Trigger Warning: This Post is About Trigger Warnings

Credit: Lishmay
Credit: Lishmay


All right, kids. Let’s talk about those awful trigger warnings the dirty, dirty liberals are out there throwing around in order to censor everything that isn’t rainbows and puppies and pansexuals.

I’ve read a lot of opinion pieces, mostly from people who don’t have emotional triggers because they haven’t been through any sort of major trauma. Well, I’m traumatized just enough to have triggers, but I’m also the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from difficult material. So, now you get to hear from me.

What’s a Trigger?

A trigger is not “something I don’t like”. I hate canned chicken. I hate it with a fiery passion. I want to shoot every can of chicken straight into the sun. But that doesn’t make canned chicken a trigger for me, because I was never traumatized by canned chicken. Canned chicken never broke into my home and attacked me.

A trigger is really associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What happens, is a person with PTSD can come across something that reminds them of their trauma, and it brings on an uncontrollable physical reaction. I don’t mean they get a little upset and misty eyed. I mean that no matter how much they tell themselves they’re OK, their body believes they are in imminent danger and their fight or flight instinct kicks in. I don’t know about you, but I find it’s pretty dang hard to concentrate in a literature class when my body is itching to drop kick a bitch.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my office, taking a quick break from some reports I’d been working on all day. I hopped online to check the news and read a breaking story about a teenage girl who’d just been kidnapped by her father’s friend after he killed her mother and brother in a house fire. Now, that hit a little close to home for me and my uncooperative body shot off into a heart-racing panic attack. I had a hard time concentrating and didn’t get much done for the rest of the day. If I’d known what the story was about before clicking on the link, I’d still have read it, but I’d have waited until I got home so it didn’t disrupt my whole day.

How Do Trigger Warnings Work?

In reality, almost anything could be a trigger. Maybe your attacker was wearing a red ribbon, so now red ribbons trigger that panic response. We can’t blanket the world in trigger warnings for every little thing. What we can do, though, is catch some of the more obvious triggers.

Literature that includes abuse and sexual assault can easily trigger a person who’s been through either. I mean, if your father was ripped apart by wolverines, and then you sat down in class and had to read a short story about a father who was ripped apart by wolverines, don’t you think that’d upset you to the point where you had a hard time participating in the class discussion about it?

But what if the syllabus warned you ahead of time? TRIGGER WARNING: Includes a father being killed by wolverines.

You’d have weeks to prepare yourself. Maybe you’d read the story ahead of time, on your own, so you didn’t have to worry about having a panic attack in the middle of class with all your peers watching. You would have time to process your emotions on your own before tackling the discussion in class. It would mean you could participate more effectively in class.

Now, I think a wolverine trigger warning’s stupid. There aren’t many people out there who’ve had a wolverine rip apart a family member. But, there are so many people out there who’ve been raped and abused. A trigger warning on material that includes those topics would catch a huge number of people.

In a college setting, a trigger warning wouldn’t mean those people get to skip that material. That’s not how this works. All it means is they’re warned ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult for them. Because if you know something difficult is coming up, you can come up with a plan for how to handle it.

My Personal Expectations

A lot of opinion pieces paint people like me as whiners who want to be victims so they don’t have to do any actual work and don’t ever have to challenge themselves to learn about things they might not like.

Well, sure, there are people like that out there, but it’s not the rape survivors. It’s not the veterans sitting in class with PTSD. These people just want to learn without being startled by a panic attack in the middle of class. They just want the same shot at learning that everyone else in the class has got.

Personally, I don’t expect to see any trigger warnings for my issues. Delusional hippie religious stalkers aren’t exactly a plague on our society, so trigger warnings about that would just waste ink.

What I do expect to see are rape and abuse trigger warnings. Because, guess what. Those are a plague on our society and until that changes, we’ve got a lot of legitimately traumatized people out there.

Drive It On Home

Trigger warnings aren’t for things we don’t like.

Even if there’s a trigger warning, we still have to study the material if it’s on the syllabus.

Trigger warnings help people prepare for handling material that could harm them (because, face it, panic attacks aren’t cool).

Trigger warnings don’t hurt anyone. If a subject doesn’t cause you severe emotional distress, then ignore the warning.

See how easy that is?

And one more quick comment for any Christians out there. If you have the opportunity to reach out and help “the least of these” by typing a few extra words, shouldn’t you?

Mic drop.

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1 Comment

  1. Susan Bealmear August 27, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    How about a rating system like on the movies. This article is rated PG or X rated. Someone could come up with an article rating system. So we could decide if we wanted to read it or not.


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