Trigger Warnings: Good or Bad?
As someone with PTSD (as well as OCD) I’ve done a lot of thinking about trigger warnings and how necessary they are (or aren’t). In the past when my anxiety was far less under control than it is these days, I definitely had trigger words, phrases, and even images that could induce panic and anxiety. I am someone who has been through that and someone even now who (although much better) periodically has trouble with certain words and situations. The thing is, even when I was at my worst I would have never advocated trigger warnings. I’m also glad no one else did. Back then it wasn’t even a thing that was offered, or that well known. Obviously, people were aware that words and imagery could induce panic in certain groups of people but it wasn’t as worried about as it is these days. I’m very thankful that it wasn’t because I greatly believe I would have never improved had I been coddled and kept away from the things that trigger me.
The thing that people generally ignore about trigger words and the anxiety associated with them is that you kind of need them to happen in order to get over them. That’s the whole deal with anxiety-based disorders or anxiety in general. As much as it might suck, the only way to learn how to cope with anxiety is to have a bunch of it. That way you can train your body to realize that you aren’t in danger, everything is cool, and later when you come across those situations again you’ll know how to handle yourself.
I’m not going to get into what my triggers were, and that’s not because I can’t handle them I just don’t feel the need to explain them or why, it would be an entirely different article if I did that. Let’s just say that there were some very common words and phrases that could trigger me, and easily at that. They don’t anymore, in fact, I use the terms all the time now without a problem but ten years ago I’d have been livid if I just heard the word, and seeing this specific thing also sent me into instant panic mode. Did it suck? Yes, not going to lie, but that was the whole thing about it. Being exposed to that sort of thing also helped me learn how to cope with that sort of thing. It allowed me to become desensitized and learn that hearing words or seeing fictional images couldn’t hurt me, wouldn’t hurt me, and there was no need to panic.
I also believe that my triggers were so common that there was no way in the world to be warned at all times for that specific thing. It would come down to expecting people to be psychic to know not to say a common phrase. I also viewed it as my problem that I had to deal with and it was not something for the world to cater to. I didn’t want to have these trigger words and panic attacks and I didn’t want to avoid it. I wanted to confront it head-on, I wanted to figure out how to beat it. If I had asked for everyone in the universe to avoid those words and enable my behavior I’d have never gotten better and trust me, I am very thankful that I eventually overcame this problem. I think that the vast majority of people would be.
These days, people vastly misuse the phrase as well. A lot of people say they are “triggered” just because they don’t like something or it makes them uncomfortable. That is not the same as an actual trigger word. I am clinically diagnosed with PTSD and OCD. Not self-diagnosed. I know that an actual trigger will make you have a legit panic attack and the last thing you are worried about is yelling at the person who just said your trigger word. Also, in my experience, I have found that I didn’t want people to even know my triggers because I didn’t want people to walk on eggshells around me or be afraid to have a conversation with me. I didn’t need people to worry about me because I didn’t want to be that way. If you avoid your triggers and you keep yourself in a metaphorical padded room to get around hearing them you will not recover, you will not get better, you will never learn how to cope. Not liking a subject or topic of conversation is entirely different from actually being triggered into a panic attack.
There are only a few situations where I think trigger warnings are warranted. I think that they are completely fine to put on movies, TV shows, and video games. I believe there is definitely content that children shouldn’t see and I also think that adults have the right to be warned about certain subjects they might want to avoid. However, at the same time, I don’t think anything beyond general statements is needed. Listing things such as “Violence, Gore, Nudity, Drugs, Sex” will give you a general idea of what is in the media you are about to view. The genre should also give you a good clue already. If it’s a horror movie and you don’t like gore or loud noises, then you probably should just avoid it entirely. Use common sense or look on the internet, I’m sure someone can spoil you with a 30-second internet search. The warnings should really only be there if the genre isn’t expected to have that content, like a comedy movie where someone is brutally decapitated, get my drift?
In the end, I think that trigger warnings do a lot more harm than good. I think that if you are really that triggered by a word or image then the person that needs to get help is you. By expecting the entire universe to cater to your issue and predict what may or may not upset you, you are also expecting the impossible. The better thing to do is work on yourself until you get to a point where you are comfortable with these things, or at the very least can tolerate them without panicking. I’m saying this from experience, years and years of experience. Take it from me, I’ve been a lot better off without trigger warnings and I would not advise they be used unless it's for very specific situations.