Trigger Warnings

I’m very good at voicing unpopular opinions. My approach to all things seems to be so different from most, that I end up taking stances that will piss off people on all sides of the fence, politically, religiously, and morally. When it comes to Trigger Warnings, this doesn’t change. I find them completely unnecessary, and in fact, more harmful than they are good. And here’s why.

I find Trigger Warnings to be part of the creation of a culture of victimhood, as well as a culture of irresponsibility. They have their roots both in the increasingly litigious nature of American society that seems to have arisen back in the 70s, and are reinforced with the growing culture of offense we see among more radically liberal elements today. They demand that people censor themselves and paranoiacly examine everything they say for something that might be deemed “triggering” to someone else, shifting the responsibility for dealing with that “trigger” from the person who should bear responsibility for their reactions to the speaker.

Before I go any further, let me pause to note I am not stranger to trauma. As one can note from previous articles of mine, I’ve experienced more than my fair share of it in the past. But this is no excuse for one to not comport oneself as an adult, for one to not bear the responsibility for one’s own actions and reactions. And in fact, actively shifting the responsibility to someone else in the form of demanding trigger warnings is not only refusing to be responsible for one’s own reactions, but it is giving victory to the perpetrators of those traumas – for it is saying that they have successfully molded one’s psyche to the point that one can no longer deal with mere words, one can no longer walk away from something that is too painful to deal with, but instead needs to be coddled and sheltered from ever being exposed to potential pain.

Trigger warnings are as unnecessary as the label declaring your coffee is hot. Of course it is hot, it’s supposed to be. They’re as unnecessary as the label on the top rung of a ladder to not step on it. Of course the ladder becomes unstable if you step there – of course you will likely fall. They’re as unnecessary as signs declaring “slippery when wet.” I could go on and on and on with examples of such signage, all the result of litigation by people who couldn’t handle being an adult, who needed society to protect them from themselves. This isn’t saying that the person is responsible for the trauma that happened to them in the past – far from it. The trigger warning, and the speech from which it’s supposed to protect them, is far removed from that trauma. The trauma is in the past, done, and the person who perpetrated it is to blame for it. It is only the memory that lingers. But, what it is saying, is that should one have triggers, one knows what they are, or at the very least knows what the results of them are, and, as a mature individual, should be able to recognize when they have come across material that, to them, is triggering. And at that point, the READER should be making the assessment – am I capable of facing this? If not, walk away. Stop reading at the point you realize it’s too painful.

The plain fact of the matter, is that there are far too many potential triggers out there for anyone to be reasonably expected to consider what might be painful to any one person of the plethora of people that might be reading their writing. The truth is, EVERYTHING one can say might be triggering to someone. Everything. Every single word. What I am writing at this very moment, this article, it is indeed triggering someone’s frothing anger at this very moment, that anger being focused upon me as an evil person for daring to believe that people should not be sheltered from themselves. And it is this very fact that makes the demand for trigger warnings before any potentially triggering material ridiculous. To achieve this, we’d have to put them on EVERYTHING. And that is simply ludicrous.

Are some topics difficult and painful to deal with? Certainly. But that doesn’t mean they should be avoided, nor does it mean they need warning labels. Again, any mature reader can recognize when something has walked into territory they find painful, and at that point, if they are unable to cope with it, should walk away. If they’re unable to do so, there are issues to be dealt with from which no mere trigger warning will protect them.

It is also true that the only way to overcome trauma is to face it. One cannot heal the wound unless one acknowledges its presence and understands its source. Covering it up, hiding it, and hiding from it, will never lead to healing. Trigger warnings serve as that blindfold to hide one from the pain. They do not promote healing.

I’ve even seen one person insist that dismissing trigger warnings is deciding for other people what traumatizes them, and to what they should be exposed. It took me a moment to wrap my head around this point of view, because, if one gives it even a little bit of thought, it is absurd. The only person who decides what they read is the reader. The speaker, or writer, has no idea what traumatizes a person whom they’ve never met. The writer has no control over who reads their material (beyond possibly their chosen means of distribution). Trying to claim they do, and that they make the decision of reading FOR the reader is just so absolutely inane a proclamation that, well, I’m going to leave it at that. It’s absurd.

So, instead of insisting on them, how about this: maybe we can go back to remembering that people are responsible for their own reactions. Maybe we can recognize that sheltering people from themselves only perpetuates victimhood. Maybe we can recognize that demanding other people examine everything they say with an eye for YOUR personal demons is extremely egocentric and inane, for how can they possibly take into account everyone’s personal demons. Your demons are your own. Don’t force them on other people by insisting they censor their speech for you. And don’t let the person who hurt you win by giving the pain they caused you so much power over you that you can’t handle words, or walk away when you need to do so.

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