to fix name]

Ramona
Sep 2 2013 19:32

*Izbl wink

hellfrozeover
Sep 2 2013 20:15

neutral
Told you I hadn't paid attention. Sorry (twice) Izbl

Harrison
Sep 2 2013 20:52
Tommy Ascaso wrote:

.error img {
float: left;
}
.error p {
color: #a30000;
vertical-align: middle;
text-align: center;
}


This article discusses sexual violence.

This is exactly the sort of thing i was thinking of, its very hard for anyone to object to something like that.

NotBrunette
Nov 15 2013 03:11

I really like seeing more "trigger warning" warnings in posts about potentially sensitive topics.... although one usually has the idea that an article is going to be emotional before the words "trigger warning" appear.
If only tv shows and movies took such pauses - I want to know *when* to cover my eyes and ears!

kingzog
May 9 2015 18:22

I heavily disagree with trigger warnings. I think its antifeminist even. But firstly, I think the idea behind them assumes that rape psychologicaly destroys a person, ruins there life and they are not able to get by in society without being shielded. Such is not the case. Rape survivors shouldn't be infantilized, I think most psychologists wpuld agree TW's and the culture around them are counterproductive.

Secondly, trigger warnings are sexist. They suggests that women, especially, are fragile creatures- easily damaged by words or ideas they disagree with. Again, its infantilizing.

Judith Schulevitz recently wrote about the insidious effects this ideology has had on campuses. It also seems that this phenomena is mostly confines the upper class white young adults at universities. A sort of sign of prolonged adolescences for the elite.

Noah Fence
May 9 2015 18:40

Kingzog, have you experienced rape? Your comment is pretty presumptuous.
Also, trigger warnings cover a whole range of issues that are not gender oriented - why have you narrowed TWs down to one?

Joseph Kay
May 9 2015 19:47

Webby; I don't think challenging people to make disclosures like that is really on - or relevant tbh. There's presumably people who've experienced sexual assaults on various sides of the 'trigger warnings' argument so it can't really settle the matter, which is ultimately a political question.

All that said, I haven't seen any objections that make me disagree with Ramona's blog. And tbh a lot of the objections are pre-emptively covered in the blog, so I'm not convinced critics have read beyond the title before repeating the boilerplate talking points from mainstream backlash.

(I take lzbl's point re: 'content note', fwiw, may serve the same purpose as well as others).

Fleur
May 9 2015 19:50

kingzog

You are talking uneducated bollocks.

Quote:
I think the idea behind them assumes that rape psychologicaly destroys a person, ruins there life and they are not able to get by in society without being shielded.

Yep rape can psychologically destroy a person - of any gender - and it is the single highest cause of PTSD, higher than even amongst combat veterans. One of the most successful and useful treatments for PTSD is exposure therapy, which allows someone to confront the things you find traumatizing, allowing you to deal with the things which are causing distress and anxiety. Trigger warnings do not prevent anyone from reading anything, it just warns someone that something potentially distressing is there. Trigger warnings are a useful part of exposure therapy because it helps you control the exposure.

Quote:
I think most psychologists wpuld agree TW's and the culture around them are counterproductive.

Most therapists & psychologists - and I've had dealings with a fair few - would agree that trigger warnings and similar mechanisms for dealing with PTSD are a useful part of exposure therapy. Not many would suggest suck it princess and get on with it, which is what your post sounds like.

Quote:
Rape survivors shouldn't be infantilized

No, they should be treated with empathy, which is what trigger warnings do, effectively saying there is something coming up which people with PTSD might find upsetting and we don't want you to jeopardize your recovery by causing unwanted anxiety at a time when you're not feeling strong enough to handle it.

Quote:
Secondly, trigger warnings are sexist. They suggests that women, especially, are fragile creatures- easily damaged by words or ideas they disagree with. Again, its infantilizing.

Trigger warnings are not just about sexual assault, which itself is not something which happens only to women, but for a number of things. To say trigger warnings are sexist is a sexist thing to say because it assumes that the only people affected by PTSD and other forms of mental distress are women. However, in the case of trigger warnings relating to sexual violence committed against women, when the overwhelming opinion by women survivors of sexual assault is that trigger warnings are a useful and a kind thing, to suggest that they shouldn't be there because they are "infantilizing" is a crass and insensitive thing to say. Rape survivors should handle their recovery in the way that it is best for them, not how you think they should.

And honestly, who gives a flying fuck what Judith Shulevitz has to say on anything. She's a NYT journalist and member of the professional commentariat and hasn't the first training or expertise in psychological trauma.

Noah Fence
May 9 2015 20:55

Fair enough JK, I wouldn't disagree but my question was a rhetorical one aimed at someone who, from the tone and content of their post clearly hadn't. Maybe I was being presumptuous, but I don't think so. TWs are enormously important to my daughters management of anorexia and self harm and being involved in helping those with drug problems I know that triggers can be very harmful to certain people at certain times. I guess my feathers were ruffled by someone who I imagined didn't really know the ins and outs of the matter and made totally unqualified statements about 'most phsycologists' etc. Fleur's post puts my thoughts on the matter pretty much perfectly.

Joseph Kay
May 9 2015 21:19

Webby - yeah, I get it's rhetorical and I'm not trying to be a dick. But if they came back and said yes, it wouldn't make their argument more right or yours any more wrong. Generally, being put in a position of having to disclose (as opposed to volunteering) suffering to validate a political position can be pretty uncomfortable imho. And yeah, Fleur put it better than I could have.

kingzog
May 10 2015 00:00

A big issue with TW's is they are creating a culture of suppression in colleges. Yeah, all sorts of things are and can be considered "triggering"(triggers are often specific to the actual traumatic event for the specific individual and related to the environment and context at the time of the event, rather than the mere general mention of tramua or discussion of it in general). And, placing these warnings before an essay is indeed fairly benign- although I believe using them enforces an assumption of sexism. The real material effect, negative consequence of all this is that academics, speakers at universities, and elsewhere are being bullied and censored for speaking or writing on an array of topics. Its contributing to university faculties increasingly precarious positions.

Its a culture of enforcing delicacy; for the elite. A sort of self-indulgent victimhood. In many ways its a way of separating classes; the elite attempting to separate themselves from the vulgar proles thru TW's and safer spaces, etc.

Amber A'Lee, the writer, recently wrote on FB: ""Women are not fucking candy glass, and this rhetoric of trauma as identity demands weakness of women in order to be heard."

I tend to agree. Even if some ppl are fragile. I disagree with assumptions behind TW's, that all must be.

Anything can get in the way of someone recovering from trauama. Anything can jeopordoze that. I just don't think TW's are worth it. Certainly not now that there is a growing culture of suppression and censorship revolving around their assumptions.

I understand some of the good intentions behind them though and I believe in the sincerity of some of the advocates behind them.

Fleur
May 9 2015 23:58
Quote:
A big issue with TW's is they are creating a culture of suppression in colleges.

No it's not. Nobody is suppressing anything. Free speech isn't being undermined. It's a warning. The clue is in the word - warning. Just giving you a heads up that there is something potentially problematic in there. Nobody is saying don't read it. They're just explaining the content. Just like when I pick up a videogame and it says there is violent content. Sometimes I feel like decapitating, eviscerating and otherwise slaying the enemy, other times I'm not in the mood, so it's nice to get a heads up on content. That's all it is, a content note. No censorship involved, just a little sensitivity and warning. A trigger warning is not censorship. An undergraduate studying Am Lit 101 might appreciate a trigger warning on Last Exit To Brooklyn that there is a violent gang rape scene in it, not a pastoral tale of explorations on the NY transit system.

I'm glad Amber A'Lee is not fucking candy glass, perhaps she could pretend to give a shit about other people who are obviously not as hard as she is.

And wtf has this to do with separating "vulgar proles" from the elite? Working class people suffer from trauma too, or are we supposed to pretend we don't?

If you don't agree with trigger warnings, well good for you. Disregard them. It really is as simple as that.

Joseph Kay
May 10 2015 05:54

kingzog, did you actually read Ramona's post?

Noah Fence
May 10 2015 06:44
Quote:
Its a culture of enforcing delicacy; for the elite. A sort of self-indulgent victimhood. In many ways its a way of separating classes; the elite attempting to separate themselves from the vulgar proles thru TW's and safer spaces, etc.

Please tell me you're not serious?

kingzog
May 10 2015 15:38

They pose a threat to academic freedom because faculty are pressured to inclide things like TW's and it creates an environment where they must think twice about having discussions about many subjects for fear of offending students and being reprimanded or otherwise bullied.They are used, quite openly, as a tool of supression when speakers are disinvited from speaking at universities because students may disagree with their viewpoint, and therefore may trigger them.

A real example: Recently, a Muslim student used the word intifada in a tweet, a hash tag. A campus pro-israel group now wants to ban the use of the word because it is triggering for Jewish students.

Relatedly, a teacher in Connecticut was fired for having read Ginsberg's Howl unannounced, which contains sexual content- would you have had him issue a TW?

So this shaping up to be a complicated issue, going beyond the simple question of TW's themselves.

kingzog
May 10 2015 16:06

I'm serious Webby. TW's are almost entirely a white, middle class, elite educated phenomenon.

Edit: recently a group of college faculty wrote this in an essay addressing their concerns with the mandatory, or pressured, use TW's:"The idea that trauma is reignited by representations of the particular traumatizing experience is not supported by the research on post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. Flashbacks, panic attacks, and other manifestations of past trauma can be triggered by innocuous things: a smell, a sudden movement, a color. " so why bother with TW's but to separate the sensitive elite from the vulgar culture of the proles who revel i the sex and violence displayed and glorified in popular culture?

Joseph Kay
May 10 2015 16:04

How does libcom including trigger warnings suppress academic freedom or silence critics of zionism?

'But it might be abused by other people in other contexts!!' - See also: all things.

Also, this was not intended as a rhetorical question, though it's fast becoming one:

Joseph Kay wrote:
kingzog, did you actually read Ramona's post?

Noah Fence
May 10 2015 16:50
Quote:
I'm serious Webby. TW's are almost entirely a white, middle class, elite educated phenomenon.

This is fucking horseshit. Sure, my daughter is white but that's it. You seriously have no idea of the value of TWs. Try seeing your friend or child ambulanced off to hospital with heart problems because they weigh less than five stone and then see how a trigger can set them back months in their recovery. Then see what you think of them. Or perhaps anorexia is a middle class construct as well???You sound like someone that has conjured up a smart arse ideology and will now stick to it come hell or high water. All you've done is pull out some abstract examples of possibly less than judicious use of TWs but have not responded or engaged with the points put to you very clearly on this thread. You know what? Some idiot cut me up on the motorway the other day - should we fuck cars off as well? Seriously, this is about real people in real danger, not a sixth form debating club wank off competition.

Agent of the In...
May 10 2015 18:07
kingzog wrote:
...to separate the sensitive elite from the vulgar culture of the proles...

Wtf are you talking about? This doesn't make any sense. TWs separate the 'sensitive elites' from 'vulgar proles'? Aside from your objections to TWs, I'm curious how you define those two groups.

Khawaga
May 11 2015 01:51

the working clarse is strong in kingzog

jef costello
May 11 2015 07:45

Maybe we need to look at kingzog's name for a clue to their motivation?

In terms of stifling debate on campus testimony and writings by survivors, often with trigger warnings, are opening up speech.

There are instances where people use being offended to try to shut down speech, but these are rare and are not connected to trigger warnings. TWs do not stop debate etc, they give people an opportunity to avoid something that they dislike, similar to putting Adam Sandler's face on a billboard ad for a film

Finally, an educator should think about what they are exposing their students to and I bet they got fired by an administration that would have objected to it TW or not. I'm not sure if a TW is as useful in that context as students cannot choose to leave a class based on a trigger warning, although I imagine that it is better to be warned than not.

Also I'm not a fan of this toughening up rhetoric, there have been a lot of hard as nails communists and we still don't have communism, so we probably need a bit more than that. Also that's the same logic that makes you throw a kid in the water to teach them how to swim. It's bullying and is usually used by bullying parents who turn their kids into wrecks or bullies.

kingzog
Nov 20 2015 18:42

Revisiting this; I'm wondering if trigger is not the best word to use as it evokes the violent imagery of weaponry which may trigger those with PTSD from weaponized violence. Maybe "provocation warning" would be more appropriate.

Joseph Kay
Nov 20 2015 19:19

I've seen 'content note' used a lot.

Noah Fence
Nov 20 2015 19:52
kingzog wrote:
Revisiting this; I'm wondering if trigger is not the best word to use as it evokes the violent imagery of weaponry which may trigger those with PTSD from weaponized violence. Maybe "provocation warning" would be more appropriate.

PROVOCATION WARNING

Kinzog - admin: flaming removed. Flaming is not permitted on libcom