The New York Times Weighs In on the Kudzu-Like Spread of Trigger Warnings


Apparently there should be trigger warnings for Macklemore too.
For someone who has PTSD or other anxiety concern, trying to avoid all triggers is what makes the disorder worse and more damaging to their life. Getting support to learn self-management skills and the ability to navigate the world is what helps those who suffer with anxiety, trauma, ptsd etc.
For someone who has PTSD or other anxiety concern, trying to avoid all triggers is what makes the disorder worse and more damaging to their life. Getting support to learn self-management skills and the ability to navigate the world is what helps those who suffer with anxiety, trauma, ptsd etc. not trigger warnings
You're right that some people take it to extremes, but what's wrong with sticking trigger warnings on things which really are common triggers for rape-related PTSD? Someone who might actually be triggered by content - someone who would like the trigger warnings in the first place - may not actually choose not to read the piece. They'll be warned that something's up, however, which means when a potentially triggery issue comes up, they'll be expecting it. It's the zombie popping out of the closet versus zombie making rattling noises first thing - the unexpected has a lot more impact.
I think that a lot of people who use trigger warnings use them because it's a social expectation among their audience, so I don't think that they're usually about "look at me."

Aside from that, I'm in general agreement. They don't seem very useful to me, and they especially don't seem useful as applied to Shakespeare.
We were required to read Huck Finn in fourth grade FWIW. It didn't turn us into racists (as far as I know) and didn't cause us to start spouting off the N word. Our teacher explained to us that was how people spoke at that time.

If fourth graders can figure this out college students better be darn well able to.
But pause to consider that people are demanding that trigger warnings be slapped on everything from discussions about colonialism to the works of William Shakespeare to, ahem, certain sex-advice columnists and it becomes clear that this isn't just about protecting rape victims from content that may "cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."
This is the most bullshit strawman argument that I've heard in a long time. You are defaulting the the judgement of the lowest common denominator of idiots as an excuse to not acknowledge the actual issue. Sure, idiots may claim that grade level 12 reading levels need trigger warnings. That in now way undermines the significance of the fact that extremely graphic or photographic depictions of violence or sexual violence should have trigger warnings. The defense because there are idiots arguments is only the defense of an actual idiot. People are going to misuse trigger warnings. So what? The people who are supporting the use of trigger warnings aren't saying that they are common. They are saying that they are very rare and should only be used in extreme cases. IMHO, the only case where it applies to SLOG in the past year was the photographic depiction of the transgender bullying victim. Nothing else in SLOG applied. It isn't common, and when it is needed it will be obvious (though I expect to hear a thousand responses from people claiming that I'm supporting the censorship of posts or that I think EVERYTHING will need to be evaluated (this isn't a strawman--it has happened every time I've posted on this topic)).
How many posts until some Tumblr SJW accuses Dan of being a fascist or something similar? I'm setting the o/u at 7 more posts
Unfortunately the least rational people suffer from a need for the most attention.

We had a co-worker once that would react with great violent emotion to any song (or reference) to Led Zeppelin. I assumed it was because of some PTSD or great trauma that happened while Zeppelin was playing.

Nope. It was that she heard Jimmy Page was a devil worshiper. And that the back-masking would damn your soul.
Unregistered ##3/4 double post is very much worth reading. You don't conquer your demons by running from them your whole life.
It's a small ask that helps people quite a bit. If you don't know what should have a trigger warning, educate yourself, don't dismiss them outright.

It's about doing the bare minimum -- warning people that Mark Twain uses the n-word constantly is likely extremely welcome for a black student (and if they're young it's not obvious that a classic book would be full of that garbage). If a book has graphic assault, trigger warnings are the bare minimum you can do if you are a decent person. And yes, it should make you think about assigning these books at all -- that's a GOOD THING, you should be thinking about whether you're doing more harm than good.

Every time someone is against trigger warnings they bring up something ridiculous -- "how can I even mention grapes of wrath if grapes might trigger someone?!?" Some places, like tumblr, err on the side of lots of trigger warnings because it's seen by many as a safe space for marginalized people. That's not the point of trigger warnings in general society, though.

When I first came across trigger warnings, it was exactly what you cite: extremely graphic depictions of violence, sometimes even photos or video. But trigger warnings are now becoming so common, they're outlasting their usefulness.
You want to lose your nut? Take a look at this site that gives a list of things they think should have trigger warnings:…

No, that site isn't satire.
For those who have experienced something awful, is it actually helpful to completely shelter them from their trauma? Do victims really want to be handled with kid gloves? If they're experiencing serious symptoms of PTSD, would it not be better for them to seek help from a professional rather than expect the world to bend to their fragile egos?

The thing that bugs me about trigger warnings is that the people shouting the loudest about putting them everywhere are people who clearly don't seem to need them. I'm not at all opposed to the idea of them, but who's really asking for them, victims of trauma or narcissistic "think of the children" dbags?
Specific link to the LiarTown "Any Word Can Be A Trigger" graphic:…
@16: I completely agree. This is why I park in disabled parking spots and put crates in front of wheelchair ramps. The disabled need to learn that they need to adapt to our world, not us to theirs.
@16: Here's my answer.

I was sexually abused as a child. I finally got therapy some 30 years later, and my therapists said that the only way to deal with PTSD is to face the memories. Preferably this would be done in a systematic, methodical way to facilitate desensitization (ie, the idea that talking about it a lot lessens the power the memories have over you).

Squishing memories down and expecting the world to bend over backwards to accommodate my sensitivities is not the way to move forward. I am a victim in the sense that I was the victim of a crime. But that doesn't mean I have to act like a victim for the rest of my life. It is my responsibility to get myself help.

This is a great organization where I got my therapy. Check it out and pass it on:
[Possible traumatic amputation trigger] @14's link got auto-truncated:…
What has always annoyed me most about trigger warnings is that they carry inherent assumptions that:
-- rape/trauma survivors (primarily women) are fragile flowers who can so easily wilt away and die.
-- people are not responsible for taking care of their own shit. I know from my own experience that being victimized and suffering from PTSD are horrible and of course victims should not be blamed. But we choose whether or not to let ourselves be defined by those experiences. It can take many years of hard work, but I reject the notion that I need to be sheltered from words or that other people need to be responsible for my issues.
#16: Yes, you can spend 5 seconds googling and find thousands of articles from people explaining the need for trigger warnings for themselves personally. And "think of the children dbags" are people who listen to reasonable requests and accommodate them.

Trigger warnings are not about avoiding life, they're about accessibility -- just like an LGBT city guide will tell you which places are safe and which may not be safe so you're prepared.

Here are a couple of about a bajillion people who have written about why they personally need trigger warnings and what they are.……
21: Nobody is sheltering anyone from anything. Saying "trigger warning: graphic depiction of sexual assault" before a story or video doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything. It allows you to decide whether you want to read/view it at that time.
We were required to read Huck Finn in fourth grade FWIW. It didn't turn us into racists (as far as I know) and didn't cause us to start spouting off the N word. Our teacher explained to us that was how people spoke at that time.

It seems your 4th grade failed at teaching you some empathy. Trigger warnings are not about YOU, if you don't need them. You can skip over a four word trigger warning before reading the 100,000 words in Huck Finn. Meanwhile, those four words could be invaluable for someone who's been called racial slurs while being assaulted or denied their dignity, so they are prepared before suddenly coming across the 219 racial slurs in the book as a triggering surprise.
In most cases the best response to Free Speech is More Free Speech.

Maybe the best responses to Trigger Warnings are Hair-Trigger Warnings.
It may be true that victims of traumatic experiences will be helped by facing and processing their memories. This should be done systematically and carefully, with the help of a therapist. Being surprised by a graphic description of rape while reading a blog post is not helpful, and can be detrimental and, yes, actually triggering. Don't pretend that your dislike of trigger warnings is done out of genuine concern, and don't hide behind your lazy armchair psychiatry.
Why are trigger warnings your cross to die on, Dan? On and on about how much you don't like them. Good god, you're starting to legitimately sound like a crabby old man.
The thing is that the world isn't covered in "trigger warnings". If you live in the real world you either learn to cope with these triggers, or you do your due diligence on your own to avoid them (such as look on the internet to see if the movie you plan to see this weekend contains content that would be a trigger for you).

College age students are pretty much adults, who are now living, at least partially, in the real world. College is supposed to prepare people for the world.

I think people in college, particularly people with internet access, should have no trouble doing the 30 seconds of research it would require to find out if something they are assigned contains content that they would consider a trigger for themselves. It really isn't an over the top expectation of young adults who will, someday soon, be completely responsible for avoiding such things on their own if they find that necessary.
When everything is a danger, then nothing is a danger.
I got triggered 3 weeks ago. And it surprised the hell out of me. Coming out of my driveway, there were 5 cars parked for a nearby event, one blocking my driveway which I could drive around across my lawn but four parked so far into the public road and across from each other, I couldn't get through. I was just frustrated at the stupidity, illegality and discourtesy involved - no note on the cars saying who/where, no keys in the ignition (common practice here when if you block someone in) until the I saw that the babysitter driving my asthmatic daughter was blocked as well (her asthma is well-controlled now, but the first, unexpected attack was scary serious).

For 2 minutes, I had tunnel vision, focused totally on clearing the vehicles, tried pushing them aside but they were too heavy. When an irate high school coach rushed up and said I was "scaring her team members to death", I heard the word "death" and realized I'd been mentally sent back 12 years to when the babysitter couldn't get our middle child to the hospital in time to revive him after he'd stopped breathing/heart beat.

So for me, it wasn't words on a page (although I could imagine an evocative passage could trigger a reader), it was the SITUATION - and the feelings of parent desperately wanting their child to be okay but powerless to do anything.

Like Escapee @19 (who identifies as having PTSD), I don't think it's society's job to protect me from those situations. It's my job to be aware of my triggers (there were many people I DIDN'T punch 12 years ago when they said, "You must be so happy your baby is with Jesus." or "I know JUST how you feel - my cat died last month"). And also as @19 says, to desensitize myself to those triggers. Not fun, not pleasant, but a necessary part of my healing.

Because even if all printed works have extensive trigger warnings, aren't real-world situations typically MORE triggering? A parallel situation, a smell that brings you back, a thoughtless word shouted out on the street? Trigger-word warnings on college reading assignments in no way help protect the victims from real-world triggers.
As we know authoritatively from Women's Studies departments in universities across the country, all men are rapists; therefore any work that mentions men should be prefaced with a warning.
@31: That's a perfect example, actually. Say someone has a peanut allergy, or is vegan, or lactose intolerant, or has some other common dietary restriction. They aren't asking you to stop eating peanuts, or meat (well, some vegans, but that's a different issue), or milk. They just want to know if this thing they're about to put in their mouth has their particular allergen in it. Do you find the allergy warning labels on foods "stupid and obnoxious"?

Sure, it only takes a couple minutes to Google whether a book or movie is triggering, but you can't easily do that with a blog post or news article or live production/performance of any kind, for example. And it takes thirty seconds to add one to the top of your article.

Yes, @32 and others, the "real world" doesn't have trigger warnings. But why does that mean we shouldn't add it to content with likely triggers if we can? To me, it feels like common courtesy. If you want to show people a gory picture, you don't just post it out of the blue, you link to it with a warning about the explicit content you're linking to. Even people who get all up in arms about how much they don't like TWs are willing to do this, I find. I've never heard anyone complain about labeling a link NSFW. What's the difference between that and adding a quick note ("tw: rape" is literally eight characters) at the top of a post or article? Yeah, sure, people with PTSD or similar should work on controlling their "disorders," as @31 put it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't add warnings when it's easy and convenient.
Another disturbing thing about this trend (as illustrated in the NYT article) is that trigger warning requests are not necessarily coming from students who have actually experienced trauma. Seemingly well-meaning students are assuming that rape/violence survivors are not capable of ever again experiencing, hearing, or seeing so-called trigger images or words. This is harmful in itself and diminishes the experiences (including recovery) of victims of trauma.

Finally, where is the psychologist chiming in on this issue? I'm a college instructor, and if one expert in trauma tells me that trigger warnings actually help victim recovery, then I will start giving them. Otherwise, I will continue to respect the individual experience of every adult I teach, and let those who need special accommodations ask for them (something I already bring up and include on my syllabus on day 1).

My job as a teacher is to help students learn and think critically. Telling them how they should think *before* I share information is antithetical to my job.
To put it another way, it's not that the world is obligated to cater hand and foot to people with PTSD and other mental disorders. The Social Justice Police aren't going to come get you if you don't use TWs. It's just the polite thing to do. If eight characters might prevent someone from having a panic attack, I'm absolutely going to write them, and anyone who willfully refuses to do so must be pretty calloused.
"Trigger Warning: The following comments may cause vague feelings of unease, uncontrolled eye-twitching, or misdirected hostility towards the author."

I don't have a problem with Trigger Warnings as a concept; after all, what is a TW really but just a psycho-emotional spoiler-alert? And I can see how such a content advisory could be of benefit, if used with care and sensitivity towards people who have suffered traumatization. But, just like what's currently happening with the whole "Gluten-Free" fad, there seem to be a growing number of people who want to co-opt the concept to accommodate a myriad of their own personal (and frankly picayune) anxiety issues. The result being that this kind of all-encompassing molly-coddling does nothing for the true victims of trauma, and in fact only ends up trivializing something that once may have had some positive impact, to the point that the few necessary alarm klaxons become drowned out by the ubiquitous white-noise of irrelevance.

I don't necessarily believe most of the people here - or elsewhere for that matter - condone this sort of over-protective "baby-proofing" approach to engaging with difficult social issues, but it seems to be the direction these things take, when too many people insist all the hard edges MUST be rounded off, not to protect those who legitimately NEED it, but instead to protect everyone else who should already be old enough, mature enough, and smart enough to know how to handle sharp-edged objects without getting splinters - and who shouldn't be indulged for squalling like they've been cudgeled with a baseball bat, when all they've really got is a tiny sliver.
Whenever I read "trigger warning" I am honestly triggered to remember my trauma. I'm not even joking. I think, "God I wonder if I'm going to think about that horrible thing I lived through." And then, suddenly I'm thinking about it. It is like saying, "don't think about a pink elephant."

I would much rather process my trauma by experiencing life, art, books, film, etc without being babied. Fuck, I lived through THAT horrible thing -- I can read a damn book and be just fine.
Justus, sure, but if you need a trigger warning in a college literature course to be warned that Huckleberry Finn uses the N word then that's on you.

Putting NSFW on content is not the same as labeling Twain or Shakespeare with warnings. If your in college and you have these issues then you should know enough to be able to look up and find that Macbeth is kind of messed up and Huck lives in a world where the N word is used liberally.
The attempted rape of 12-year-old me happened during this song:…

ever since, whenever I hear it I vividly remember every second of the encounter. Dan is correct--triggers are pretty random. I'm laughing at the thought of putting a trigger warning on Leo Sayer.
People miss the fact that trigger warnings are there to allow people who've experienced trauma to CHOOSE whether to engage with the content, and to mentally/emotionally prepare themselves if necessary.

That's not censorship, it's empathy.
Surely the very content of any trigger warning should be enough to require a trigger warning?
The thing is that the world isn't covered in "trigger warnings". If you live in the real world you either learn to cope with these triggers, or you do your due diligence on your own to avoid them
So true! I tell this to disabled people all the time! I tell them that if they can't cope with stairs, they need to go somewhere else! They need to act like adults and live in the real world for Christ's sake!
I was violently mugged by two young black males once. Can I get trigger warnings for anything that will trigger me?

Oh that's right, only things the PC crowd are triggering can be called triggers. Politics masquerading as science.
I disagree with Dan here. My feelings on trigger warnings and how useful they are, are mixed. But if you have experienced sexual violence and you get triggered easily about it, reading something about sexual violence that is written with "sensitivity" doesn't at all negate the possibility of being triggered by it.

Triggers are real, they cause real problems in people's lives. Sometimes a trigger warning can help someone make a decision on how to take care of themselves so that they don't go into panic mode at an inappropriate time. Dismissing triggers and people with them just continues the stigma people with mental afflictions deal with.

The big issue is where do you draw the line at what to label with a trigger warning? One guide to trigger warnings mentioned themes of physical or sexual violence but also sexism, racism, trans or homo phobia, ableism, or even classism! There are people who can be legitimately triggered by talking about any of those things. But we have to draw the line somewhere, not because triggers should be dismissed but because it's not at all practical or really possible to label everything with trigger warnings or to address all potential triggers. But how do you decide whose triggers are worth a warning and whose aren't?
Trigger warnings are words at the start of a piece and serve to reframe the following content. They become more than a polite device and exercise in empathy. Some can completely alter the discussion and tone intended in an academic discussion. As such, they ought to be applied far more judiciously than they currently are being - I don't think they were intended to be a hashtag.

I am disabled. Every time I go to someone's house for a party, or out to dinner, or out anywhere, really, I perform due diligence to make sure that the situation will be accessible for me. But what makes a place accessible for me is not the same as what would make it accessible to another handicapped person, and it would be absolutely unreasonable for me to expect the world to be able to predict my needs.

I do expect (and get) answers to my questions, and I get reasonable attempts to accommodate me once I explain my particular needs. I would hope someone with PTSD would get a similar response.

But it's up to anyone with unusual needs to let others know what those needs are.
I need Trigger Warnings for any forums including Raku.

Kidding aside, Raku, I'm serious: how can any reasonable teacher who is tasked with teaching about slavery, Jim Crow, or lynching *possibly* convey their horrors, brutality and endurance if any reference to their horrors, brutality and endurance is too "triggering" for anyone to have to encounter?

To say that black students cannot handle Huck Finn without warning and, worse, from there say that good instructors should demonstrate their empathetic cred by reconsidering whether or not to teach it at all (ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? HUCK FINN? Should we take Frederick Douglas off the syllabus too? What about Ida B. Wells? Should she go too? James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time?) is the exact hand-wringing narcissistic bullshit that has hamstrung the humanities in higher ed. It is a key factor in how conservatives have successfully bankrupted public universities, adjunctified the entire professoriate, and shrunk the humanities down to nothing on even the most traditionally "liberal" of liberal institutions. It provides endless fodder for the backlash brigade.

And I agree with Dan that it is narcissistic. It is also seriously patronizing, treating whole classes of people like presumed and helpless victims, lacking resilience in the face of human brutality and violence. Ya know, the very spirit and fortitude that led to decades, no centuries, of activism (and war) to end slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow.

God, this shit makes me insane. Just insane.
I'm pro-trigger warnings because I've had enough of media "raising awareness" by luridly depicting rapes. I really don't enjoy watching rape, even if it's on "classy" fare like Downton Abbey.
@49 ok, here's your trigger warning:

"Beware: life"
Well, John Scalzi prefaced his famous fan letter:…

with trigger warnings for very obvious reasons. Oddly enough, virtually all the women reading the piece were grateful for the warning because John's terrifying piece was genuinely pretty terrifying, as well as being grateful for the letter itself.

Oddly enough, it took a while for some guys to grasp that John was not, in reality, a rapist writing to conservative politicians to thank them for making his life as a rapist so much easier for him. After all, conservative politicians have greatly improved the quality of life for rapists, so it's not unreasonable that one of them should express his thanks.

Maybe if Dan got down of his high horse long enough to try reading Scalzi's letter, which provoked an admittedly very long list of responses, he might grasp that he is not the only person with a worthwhile view of what's at stake.

As to my PTSD triggers, to encourage open and honest communication I can summarise them pretty simply; I got blown up by an exploding oxygen regulator when I was 36 weeks pregnant. I don't like explosions of any kind, being blown across a room with my hair and clothes on fire, being trapped in a room with a fire fed by pure oxygen, compressed gas cylinders in general and oxygen cylinders in particular.

The last bit is a somewhat tricky since I have to go into hospital a lot, but on the whole people who know me don't throw fireworks at me ...
@39: I agree completely. Asking professors to TW assigned readings or lectures or the like is silly. (Unless it's completely unexpected, in which case I think it would be beneficial: a course about gendered violence doesn't need TWs every class. A literature class doesn't need warnings on Huck Finn or Macbeth. But if an article assigned halfway through an otherwise trigger-free psych class has a graphic description of rape on the third page, it's probably best for the professor to give students a warning, so they aren't surprised.)

@44: Sure! Most TW proponents agree that violence, mugging, etc. are enough to warrant warnings.

@45: Yeah, this does seem to be the real issue. Not "should we warn anybody of anything," but "what is enough to warrant a warning?" I'm unconvinced of the usefulness of TWs for, say, mentions of gluten, but a TW for rape or violence seems entirely reasonable to me. Ultimately I think we can't develop a hard and fast rule. If you think that something is likely to trigger people, add a TW. If not, you can skip it in good conscience.

@46: Actually, TW hashtags are some of the most useful, especially on a platform like Tumblr. They go at the end, so you don't have to reframe things from the beginning, and you can easily blacklist those posts so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. For people without that particular trigger, they read the piece as normal.
@48: I think you're missing the point. It's not that the atrocities of slavery are too horrible to be discussed in a classroom, it's just that it's easy to say, "hey, just a heads up that there's some really fucked up stuff in this book, so be prepared." Then follow your syllabus as usual. Furthermore, the point is not to skip over things that could be triggering; it's just to think about them critically, which people assigning books should be doing anyway. No one is saying black students can't handle Huck Finn. What they are saying is that students, especially young ones, might like to know about it first. I fail to see the problem with that, though I don't think that particular case is actually necessary.
@34: You've shifted my thinking on this. It's not a trigger issue, but, yes, "NSFW" or "Warning - gory photo" is helpful info.

And when not presented in a hand-wringing, women's-studies way as something that needs to be a required warning on all college assignments, but as full-disclosure, make-your-own-decision information, then it seems like a positive.
Trigger warnings are performative feminism at its peak, a result of feminism being so heavily policed by the in-group that people have to prove over and over and over again that they're proper feminists by performing all the sanctioned actions.

No-one minds if people write a trigger warning at the start of a piece, that is kind, and thoughtful, and a great thing.

It's only a problem when it becomes mandatory or a injunctive norm, either formally or informally enforced, because then you'd be punishing people for *not* writing trigger warnings, which is what people are really complaining about.
The word trigger is a trigger for me, so please warn me you are going to give a trigger warning by loudly mentioning a Supreme Court Justice by name. Thank you.
Trigger warnings in humanities courses are a form of censorship because they can discourage other people from reading a text. Why should a couple of people or a committee decide what gets trigger warnings, and what doesn't (right-wing Christians could start demanding them because a book offends their religious beliefs)? Someone who has dealt with past trauma or racism or sexism might get something out of a book, but now you've put a warning on it and they may feel it's not for them. You've also created a get-out-of-assignment-free card that students can use to avoid reading a book ("my teacher assaulted me because he made me read something that triggered me without warning"). This kind of shit always has a freezing effect on discourse, always, and flies in the face of the free speech movement that gave rise to ethnic and gender studies in the first place. Once every book in a class has a trigger warning, what's the next step? Putting a trigger warning on the class itself? Trigger warnings for PTSD are one thing, this is a means of censorship and closing the minds of young people. You're basically doing to literature what the PMRC did with music.
And even when they don't discourage some people from reading the books, they will force a frame on the material that tells students how they should react or take it before they even read it. You're also focusing the discussion on the "problematic" content right from the outset.
Best comment I have heard abt TW: "I don't use trigger warnings because I'd hate to be inadvertently nice to someone I didn't know was having a rough time!"
You know, I used to agree. Then, this year, I was involved in a sketchily non-consensual sexual situation. I got over it, I was ok, I thought. But then I was alone one evening months later and watched the first episode of Veronica Mars (which refers to Veronica's rape) and totally and unexpectedly freaked out. I flashed back to the incident. It was bad.

So... trigger warnings. Why not do them? They're just a little line at the top of a post or something; it's not like they're a huge inconvenience.

Anyone who feels trigger warnings are not necessary have the pleasure of having Not Having Been Raped Privilege.
61: There's a big difference between putting a trigger warning on a blog entry about sexual assault or saying "there's some pretty bad "adult" situations on this program, and imposing them (by committee or however they're gonna do it) on any book that has objectionable content (racism, sexism, colonialism etc.). You might as well put a warning on the whole canon and non-canon body of literature, because you never know what might trigger someone or cause an uncomfortable thought to flicker in their mind. It just adds another layer of bullshit for professors and administrators to trip over in the process of trying to educate their students. Who decides what gets a warning and what doesn't? If conservative Christians can't label shit that offensive to them, then well-meaning progressives shouldn't be able to do it either.

One of the problems with this debate is it's confused. What these students are doing is different in nature from what the feminist bloggers were doing. It's not the same thing.
I guess I just find all-encompassing warnings on content not centered around discussions of trauma events to be an undue burden. I'm all for the concept of people discussing trauma in terms of recovery or healing having trigger warnings, but works of reporting or fiction are just narratives.
Perhaps Shows dealing with triggering subjects should be preceded by a trigger warning like the TV rating system: Nudity, Adult Content, etc... but since triggers can be more nebulous than that, perhaps every show should be preceded with a general trigger warning, to prepare any given audience.
In that case though, maybe every station should just run a call sign every few hours of programming that covers the trigger warnings for all shows in that block.
In that case, maybe the trigger warning should just be *on* the TV itself, for example, on a sticker on the side.
And in THAT case, since all you need is to read the sticker once, and it never goes away, maybe you just need to be told about it.
And if the TV companies, book companies, radio companies, and theatre companies aren't going to step up to the plate, well then, I'll do it right now:

"During your life you may encounter themes that serve as triggers for pat trauma that range from the explicit to the mundane. Please prepare for these incidents and use best judgement in your continued level of engagement. Should this warning be insufficient preparation and protection, seek counsel for recovery from the incident."


I've just provided a very specific list of my PSTD triggers a few posts ago, and yet now you are claiming that triggers are all nebulous.

Just what part of my post did you not understand? Please explain so I can provide you with shorter words to fit your reading vocabulary.
I'm not talking about *your* triggers. Triggers in and of themselves are not nebulous. But, many claim that triggers, and their necessity, extend far beyond things as simple as those you list. Frankly, you know those elements exist - anticipate them now, and understand why they might have appeared when encountered in the wild - after processing and coping with the incident of being reminded of your trauma.
What's more, *you* did not add a trigger warning to the post in which you specifically named your own triggers. That is a very good piece of evidence of the inorganic solution that warnings present - even you were fairly inconsiderate by the measure of the demand, and you know how damaging triggers can be.
We can all debate in a vacuum endlessly about whether trigger warnings are appropriate, and where to draw the line, etc.

But the first question, in my opinion, is if there is any evidence that trigger warnings are actually effective for any of their intended purposes?

For instance, do warnings actually lower the stress levels for someone with psychological trauma who is perusing media of a given type (television, movie, book, etc. they could show different levels of effectiveness, just as presumably different mediums have different levels of triggering potential)? Are they only helpful if the person avoids the media entirely, or do they help to prepare one for the material? Is it possible that in some cases, the presence of a trigger warning itself causes trauma by indirectly bringing the past trauma to mind? Is there, for example, a spectrum in which warnings are most effective and outside of which they are not (or counterproductive, if overly broad warnings remove one's ability to distinguish safe material from actually triggering material).

Without empirical facts to inform our policy positions, we run the risk if unintentionally making things worse for the people we think we're helping.
Trigger warnings have gotten a bit out of hand on the blogosphere, I think. However, I believe they are totally necessary in the classroom, and most commenters on here have no idea what they are even about. I will tell my personal story to illustrate some points.

I lost a friend to suicide in the middle of the school year during postgrad studies. This was my best, closest friend, and our lives were intertwined in 1000 ways. I chose to continue my studies instead of taking a year off, because what is staying home for a year going to do for me? I don't have PTSD now, but for about 7 months after the suicide I would get real panic symptoms if confronted with materials relating to suicide, psychiatry, etc.

One day I went to a class that deals with issues of medicine and society. We discuss epidemiology, alcoholism, ethics, etc etc. I sat at the front of the class alone. Unbeknownst to me, this class had a guest speaker who would spend the next 60 minutes describing the suicide of her 20-something son, the failings of the psychiatric community, and her own response to trauma. I FREAKED OUT. I spent the entire class crying uncontrollably, but because I was at the front, I did not want to turn around and face everyone to leave, particularly as I hadn't told many people about what happened. I was completely trapped. Had that lecture been labelled as "dealing with topics of suicide" I would have been able to choose not to go. That hour left me exhausted, embarrassed, and worried that classmates who saw me crying would know my personal business or assume I was suicidal.

This has nothing to do with "shielding" pathetic spoiled millenials from the real world (so much implied denigration of this demographic in the comments), but allowing those who have suffered severe, life altering trauma to get on with their lives while they figure things out. To not warn students that this lecture dealt intensely with suicide was a stupid decision that further stigmatizes and marginalizes those who are dealing with it. Of course none of "us" in [this field]
have those problems. We are the invulnerable healers! The problem of ignoring victims of rape is that much worse.

I don't think that written materials need to be labelled except under the most extreme circumstances, as when reading a text you have the option to stop reading or wait until you are at home in safety and privacy to engage with the material. But to not warn about certain topics in class traps people in situations, often with clueless douchebags "debating" the topic that triggers them. It also presumes that none of "those people" (victims, survivors) are in our midst, and if they are they should be "good" victims and survivors and deal dispassionately with their traumas, regardless of where they are on their path of healing. Most rape/trauma survivors aren't in women's studies classes confronting these issues voluntarily. We're in science, tech, history, etc., just trying to get on with our lives.
@65, by way of another reply to #51, the letter from John Scalzi is an interesting case: it was pointed out as an example of a good and effective trigger warning, and yet, people who appreciated the warning still *read* the piece. The warning was a "heads-up", this part I fully comprehend. But the reader still doesn't know how, where, or to what degree that trigger appears in the work.
If within themselves is the strength to prepare themselves to interface with that imagery, I'm not convinced it should be the province of the author to provide it.
@66 makes a good point I whole-heartedly agree with, as referenced in #64: When having frank discussions with a relatively "captive" audience, we have no right to use our authority or their necessity to force them to sit silently through triggering topics and discussions, particularly when their purpose is to *explore* trauma. We should not decide for others when they *must* confront and relive trauma without warning and consent.
However, online discussions, books, and movies are not an environment where our attendance counts towards our grade, or where our boss will fire us for leaving the meeting - they are elements of our personnal lives, over which we have every right and necessity to take personal mastery and control of.

I am aware that I am being somewhat intentionally obtuse - but I'm trying to break through to something a bit more on-the-nose about the topic.
@18 What's with all the apples? I wanted oranges! Way to prove Dan's point though. People who are likely to use trigger warnings are much more likely to deal with sensitive topics in a sensitive manner. Conversely, people who are insensitive assholes aren't going to bother with them, just as you would park in a handicap spot because you don't give a fuck about the physically disabled.

@22 How helpful is it to lull trauma victims into a false sense of security that the world will walk on eggshells just for them? In doing that, they become that much more sensitive to triggers, which they *will* encounter eventually. It seems to me that trigger warnings are treating the symptom, not the disease, and their necessity points to how lackluster the mental healthcare system is in our country and the culture of violence we've created for ourselves.

Like I said, I'm not opposed to the concept of trigger warnings. But that doesn't preclude me from questioning their usefulness when they're applied to everything, which seems to be the direction this fad is heading. The articles @22 linked to as well as Dan's own point that *anything* can be a trigger highlight the need to exercise some degree of restraint when applying trigger warnings to certain topics/articles/films/books/whatever.
@67: I actually came to the opposite conclusion, at least in regards to those that don't require a trigger warning.

I wish I could read the piece, but every time I try to open it, my browser crashes. That being said, my first thought at the description was that satire has its teeth taken out when it's preceded by a warning about the content. It might be incredibly well-written, nuanced, and arresting, but if it's prefaced like that, I can make reasonable assumptions about the content before I start reading it, and a lot of the impact may be lessened.

It's like a dramatic film that starts near the end of a story and jumps back in time to work back to those first moments: I already know what's going to happen later on, and can fairly accurately guess based on the running time if those events are likely to be coming soon. Therefore I have no fear for the characters until then because I know they have to get through things to reach those first few moments of the film. But had I not known what was going to happen, I would likely have been more shocked/repulsed/generally affected in the way the author intended.

I hate to break the news to you but the reason that, in my case, issuing trigger warnings are unnecessary, is because the number of people who have survived being trapped in a room with a fire being fed by pure oxygen is, for all practical purposes, zero.

There are no support groups for this one, which is because there are such a tiny numbers of us, on a global scale, that there simply are no ways to bring us together.

I can only surmise that you have lived in a very sheltered world in which nothing really, really nasty has ever happened to you. Unfortunately for the rest of us we do have to deal with common or garden reality, in which pretty horrendous things do happen to us.

I suppose that if I were a truly generous person I should be glad that you and reality have never had to go Mano a Mano. Chalk that one down to my failures a human being; just don't expect me to feel guilty about the fact that you haven't a clue what you are talking about...
"Anyone who feels trigger warnings are not necessary have the pleasure of having Not Having Been Raped Privilege."

Ok, I wasn't raped. I was mugged and beaten by two young black males. Can I demand trigger warnings?
Seems like pretty consistently that people who have triggers see usefulness in trigger warnings (though most see a need to draw a line somewhere). People who do not have triggers are more likely to say, "Is this really useful?"

The answer from those of us who actually have triggers and would make use of the trigger warnings: Yes. It is useful. Please stop dismissing that.
dice @71: I get your point. That your traumatic situation was an extremely rare one.

That said, and out of pedantic need for completeness, it seems likely that at least one of Betty Grissom, Patricia White and Martha Chaffee are still alive and their spouses' death in an oxygen-fueled fire was arguable more severe than your injuries. Further, their children (Edward White, Bonnie Lynn White, Sheryl Lyn Chaffee, and Stephen Chaffee) are almost certainly still alive and may have watched broadcasts of their fathers dying in the Apollo I oxygen fire.

But your point remains. Thoughtful people can provide some warning to people who have experienced more common traumas - rape, incest, parental abuse, domestic violence, ethnic cleansing, and so very many war crimes. We can not anticipate or provide warning for all possible triggers. Myself (see @32)? A month ago, *I* didn't know that minor illegal parking and trespass could be a trigger for me.
@73: People argue for the usefulness of a lot of things based on their subjective experience. That doesn't mean that, in practice, they're always useful.

As covered above, there could be a wide range of triggers for different people's traumas (and to dice @71 and others, why the need to assume that someone could only be triggered by your description of what happened to you if the exact same circumstances happened to them? Maybe they're just traumatized by a different but no less impactful incident involving fire and any graphic description of being trapped in a fire causes them anguish?). Elaborate trigger warnings may be more effective in some cases than in others. They may be counterproductive in other cases.

This is why we have science, so we can study what sorts of things are helpful and what are harmful in an empirical way, so we can make informed decisions, instead of just modifying our behavior to accommodate every rando on the internet who has a pet psychological theory. Remember, we're not talking about how people interact with others one on one, in which you can tailor your behavior to the specific needs of an individual; we're talking about mass communication, in which there are limited resources to try to cover every possible person's unique psychologies out there. There is a cost-benefit tradeoff to everything, and without knowing the costs and benefits objectively, we're just making shit up.

Certainly, for instance, it makes sense to warn viewers that a show involves a lot of flashing images, because it may trigger an epileptic seizure in some viewers. Trigger warnings may provide similar benefits for those with PTSD, but the possible cues are so much less specific, that trying to cover everything just isn't reasonable. So, where do we draw the line? Trigger warnings for everything? For nothing? Somewhere in between?
If Colonialism is a trigger for people, than obviously the writer of this advice column perhaps would need to change his surname.Savage.
Easy solution for books that trigger people, Mark Twain, Shakespere.. Henry Miller et al, just rewrite them. Eradicate all news programmes/ news comments. Especially the word Death, big trigger that one.
Dan: You're wrong to assume that a writer sensitive enough to use a trigger warning for rape and sexual violence will only be writing about rape and sexual violence 'in a sensitive manner', because oftentimes it isn't merely their own writing that's part of their piece. A writer may include a trigger warning when the material they're going to discuss features quotes or descriptions from other people or source material.

There are absolutely an endless number of things that could trigger memories and emotional/anxiety responses in people and these can't be predicted, but we know that there are common themes that trigger survivors of emotional/physical/spiritual abuse, and rape and sexual abuse.

And screw Sherman Alexie if he thinks that trigger warnings are 'censorship'.
I've seen that a number of people who use Trigger Warnings also use Content Notes, which seems potentially useful.
@68 Do you truly believe that prior to the spread of the concept of "trigger warnings" that professors who "explore trauma" in their syllabi don't take measures to warn their students of the content for which they're responsible? Or, when a student becomes uncomfortable or upset because of the discussion at hand, doesn't provides means for said student to receive comfort, privacy, or support?

It seems to me that we're having two very different conversations: 1. a defense of a trigger warning as simply a good idea to acknowledge awareness of and resources available for PTSD victims, particularly around sexual assault; and 2. the potential unintended political consequences of having that as a blanket policy for all courses, particularly if it leads to demands to censor course content for everyone.

I want to add something to this. Have folks ever heard of the term "stereotype threat" from social psych? As I understand it, it includes examples where the simple mention of the existence of a stereotype, even in sympathy against it, can actually trigger the threat and cause the marginalized group in question to under-perform. In other words, if, say, a science professor acknowledges the stereotype of women being biologically deficient in math and science, female students will perform worse, even if the mention of the stereotype was in sympathy against it. It's a psychological self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think stereotypes are operating around you, you get cripplingly self-conscious and, as as result, start failing precisely in line with the predictions of the stereotype.

Similarly, but in a completely different academic field, is Marty Gilen's Why Americans Hate Welfare, where he showed that even in *sympathetic* news magazine stories about poverty, readers, irrespective of race, were unintentionally primed to demonize the poor depicted in said stories if the poor people in the accompanying photos were black. I'm also thinking of additional social science scholarship on framing and priming, which, combined, show how easy it is to provoke unconscious racist reactions to news stories.

So, I admit that this is a leap, but here's a hypothesis: is it possible that ubiquitous and mandatory trigger warnings could have an unintended consequence of making the the vulnerable even more self-conscious and anxiety ridden? I would be interested in someone testing that.

It seems to me that a person suffering any kind of trauma would hardly feel safer if everyone around her was being hyper-vigiliant about categorizing everything and anything that could be deemed traumatic for her. That strikes me as a new kind of closet, in fact. (And, as I argued above, I think it's patronizing as fuck to treat groups of people like that.)

On a personal note, I once had a student leave a film class one week because she insisted that the film we watched "endorsed" abortion and thus it was too uncomfortable for her to be present for the discussion. Of course I excused her, but it was really disappointing to me as a teacher because the protagonist's abortion was characterized as a horrific and troubling event. Is there a possibility, and, again, I'm just suggesting this here, that individual faculty must be able to have discretion when they assess a given student's trauma, and, in doing so, not presume all traumas are created equal? If not, as others have argued, it seems to me that you would be hamstrung as a teacher because no one could ever disagree with or challenge anyone who gets uncomfortable with a course for whatever reason. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, how can anyone in a class on, say, Jim Crow be emotionally at ease with the material? What I've learned from teaching college courses on race is that if everyone is comfortable all semester long, we're not having an honest or productive discussion.
It's official. We are a nation of toddlers.
No doubt it's only triggers that far left wing gender studies profs approve of that will be enforced. Mugged violently by young black males? Suck it up honey.
"So true! I tell this to disabled people all the time! I tell them that if they can't cope with stairs, they need to go somewhere else! They need to act like adults and live in the real world for Christ's sake!"

That's a BS comparison. A person in a wheelchair can't get out of the wheelchair and build him or herself a ramp. A person with a trigger can easily Google the title of the movie they are going to, or book they are going to read and see if it contains the kind of content that effects them.

I'm not saying no warnings ever. But like many others who have posted, that since anything can be a trigger we can't be responsible for policing everything out there with labels. At some point people have to take some responsibility for being proactive about shielding themselves. There is a point beyond which it isn't reasonable to expect the world to accomodate you.

It may be nice when a food product is labeled as containing nuts in clear terms on the front of the package for people with nut allergies. But anyone with a nut allergy knows that even if something doesn't say that on the front of the package they need to turn the package over and read the ingredients to be sure. And if something is ambiguous it is up to them to make a decision not to eat it.

A TV show that typically doesn't have such depictions that is going to have an episode about rape, sure, they should put a warning. A show that has a lot of violence of a sexual nature regularly like Game of Thrones? I don't see the need to label every episode with a list of content that might be disturbing beyond a general disclaimer that it contains graphic content. It takes a few seconds to look it up on the interwebs to see that it always contains graphic violence and disturbing sexual content.

A blog writer is going to discuss a disturbing topic atypical for their regular writing? Sure, give a warning. But having to put a warning on Huck Finn? Not necessary. The information on that is out there already and easy to find.

So yes, we accommodate disabled people as much as is possible, but a person in a wheelchair doesn't need to be warned that trying to get to the top of halfdome is not a good idea. They don't need to be warned not to try it.
I regularly attend 12 step meetings and a few years ago people coming from treatment centers started talking about triggers that they had to avoid if they wanted to stay off drugs or alcohol. "Don't go to the park where I used to use." "Don't drive through that neighborhood I used to score in." It seemed reasonable to me until I started to think. Well if I used in the car can't I be in a car? If I used in my house to I have to move? If I liked to watch the Tree Stooges when I was high to I have switch to Noel Coward?

You live and you survive and you go on. There may be a period of time that you need to avoid certain situations or things, but you do need to get a grip and move on.

As I think someone else said, these trigger warning tend to make those who have gone through various traumas into a kind of infant who can never again face the world without some kind person providing protection.
I had never heard about trigger warnings. Wich I find actually sad. Is it something american? Do you people have such an amazing number of people with untreated PTS you need to have an N word? It sounds surrealist to me.
Not to mention unhealthy... People with PTS should be treated and helped to overcome their demons, not insanely overprotected with a collective craziness.
Still trying to underestand the point of saying N word... Never heard of something like that in this side of the ocean.
You hit the nail on the head, Dan. This was exactly the response I had when the topic blitzed across Facebook over the weekend. I appreciate, even more, that you cite the complexity of factors that occur with triggers and that one cannot possibly attempt to effectively address triggers within the context that the 'sensitives' are demanding/expecting. Thank you!

In the case of Shakespeare (and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to learn in the case of Twain as well) such an expurgation was performed by one Thomas Bowdler in the early 1800's. In fact his efforts were so significant in this regard that his name has become permanently associated with the practice, so that now we refer to any such expurgation as "bowdlerizing" the work.
@83 I think the key phrase in your comment is "there may be a period of time", which of course will be different depending on the addiction or circumstance.

My main personality problem is over-eating and I know it is 'triggered' (or as I would put it, more likely to happen) if I state up late watching TV. So I try to go to bed earlier.

I think it's fair to judge the abuse of the term by the kids on the internet, its not fair to judge someone who is trying to better themselves and is attempting to figure out a path in life that makes it easier.

The main problem I have is when people expect the world to change to meet their emotional needs instead of changing their own behavior.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with trying to make the world understand the issues people face. We've had our longest wars in history it is in all of our own best interests to understand PTSD since many of our fellow Americans are suffering from it.
@88 Lovely! Thank you.
Is this thread a big cross-talk act? The pro and con sides of this argument don't seem to be at all mutually exclusive. Are there subjects that it would be kind to warn people about? Yes. Are there internet idiots who run wild with the idea that everything that gives them the least little feels must have a warning label attached? Yes.

There. I just fixed that.

Oh, and Triggers: My own mortality. So, logically, anything associated with the passage of time. Which intuitively leads, to anyone with an ounce of decency, to anything related to light or matter.

Precisely! Taken to their extreme Trigger Warnings are simply a form of Helicopter-Parenting for adults, and probably propagated to a very significant extent by the children of said parents.
@60, you said "Anyone who feels trigger warnings are not necessary have the pleasure of having Not Having Been Raped Privilege. "

Out of everything said in this thread, to me personally, this is the most offensive. I get that you're standing up for yourself, and that's great. I hope you continue to do that. But I ask that in standing up for yourself you are more careful not to attempt to speak for others, or to tell others how they should feel, which is exactly how this comment comes across to me.

You see, I am a rape survivor. My virginity was taken from me by rape when I was 14. It messed me up enough that I couldn't even talk about it for a long time, and when I finally came out about what happened to me, it messed me up even more when I was told by people I considered friends that it wasn't "real" rape since he was my boyfriend, or because I only said "no" once, and then froze out of fear while he continued (some people told me I should have tried harder to fight him off when he didn't listen to "no" the first time, and since I didn't, it was the same as consenting).

Have I been triggered in the years since by certain things that depict rape or sexual violence? Sure. I survived a trauma, and that is part of the healing process. But you know what? I did this in a time before trigger warnings were a thing, and as a result, I'm the sort of person who thinks trigger warnings are not necessary. Helpful, sure. Sometimes. But not necessary. Nothing that I read or see will ever hurt me as much as the act itself, or my so-called friends' responses when I finally got up enough courage to talk about it.

So you see, telling me that if I don't agree with you that trigger warnings are necessary means I have the pleasure and privilege of never being raped (because you did say "anyone," and I am an "anyone") is triggering to me. You are pretty much saying if I don't agree with you, I wasn't raped, and when I read that, I think of the time I listened to people I thought were friends tell me that very same thing.

I'm sure you didn't mean to trigger a fellow rape survivor with your comment. You likely thought it was safe to assume we all feel the same about it as you do, so you didn't even think about the possibility that what you were saying could even BE a trigger for someone else. But that is kindof the point. Our triggers are so varied and diverse that expecting colleges to have blanket trigger warnings on material is (in my opinion) ridiculous. It should be left to the professor's discretion, and good professors will warn about these things without it being mandated. They already do. Forcing it as a matter of policy is an overreach in my opinion.

@24 I guess reading comprehension isn't your strong point. Since copy/pasted my comment let emphasis the last sentence you copied.

"Our teacher explained to us that was how people spoke at that time."

God what a bunch of pussies.
If you suffer from PTSD (not self-diagnosed using the Internet), consider utilizing or creating communities and tools that identify acceptable content.

In much the way that others who struggle with severe allergies and other environmentally induced illnesses, you must avail yourself of these resources or create your own.

The world will never be reliable to be safe for those affected by severe panic attacks and medically-diagnosed PTSD; however, with a bit of effort and purposeful tools you can carve out your own community and environment that is safer for you and those like you.
@12 I want a trigger warning for people who use the word "ask" like it's some sort of fucking noun.
There's an awful lot of foofooraw here. Most of the calls for syllabus TW come from students, sophomores and juniors. None of them are binding in the sense that professors must place TWs on their syllabi.

No one is asking for course content to be restricted. Teach whatever you want! But when something heavy is coming up, let folks know.

Several years ago, I was in a course about addictions. The first evening, the instructor screened 'Requiem for a Dream' in its entirety, with no warnings at all. More than one classmate was in recovery for drug addiction, and were triggered that night. It would have been very easy for the instructor to play it another night, with a warning, or tell us that we could watch it then, or at home in a safe place before next class session.

While not every survivor needs or wants trigger warnings, some do. Several folks have said so in this very thread. While exposure to possible triggers, in a controlled environment, can be part of the therapeutic process, that doesn't mean it's advisable for all survivors at all times. It's so easy to give a simple warning. Seriously, why *not* do it?
Wait, aren't these 'trigger warning' morons the same people who freaked out when Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on albums?
@97 Yes, some colleges are facing student demands to put them on course syllabi. Here's a thoughtful response from one professor about why they're misguided:…