Trigger Warning?

As I scroll through my social media feed, I see it all the time. ***TRIGGER WARNING*** Then the post to follow. Sometimes the post is about sexual abuse, rape, child abuse, or spousal abuse. Sometimes, it’s about drug use or a complaint about the in laws.

When I first started using the internet, more years ago than I care to admit, there were no trigger warnings. Information came at us at dial up speed (I was going to say lightning, but that would be a flat out lie) and there was no filtering it. Since then, parental controls have been put in place to limit the “dirty web” content from their children’s daily lives, and more recently, in the last couple of years, things are being labeled as NSFW (not safe for work) or with a trigger warning.

I understand the concept behind NSFW. People are at work constantly getting onto the internet while they should be working (guilty) and some content, if you are caught viewing it, could get you into hot water with the bosses. Ok. Understandable, and thanks for the heads up. Or, we could just get back to working and stop being on the internet so much. Hahahahaha.

Let’s move on to this other thing, the TW. A trigger warning is a heads up that content may be violent, sexual, or otherwise negative in nature, something those who have experienced trauma or have PTSD may not want to read because it could adversely affect their mental health. Are we enabling a weaker society, or are we protecting those dealing with mental health issues?

I did some research into trigger warnings, looking for educational based articles, or even articles from the psychiatric community. I was hard pressed to find anything other than mainstream media articles explaining why trigger warnings are needed and so helpful. Then, after a few pages into the Google search, I found an article from Psychology Today. It’s a well written piece that discusses the negative side of a trigger warning, and the fact that there is no evidence that trigger warnings are actually helpful. “Should young people be confronted with material in class that is disturbing and distressing? Yes, if we want to solve disturbing and distressing social problems such as crime, war, and illness. Should there be resources in place for those who find such material overly distressing? Yes, if we want caring and compassionate campuses. These are not mutually exclusive goals.”

Ten pages into the search for evidence that TW before content is helpful, I gave up. There is no evidence. In fact, years of psychology and psychiatry research have shown us the opposite; a trigger warning leads to avoidance, avoidance leads to further mental health issues and the inability to grow from experience. What’s more, the use of trigger warnings leads to stereotyping, name calling, and a further separation of humanity with this whole “snowflake” issue that has taken the vocabulary by storm. So, if it does more harm than help, why is it spreading like wildfire?

Here is where opinion comes in. I think it’s because people don’t like discomfort, and have found a way to remain comfortable. As a student of psychology, I have found that leaving one’s comfort zone is a part of the healing process. First hand experience has shown me that facing phobias leads to conquering those fears. Imagine if there was a trigger warning before every bridge (my former phobia). Oh wait, there is! But it didn’t actually say “trigger warning” it says “bridge ahead” or “bridge may be icy” or something similar. That in itself triggered my phobia for years. That warning gave me tunnel vision, measured breathing, and white knuckles on the steering wheel. That warning caused me to avoid as many bridges as possible, which incredibly hindered my ability to go where I pleased.

It took years of allowing that to hamper me before I finally took control of my own life, faced my fears, and conquered gephyrophobia. With that phobia out of my life, I was no longer a victim of my own fears. That milestone lead me to fighting back against my anxiety issues as well, and I live with my anxiety medication free. I fight that one on the daily, but my life isn’t anxiety, anxiety is a tiny fraction of my life. My life is so much more than that aspect, and I will no longer allow it to control me.

So while it is in no way an expert opinion, my personal opinion is that we should stop with the trigger warnings, and encourage each other to seek out ways to improve their mental health issues. Counseling, therapy, medications (when absolutely necessary and not just because), facing fears, talking about things, group therapy. There are so many healthy options, that do not lead to ostracizing, stereotyping, and more of that blasted “snowflake” rhetoric that seems to be the nation’s response to trigger warnings and safe spaces. Maybe it’s crass to say toughen up, but facing your fears does in fact make you stronger.

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