Why Trigger Warnings Are Not Helping

17 Aug 2017


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Trigger Warning!

The honesty and upfront language in this article might upset some people. But it shouldn’t. They’re just words on a screen. I wrote this article to help people, not to harm. 
I want every person who reads this to be happy, healthy, and have an amazing, fulfilling life.

I am in a lot of online groups. Some are related to what I do for a living, some are about depression or EMDR Eye Movement Therapy or things like neuroscience and mental health. Others are tied to problems I have had in my family like addiction, PTSD, and abuse.

The reason I am in these groups is to read what others have to say about their problems, to learn new things, and also to actively participate by talking about my own difficulties.

And it is in these groups (and frankly it seems in every corner of the internet) that I see the ever-growing problem of people using Trigger Warnings before posting content.

This is a huge problem-here's why.
Any quality therapist on the planet will tell you that one of the best ways of starting to deal with your problems is by talking about them openly and honestly. In fact, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and also in EMDR Therapy you are instructed to mentally focus on your problems and negative thoughts.

Imagine being in a therapy group for depression and PTSD, or even a group that focuses on addictions. These groups exist to provide a place where members can come together and talk about their problems and share and commiserate about what’s happening in their lives.

Now imagine a group like this where everyone just sits there quietly afraid that they might hurt someone’s feelings by talking honestly about what’s going on.

That’s exactly what the chronic overuse of Trigger Warnings are doing.

A recent article in the Guardian news said that, “Trigger warnings, and their cousin the "content note", are now included for a whole slew of potentially offensive or upsetting content, including but not limited to: misogyny, the death penalty, calories in a food item, terrorism, drunk driving, how much a person weighs, racism, gun violence, Stand Your Ground laws, drones, homophobia, PTSD, slavery, victim-blaming, abuse, swearing, child abuse, self-injury, suicide, talk of drug use, descriptions of medical procedures, corpses, skulls, skeletons, needles, discussion of "isms," neuroatypical shaming, slurs (including "stupid" or "dumb"), kidnapping, dental trauma, discussions of sex (even consensual), death or dying, spiders, insects, snakes, vomit, pregnancy, childbirth, blood, scarification, Nazi paraphernalia, slimy things, holes and "anything that might inspire intrusive thoughts in people with OCD".

A lot of these seem like nonsense. I mean calories? Really? Slimy things? How much you weigh? Come on.

Even in certain types of EMDR Therapy, patients are regularly offered an imaginary Safe Space in the event that they feel overwhelmed by their thoughts. Now, I am sure some people need this on a very, very rare occasion, but let’s stop pretending that everyone is going to melt down if they start talking about or feeling their unfavorable emotions. (The program on this website, Virtual EMDR, shows you how to skip this entirely)

Facing and feeling your negative emotions moves you towards wholeness and well-being. Hiding in the corner just makes it all worse.

Make a promise to yourself to stop using Trigger Warnings and then wear it as a badge of pride! Stopping means that you are taking your life and mental health more seriously. Stopping means that you have moved away from being a perpetual victim and stepped onto the pathway to wellness, mental health, and recovery.

Don’t get me wrong, maybe there are some rare occasions where some sort of content notice could be appropriate. For example, I have seen warnings on posts or articles about war or terrorism that have pictures of dead bodies and horrific injuries. But this should be the exception and stop being the norm.

But talking about the headache you had last night, or your hamster passing away last winter, or having occasional insomnia should not have a warning attached. That’s just taking things too far.

Let’s stop pretending that ugly things and hurtful feelings don’t exist OK? And I mean this in the nicest way because I want every single person who reads this article to be happy, healthy, and have a great life. The perpetual victim-hood of trigger warning culture will not make this happen, I guarantee it.

Yes this blog might upset a few people, but it shouldn’t. Everything I wrote here are just words and merely one person’s opinion.

Honestly I can imagine some of the people reading this right now who are feeling completely up-in-arms. “Wait… trigger warnings? But what if I was going to post about that time I had to witness a tree dying when I watched some landscapers cut it down? That might really bother a lot some people!”

Let’s talk about this. I would love to hear from every person who reads this article. Am I wrong about this? Should trigger warnings be on more and more content? Why? 

View Comments

Green Beans · 16 Jan 2024

This article made me smile. I'm not gonna say what happened, but I hate trigger warnings or content disclaimers with a burning passion. There are people in this world who are currently at rock bottom in terms of their mental health and want to commit suicide to make it stop. These same people refuse to get help because they are too proud, too stubborn, in denial, don't think they have it that bad, or don't want to upset other people by sharing their story. Imagine a man who has suffered major depression his entire life and refuses to get treatment for self harm and suicidal actions because of the stuff I mentioned above. When he finally agrees to get treatment and open up, someone breaks down and attacks this guy for not using a trigger warning and for being insensitive to other people's feelings. This is why people don't open up or seek help. This is why we don't know until it's too late. This avoidance of feelings and taking responsibility is not only harming others but also for the person playing the victim game themselves. People are allowed to be triggered. The only way to heal is to feel.


Carole · 19 Jun 2018

I agree. The pervasive use of trigger warnings triggers me. I would like to speak my truth without constantly worrying about possibly triggering people. As an abuse survivor, I was taught to constantly take care of other people. If I talk about that part of my reality, in general or specific terms, listeners will probably feel uncomfortable. So sometimes I go quiet. But we are all wounded beings, and we need to journey in connection with others. The pervasive use of trigger warnings communicates a philosophy of needing to constantly worry about "What if this bothers someone?" Well, almost anything will bother someone. If we are going to trigger-warn difficult stuff, Life will have a trigger warning. We are grown-ups, and we should be able to choose what we read or look at, and either look away or notice our discomfort and learn something. Life is messy. Life is uncomfortable. But there is comfort and beauty and joy interwoven with the messiness and pain. Being human is complicated. We shouldn't expect to be protected from discomfort. And we shouldn't be burdened with the task of protecting everyone else from discomfort. It is impossible.


Caroline · 19 Jun 2018

I totally agree with you. I am not gonna go down the page and list every trauma in my 39 years of being on this earth but all I can say is 'IF I DIDNT HAVE BAD LUCK I'D HAVE NO LUCK AT ALL' ???????? who cares you have to cope especially when going through serious family trauma when you have young kids who look up to you as the mom to teach them how to cope in life. My opinion is helping my own kids with serious family trauma helping them grow and develop into strong calm adults has helped me to overcome the trauma with them together. I was in a meeting with 3 very high up social workers and they laughed at me saying I'm not suffering from under resolved trauma in my life. Then the one said there's no way you are able to deal with one serious traumatic experience and not have time to recover and then suffer yet another serious traumatic event in ya family. Obviously you are not able to get over your trauma and it is gonna build up til ya go bang is the way they said it. What are you some super human who is able to cope with whatever ya face with? I couldn't get over one traumatic experience let alone several without time to deal with n cope with. Wow you're the first to ever say you're able to deal with all that and not be in a mental hospital locked up. Thing is I was put in care by 8 then had kids in my late teens. Coped brilliant tbh got through education and my own goals like driving . Gave birth to my son who passed away soon after from a serious heart problem. Then had a baby girl after where I had complications where I nearly died but luckily they amputated my leg lol my daughter was 14 months old my leg chopped off n 2 kids going through GCSEs. Yamanstrong woman folk say ??? no I tell them I'm a mother and it's my job to look after my family. I am fortunate I have lost my leg cos it could have bin my life and I am able to watch my family grow up into happy loved people . It could av bin far far worse. But the social workers said I was a cold understand loving mother who is selfish and puts her own selfish needs b4 her kids ? no I'm not ok. Myself as a person has always been able to handle more pain than normal folk too. My husband agrees too. And close friends agree too. I'm also a relaxed, chilled individual who is too caring and loving 4 my own good lol I'm able to allow worrying stress in our family not get me to my head. N not allow my feelings get 2 my own head. Also I have good concentration levels if anyone has noticed these things in their own life experiences


Anna Matheis · 19 Jun 2018

This clamouring for TW always makes me feel like I'm being held responsible for other peoples' inability to cope with their own issues. It also makes me feel like I'm being prompted to label my thoughts as hazmat. No, they are not, they are the thoughts of an exceptionally intelligent mind, a mind that fought hard to be so sharp and sound after everything it's been through, and they are, as such, precious to me and will be proudly proclaimed with no "careful, you might find this upsetting" type disclaimers. And lastly, this "OMG put a trigger warning!" is basically someone derailing a good discussion by making it about them and how it makes them feel. Hence I pointedly refuse to use them, ever, except satirically: "Trigger warning: entitled people derailing discourse by screaming for trigger warnings". I also think it's unreasonable to say that "some topics" are reasonably accompanied by TW, "such as rape and suicide". Um, no. Literally everything is a trigger to someone. There is no reason to assume that some topics are more so than others. Plus, often the explicit discussion/depiction of the topic itself isn't what triggers people, it's little things, random nasty little things. Having been raped myself, the topic of rape doesn't do anything to me, but certain lighting conditions or ambient smells that were there during the incident, absolutely can, so you can have me read a graphic "torture rape" novel and I don't bat an eye, but that smell of lube and tobacco... doesn't get a trigger warning, because it's molecules in the air :D Suicide... I tried, I almost succeeded, I lost a child in the process as well as a lot of other things, but I shrug off the depiction or discussion of suicide. But when I realized that the meeting point for a valley hike was at the entrance of the local psychiatric hospital, I went temporarily blind and ran into a tree. I shoulda demanded a trigger warning for that bus stop... Or, some people are unfazed by rape and suicide content for never having been through anything related to that, but they watched their own precious child get mauled to death by a dog. Yet I have NEVER EVER seen anyone ask for TW on dog content, even when it's an article about a lethal mauling. My Mum was bit horribly once, and I'm not labeling my pics of my dogs for her, and she has no issue with it, either. She watched a dog kill a child on the same playground I was playing on - so that coulda been me! - and she doesn't fall apart every time she sees a similar dog. She has the common sense to know a picture won't bite her, but she avoids large, strange dogs in real life because they really might. And while people clamour for trigger warnings while professionals agree that TW and topic avoidance HAMPERS healing, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN WAR REFUGEES ASK FOR TW? I will absolutely say that being in the middle of a war, missiles overhead, bombs ripping through your home, the body parts of your loved ones scattered unrecognizable, is worse than rape. Worse than suicidal thoughts. Worse than a lot of things. And these people, they COPE. Or they don't, but they don't run around demanding TW. They know who is responsible for their ability to cope: themselves, and only themselves. Do you know how many Palestinians but also Israeli Arabs are abused and tyrannized by Israel on a daily basis? These people experience worse at our hands, than most things TW are used for. I don't see my Israeli Arab friends screech for TW when I post Haaretz articles about soldiers gunning down another Palestinian child. I know how angry they are and what a sensitive topic it is, I know most of them know someone who got killed unfairy by Israel for being Arab, and yet... none asks for TW. Why do people who go through the worst, who watch family go through the worst - war, horrible deaths, entire country stolen or pulverized - have so much chill, and meanwhile, sheltered white picket fence apple pie people clamour for trigger warnings for Pokémon GO, white males, and ableist language? Seriously? People screamed "Post a TW!" because I used the word "tit" which a reader's rapist may have used too, but nobody... NOBODY says, "Post a TW on that article on the Israeli occupation, my nephew was just burned alive by its proponents". I don't get it. I really don't get it.


Margaret Shamel · 19 Jun 2018

I must be living under a rock, or not paying attention. I have not seen a mass use of "trigger warning" in any of my groups. Or maybe I just skip them or skim over them because they have no relevance to me. I was totally appalled by some people who said that Walgreens should quit making pens that look like syringes because they could be a trigger. I thought, "Really??? A pen that you can tell is truly not a syringe????" But I guess if someone IS triggered by this who am I to say that they shouldn't be? I am strong in my program and I don't think too much about triggers. But every now and then something will sneak in my unconscious and start playing games. I have the tools to kick those thoughts to the curb, but maybe someone else does not. I try not to judge how someone else works their program. And if it is felt for whatever reason something may or may not be a trigger. The school of thought that says because something is mentioned it will bring about obsessive thinking until they use is valid to the extent that we say "feed the good dog, not the bad dog"...and "let go and let God" and "Easy does it." So, I don't know. I am all for the "take what you need and leave the rest" school of thought. So, if seeing all these "trigger warnings" are bothering me, I just don't pay attention to them. Or I don't let them rent space in my head. But, that is just me.


Anna M · 19 Jun 2018

On one hand, but on the other hand, "TW: scrambled eggs!" perfectly illustrates the fact that different people have different triggers and what may seem harmless to most, can put that one person into massive PTSD. Maybe those scrambled eggs remind someone of a miscarriage... who knows. And this is exactly why TW are bullshit. I get anxiety attacks from being accused of malicious intent when I had none, should I demand people put TW before calling me a troll? Everything out there is a trigger to someone. And everyone needs to own their own issues rather than demanding others coddle them for them.


Carole · 19 Jun 2018

I also agree that trigger warnings are way overused. Some people use it no matter the topic of the post. Use a trigger warning because I had scrambled eggs for breakfast or lost my wallet. Trigger warnings have become meaningless.


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