Trigger Warning: This article contains ideas that may trigger people who are triggered by ideas, especially ones they don’t agree with. It may refer to content that makes you uncomfortable. If this is you, don’t read on. Or maybe you should.
I am not in the business of re-traumatising traumatised people but I’m over this current trend to give ‘trigger warnings’ ahead of content that might be deemed distressing. They are triggering me. They are triggering me because I can’t work out who is being triggered and from what? And why now?
Are we really the first generation to experience trauma? My understanding is that humanity has been creating trauma and reporting on trauma and even making art of trauma ever since caveman had his first cave wall exhibition depicting his big dick, his even bigger club, and his impressive buffalo cull. Apologies to buffalos reading this. I should have given a bovine Trigger Warning!
Isn’t suggesting something is potentially triggering actually triggering? Aren’t we just implanting the idea of extreme response into someone before they have it? Can’t adults make their own decisions about content and their ability to manage it without this patronising paternalistic attempt to protect people from ‘dangerous’ material? Can we really expect to avoid all things that cause us discomfort and pain? Isn’t that the point of life? To work it through?
Wouldn’t it have been more helpful to protect people from the initial trauma in the first place rather than protecting them from anything that reminds them of it?
Trigger warnings are the psychological equivalent of a sign on a cliff face that says ‘Danger. Cliff’. Or the top of a takeaway coffee cup that says ‘Caution. Hot Liquid’.
As human beings I believe we need those skills to make safety assessments for ourselves. Otherwise we blunder through a dangerous world in a constant state of unawareness and blind dependence on other people advising us how to be safe. If a documentary is about the war in Rwanda you will probably see horrific images of war. Sorry if that triggers you to feel things like outrage, horror, guilt and disgust, while sipping tea and painting your toenails in the comfort of your nice comfortable middle class home.
If a story comes on the news about the Catholic church and historic cases of abuse then do you need a trigger warning? Don’t you already know what the content will be? Don’t you have the capacity to switch something over if you don’t want to hear it without someone warning you? It’s hardly going to contain half an hour of the best of funny cats from YouTube. Although you could be triggered by cats.
What we are trying to avoid here is trauma triggers. But who knows what a person’s trauma trigger might be? It’s presumptive to think that images and stories of sexual assault or child abuse or violence or self-harm may be the only triggers. The colour red might be a trigger. The smell of the road after summer rain might be a trigger. Someone leaving the milk uncapped on the bench. Who knows how many layers your trauma lays under and what secret button can suddenly cause intense rage or sorrow?
I have a history of domestic violence. I have experienced rape and sexual assault. I find some things really disturbing. I don’t know if that’s me being triggered or that I am sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. Years ago in a cinema watching Trainspotting, in the scene where the baby falls down the stairs and dies I got such a shock and was so distressed I cried in a way that you don’t want to cry in a public place. Huge gulping sobs. I felt sick, distressed. I was affected for weeks afterwards. I still don’t think that was a bad thing. It was embarrassing for the bloke I was on the date with but it was a strong human reaction to something awful, probably magnified by my personal history. I was triggered. It made me really examine what upset me so extremely. I haven’t watched that film again. Nor the second one. I made that decision myself. I don’t need a trigger warning.
Trigger alerts annoy me by presuming that we all share the same level of privilege. Trigger alerts just seem so white and middle class and presume that our trauma is special.
Perhaps programs depicting affluence and wealth should come with a trigger warning for those living below the poverty line. Should cooking shows warn people with eating disorders that they are discussing food?
If we were to truly give a shit about not wanting to instigate trauma in our fellow citizens then maybe we should honour our first nations by giving Australia Day a trigger alert.
Sometimes I believe it’s important to come into contact with information or experiences that make you feel uncomfortable. It is my responsibility to learn how to live in the world, not the world’s responsibility to work out how to live with me. The only Trigger Warning you really need is on a gun. But if you got rid of guns you wouldn’t need that either.