Social Question

Mariah's avatar

What are your thoughts on "trigger warnings?"?

Asked by Mariah (25863points) April 6th, 2015

A trigger warning is when you warn potential readers that something that you’re writing will contain disturbing content so that they can avoid reading it if they think they will be bothered. The idea is that being reminded of certain topics can “trigger” a PTSD flashback.

Trigger warnings are becoming increasingly supported online to the point that people will often be criticized for not including trigger warnings if they write disturbing content. This is making some people angry or annoyed with the entire concept. Their argument is that people can’t be made responsible for others’ sensitivities.

What do you think of trigger warnings? Are they helpful? Are they overused? Should they be a part of general social etiquette? Should we expect people worry about other people’s sensitivity when they write content on the internet?

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20 Answers

Mariah's avatar

To share my own opinion, I feel that it would make sense and require little effort to put a warning if you’re going to write something about abuse, extreme violence, or something else that is obviously disturbing.

The trouble is that many people nowadays are asking for trigger warnings for everything. There are people who will actually get upset with you for not placing a “body dysmorphia” trigger warning prior to a sentence about how you really need to get to the gym because you’re getting out of shape.

I find this level of sensitivity appalling and I wonder how these people get through their days. I feel their problem is their problem and that people can’t be made to walk on eggshells around them because they are offended by everything.

Furthermore, I’m not sure how helpful trigger warnings are at all, because the real triggers for PTSD are often incredibly arbitrary. One of my only personal experiences with feeling “triggered” occurred when I smelled the hand soap at my uncle’s house. I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of dread and revulsion and I had no idea why. It wasn’t until about 24 hours of contemplation later that I remembered we had had soap of that same scent in my bathroom during the early days of my surgical process, when I was first learning to deal with my ostomy. I do not and can not expect anybody to put a trigger warning on their soap.

hominid's avatar

If this is in any way accurate, we might as well give up. Left is right, and what we once fought for is to be fought against in its name.

I think they are a horrible, regressive idea.

Misspegasister28's avatar

I think triggers are a very real thing for people with PTSD. However, triggers send people into full-blown panic attacks. A flashback, hyperventilating, a feeling of dread, etc. But a lot of people will ask you to post a trigger warning on something that makes them slightly angry or a tiny bit disturbed. I think that’s ridiculous. That’s not a trigger. I have things that bug me when I see them online but I do not call them my triggers because I feel that in a way it’s kind of offensive to people who actually suffer from PTSD and people who have real triggers.

For example, you said body dysmorphia as something that people get mad at others for posting. I feel like if everyone had something ridiculous they needed tagged then no one would take real trigger sufferers seriously. I have seen people tag things like hands and eyes as trigger warnings, and while the person can very well suffer from that trigger, if they cannot get through a single day without having a panic attack at seeing hands then they need to get some serious psychiatric help instead of surfing the Internet all day.

If a PTSD sufferer said something was their trigger, I feel like if everyone had a ridiculous trigger people would shrug their specific trigger off because they think it only annoys that person, not sends them into a panic attack.

However, I think things like gore and NSFW content should always be tagged just in case, not necessarily for triggers though.

Brian1946's avatar

Perhaps we could expect to see this in a hypothetical photo essay on the great outdoors: NSFAgoraphiacs! ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

I like warnings before upsetting photos and video.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I think an objective, accurate description of what is about to be presented is quite sufficient. If you know that there may be children observing, then an explicit warning is appropriate. As an adult, I don’t need to be warned not to read obnoxious inanity that doesn’t interest me, nor watch things concerning beheadings, the results of horrible car accidents, youtube depictions of scatological fetishes and all the other detritus found on the internet. The descriptions are quite enough to make me surf on.

I think a lot of these warnings are actually advertisements to excite the type of person who enjoy these things. And to the people who object when these warnings aren’t posted, I think they are just looking for more trivial minutia to whine about. I advise that they simply grow up and learn make up their own minds without having to be told by complete strangers with unknown agendas what is good or bad for them.

janbb's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus I agree with you but trigger warnings are also being included – or talked about – as something professors need to provide in classes before assigning disturbing material. What’s your take on that? I don’t like it but I can’t quite articulate why.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^ That’s different. That’s a captive audience. I have to think about that.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@janbb Yes, in that case, not only a warning would be appropriate, but alternative course material accomplishing the same goal should be offered to those students who feel they would be traumatized by exposure to the originally assigned material. Any Prof worth their salt should be able to accomplish this.

janbb's avatar

But isn’t college a place where you should be exposed to disturbing materials to an extent? Where do we draw the line? Do we end up with a generation of coddled nincompoops if students can opt out, let’s say, of reading about the Rwandan genocide or the murder in Of Mice and Men? Does it lead to professors being more careful in the material they choose to teach? For me at least, the visual depiction of violence and torture is more horrific than reading about it so I would be more inclined to favor some warning when explicit material is being shown.

I really don’t know where the line should be in the academic setting between sensitivity to students with real trauma in their background and those who might just be queasy. Not trying to sound like an old fart, but I suffered trauma and learned when not to watch or start skipping pages. It is hard to teach if everyone is not doing the same material.

Difficult questions.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @Espiritus Corvus
I think a disclaimer is fine to give warning of graphic or disturbing content but agree, we are not responsible for others sensitivities. I am not easily traumatized, I can view graphic content without losing my marbles but prefer not to. I especially do not like graphic animal abuse content. I can look at a mangled human corpse much easier than a cat or dog or horse. haha

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@janbb Yes, the Crusty Old Bastard in me says that life is a series of filters that weeds out the weak, those who can’t handle the realities, and allows those who should, to rise to the top into leadership roles. University should be one of those filters. The old bastard thinks to himself that he got through a life, dammit, so can everybody else. Trauma just toughens you up for the next round. Just man up. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. No pain, no gain.

But I must remember that I have already lived a life, I’m at the other end of it now, and if the truth be told, I got through by the skin of my teeth like everybody else. There’s some self-congratulatory arrogance in that and it shows when I so flippantly think that if I could do it, anybody can. (Just tough it out, kid. Don’t be such a pussy.)

Before we had all this multi-media in the classroom, there was print. People who wanted to get the point of the assignment, got the point. I think a lot of things used today in classes are helpful at driving home the true brutality of history, like the films of the concentration camps at the end of WWII, the mountains of disembodied human heads outside villages during the Pol Pot regime, but these things aren’t necessary to see to believe. Properly written text, although certainly less stimulating, can accomplish the same thing (as it has for centuries) —which is that these things happened and were the result of madness in the seats of power and can be avoided.

I think what is going on today, the reason why Profs may feel impelled to include these things in their courses, is that they see how desensitized to gore and violence this last few of batches of young people have become by video games, the astonishing video clips available to them on the Net and even the mainstream media and even the neighborhoods they come from. (It would have taken an enormous amount of self-discipline for me as a young man not to take a peak at these things had I not experienced similar in real life in places like Haiti, the East Bloc, or in the ER—and had become sickened by it, the wantonness of it—so I can’t blame these kids.) These same profs, under the gun to arouse interest in their classes among students they perceive as easily succumbed by ennui, use the most impressive, relevant material possible. For those students who find this unnecessary or traumatic, then other material, print material describing such events should be provided.

If that is too traumatic for them, then I supposed that that particular student should reconsider their major or even if they want a college education at all.

Crusty Old Bastard

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

—Except in medicine, of course. If you can’t handle an open cranium, or a splayed cadaver, get the hell out of the way.

janbb's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus You don’t recommend “trigger warnings” in the operating room or ER? :-)

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb I agree college classes are different, and reading material is different than visual images. I think we can still be warned, but in some instances maybe it is necessary to read or see things that make us uncomfortable.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I don’t see anything wrong with consideration when dealing with topics that might be extremely difficult for people. I have OCD, so if someone posts gory pictures or video (of real, bad things happening) without warnings, I get really upset, because things like that get stuck in my head and never actually go away. I can get flashbacks for years, and they’re hard to handle because once one randomly pops into my head, they’re all there and it’s like a tidal wave of horror. I’d rather avoid seeing those kind of things since my brain literally won’t let me forget.

Same thing for traumatic, sensitive subjects. Trigger warnings for rape, murder, suicide, war-related traumas, etc., is just common courtesy. Like you say, though, past a certain point it’s beyond ridiculous – partially because there’s no way for people to be able to figure out what may or may not be a trigger for someone. However, like I said, for the obvious and major things… it’s pretty much the kind thing to do.

longgone's avatar

@janbb “But isn’t college a place where you should be exposed to disturbing materials to an extent? Where do we draw the line? Do we end up with a generation of coddled nincompoops if students can opt out, let’s say, of reading about the Rwandan genocide or the murder in Of Mice and Men?”

Do you think exposing people to content which is disturbing to them helps build up a tolerance of sorts? I hear this a lot, but I don’t think it’s true. In fact, I believe exposure to stress even slightly higher than your threshold will result in your brain learning to anticipate stress on encountering ever smaller triggers.

JLeslie's avatar

@linggone I can’t answer for @janbb, but I do think seeing negative imagery over and over can desensitize people to it. A few stories in a college course isn’t going to do that though.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I agree with warnings of disturbing content on news content. So before the broadcast of video or placing disturbing photos inside publications rather than on the front page and warning readers that textual content is disturbing.

With university courses, context is everything. If a course contains graphic sexual or violent content, there should be a warning on the course description to alert those who plan to take it of the disturbing nature of some of the content. They can then make an informed decision prior to signing up or contact the academic to discuss whether they can opt out of certain parts of the course material or be offered alternative material.

Within the course, yes, trigger warnings should be present for graphic sexual/violent content. However, I don’t think you can ever cover everything. I remember a student complaining about the inclusion of content that related to sexual activity in a course about women, gender and representations. The content wasn’t overly graphic, but the student was offended, is very religious and felt such content was inappropriate. The content didn’t warrant a warning and definitely didn’t warrant removal.

I agree with @janbb that while we need to be cautious of causing unnecessary or avoidable distress, we can’t be deterred from discussing controversial issues, events and situations because it might offend some participants. There are some fields of study where it would be difficult to provide a comprehensive education without including some disturbing content.

sinscriven's avatar

Society should not be responsible for micromanaging everyone’s perspective of the universe. Especially when this hypersensitivity is censoring discussion of the very trigger topics that need to be discussed.

The Trouble With Teaching Rape Law – The New Yorker

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