Trigger Warning: Stop Using it.
Hear me out.
Trigger warning has been widely used as far back during WWI & WWII days when psychologists were trying understand “war neurosis” which is now formally known as PTSD.
According to Jessica Coen from Jezebel said, “As a human being you're responsible for what media you engage with. If a Jezebel headline says 'harrowing,' or 'terrible,' or 'horrible,' that's a pretty good indicator that the content will be difficult," Coen said. "That's the web standard. If you start warning for one thing, you have to decide which unpleasant thing is worth a trigger and which isn't. That isn't a position an editor should be in." Resource 2.
Trigger warning skyrocketed after a massive amount of women who bravely came forward in the Me Too movement and in the same time period R. Kelly’s six part series came out about his abuse both sexually and physically towards the young girls and women he had in his home, and then Brett Kavanaugh etc. It was hard to not open your phone and find horrific detailed stories circulating everywhere. One by one, more women and even men came out. Celebrities, friends, family, your loved ones, teachers, coworkers, etc.
It seemed almost everyone you knew had some kind of Me Too story to tell. It was heart wrenching to hear all their stories. As someone who has a Me Too story of my own, how can one get away from it all and not be constantly bombarded.
Hence, Trigger Warning, which was posted on almost every article or Facebook post.
Trigger warning: Sexual assault
Trigger warning: Suicide
Trigger warning: Rape
Trigger warning: Trigger warning.
According to Harvard psychology professor, Dr. David Richard McNally, a PTSD expert, (an author of the recent study) explained in 2016 essay in the New York Times that “severe emotional reactions triggered by course material are a signal that students need to prioritize their mental health and obtain evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies that will help them overcome PTSD.”3 In other words, severe emotional reactions are not an indication that professors or others should warn students in advance that material could be triggering for those with PTSD, nor that potentially triggering material should be removed from the syllabi. Constantly warning people with PTSD about possible triggers could potentially even interfere with their recovery. As Lukianoff and Haidt point out in their newest book, The Coddling of the American Mind,4 the avoidance of triggers is not a treatment for PTSD; it is a classic symptom of it. In fact, according to Dr. McNally, therapies that promote recovery from PTSD “involve gradual, systematic exposure to traumatic memories until [the capacity of those memories] to trigger distress diminishes.”5 * Resource 1
The over exposure and over use of Trigger warning may be doing more harm than not. Where is the line drawn? Is it actually helping people or perpetuating more triggers for people? There’s another part of me that believes, as a human being, that I am not responsible for your triggers or traumas. Now that may sound harsh, but let me explain. We all have triggers and have experienced trauma in some time in our lives of various degrees. With social media whether its video or writing content, I shouldn’t have to walk on egg shells because of what happened to you. We cannot continuously run from our problems and issues, it’s like the helicopter parent who refuses to let their child be a kid, for example, like fall and scrape your knee once in a while, or play with mud, or you making sure they eat organic foods or they’ll get cancer etc. You get the idea.
We can’t live in this bubble of sunshine and rainbows. Life isn’t always that and sometimes we read horrible things in the news, or read sad stories from people. It’s the world we live in. We were always this way, we just have social media that is now shining a light to it. We now have a place to vent and tell our friends about our horrible day at work or how depressed we are. I’m not saying, we can’t vent about our issues but since we kind of have this public forum of our world’s problems, we have a choice to make. To read it or keep scrolling.
For example, Anthony Bourdain’s death triggered the fuck out of me. A family member of mine has attempted many times, which traumatized me for years. I’ve come along way since my late teens but man did that kick up some dirt. Plus I looked up to him a lot as many of us did, but especially because I’m a writer, traveler and a lover of food like he was. I couldn’t read anything about suicide online, it seemed like everyone was wanting to or had killed themselves. It felt like a wave of suicide ideations was kicked up after his death and then Kate Spade’s. It made me realize, like “Wow, okay, I guess I still got some things to work out there with that one.”
We need to be responsible for our own emotions and actions. No one else is but ourselves and only we can change how we feel, only we can heal from our past traumas. The world doesn’t owe you a trigger warning. It’s okay to be triggered to some degree, it’s our body’s response to something that we haven’t fully healed yet. We can’t pull the covers over our heads and hope the monster will be gone when the sun comes up.
The healing journey isn’t an easy road. Not even going to lie to you and tell you that it is. As people, and especially in our American society, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re programmed to find the next best thing to fix our emotions whether it’s food, sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc. We have drug commercials up the ass for any and every kind of ailment under the sun; “Come to America! Where we have a pill for anything.”
When you face your fears, and of course, at your own pace, we are faced with the option to either continue to fear that fear or overcome it. We can continue to choose the same story or we can use our past traumas and experiences to empower one another. We can slowly walk the plank to healing.