Mental Health

On the Trivialization of Trigger Warnings

CW/TW: mentions of trauma, selfharm, and being suicidal.

Recently the topic of trigger warnings popped up on my Twitter timeline, particularly in response to some harmful opinions on the topic. Since in my opinion trigger warnings are part of self-care I thought to address some things about it on here as part of my blog series on mental health and self-care.

Picture of a plant with wine glasses, a candle and orchids over a bathtub with the text “How can I help myself, a blog series on self-care”.

What are Trigger Warnings (for)?

First of all, being triggered is not the same as feeling uncomfortable. It’s when something causes you to re-experience trauma. It’s typically accompanied by (regular and/or emotional) flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, etc. It can make one suddenly struggle with being suicidal again. It can be many things at different levels of hardships, but it’s nothing to demean and say we just have to accept it as a package deal if we want to read, watch movies, or any given situation.

Trigger Warnings can be important to people because they are a means to prevent getting triggered. Getting triggered costs us enormous amounts of energy, time, our health, and are huge interuptions in our lives. They wreck us. To make sure we can navigate our lives the best we can and not have to sacrifice so much, trigger warning can let us know what and when we can best prevent dealing with said triggering thing. It can help us prepair so we can deal with said triggering thing. It helps us cope with our traumas. It’s a way to do self-care.

There’s been plenty of assholes and ignorant people who’ve turned this term into a mockery by trying to make it into something it’s not. Spreading misinformation about what it is, ridiculing anyone who used the word, and thus have made it hard for people who actually need the term to use it without being ridiculed themselves and trivializing the harm caused.

Forming our own opinions

You need to keep that in mind when you form your opinions on trigger warnings and start spreading them online. Yes, you and everyone else out there has a right to their own thoughts and feelings, but know that opinions don’t form in a vacuum.

Saying something should be triggering, means you’re saying you think people should be reliving their traumas. It’s saying people could accept their scars be ripped open, again. It’s saying you want people to be harmed deeply, even if you say in the same breath that you care for people’s wellbeing.

Saying the world is filled with triggers, that they are a part of life, is trivializing trauma. To me it sounds like you think trauma survivors just need to shut up and take it, that’s they’re whining because it’s part of life. These types of things when you say them you make it harder for people to come forward with their trigger warnings because you give them the sense they’re exaggerating.

If you care about (mentally ill) people then don’t be like this.

I know a lot of this happens out of ignorance and with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t negate the actual consequences to your actions (and words). Good intentions do not mean you get to brush off the harm you cause, and if that’s something you can’t or won’t accept, your behavior is toxic and unsafe to be around.

Trigger Warnings in books

Bringing it back to reading and writing books; books are supposed to touch us. Yes, books can “destroy” us, and you can want that. Nothing wrong with that. But people actually don’t want to be triggered. If we’d want to and did, it’d be a form of self-harm. “Being destroyed” by books is not the same as being triggered by books. You’re equating having an emotional reaction to actually being triggered and reliving trauma. That’s–again–trivializing.

You also don’t get to shield yourself while spreading harmful opinions by using your own mental illness as a shield. Your experiences are yours, they’re valid and many will share parts of them, but many also won’t. Mental illness can take on many shapes and sizes, and there are many many mental illnesses and mental disabilities out there. Internalizing harmful sh*t is a common thing and why many of us continuously talk about unlearning things so we can be and act better, for ourselves as well as others. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, I’m Autistic and have ADD, but that doesn’t mean I always know everything and that which I knew was always right.

Again, on why I wrote this

I wrote this not just to criticize people and bring them down. I wrote this because I want people to know this and hopefully learn something. It’s not that I can’t deal with people having different opinions, it’s that harmful opinions when spread actually add to existing stigma and cause harm. I want mental health and how to take care of ourselves and each other to be common knowledge and for people to not be ashamed to express their triggers, their boundaries, and to take care of themselves, because I know how it is when you can’t.  

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