Well, here is a thing I'll come back to LJ for, apparently -- this viral post about trigger warnings. It is entitled "Trigger Happy*: The 'trigger warning' has spread from blogs to college classrooms. Can it be stopped?" and it is based in blatant misunderstanding of what triggers are and why anyone should care about triggering others. This is an argument that has been rehashed many, many times, and it is *always* based in ignorance about PTSD; it is also generally associated with a self-centered belief that other people's triggers are not sufficient reason for a writer to undertake the arduous task of writing five to ten words warning about a post's contents. ___________________________________________________________
So let's take a look.
Here is the big thing, the thing I really want people to know: the word "trigger" does not mean what most people think it does. A "trigger", for a person with PTSD, is not a matter of getting offended. It is not a matter of taking offense because taking offense is fun. It is not a matter of thinking that they have a right not to be "upset" by the world. It is a matter of getting "upset" in a sense, but the word "upset" here does not describe the same experience that non-PTSD-sufferers have when they are "upset". It isn't something that people without PTSD can understand without a lot of experience with/listening to people who do have PTSD.
I'm not going to ask people to imagine what it would be like to suffer a horrible trauma sufficient to cause PTSD, because if it hasn't happened to you, you can't understand. You might think you can. You might think you can extrapolate your own experience with bad, upsetting, or scarring events out to an understanding of what people with PTSD have suffered. But you can't. It's not the same category. I have often seen people say they were "traumatized" by a very upsetting movie or things like that. That sort of "trauma" is based in a generally understood definition that entails the experience of encountering something that upsets you greatly, something that you never forget and that shapes part of who you are in the future. And that kind of emotional trauma is real; I'm not saying it's not. But it's not the same thing as fighting in a war or living in a war zone or being raped or severely physically assaulted or other things that can cause PTSD. The sooner people without PTSD start understanding that their own experiences of "trauma" are simply not comparable to the experiences of people with PTSD, the better. This isn't a matter of different degrees of the same thing. They're different -- different in experience and very different in impact. So stop thinking you can get it because you can imagine your own traumatic experiences magnified. You can't.
With that said: what is a trigger? This is an incredibly misunderstood word. Even people who don't think that triggers are about being "upset" in a neurotypical sense tend to have an incomplete understanding of the definition of the word. People have a sense that it can mean something that causes a "flashback", but they see it in a limited way: someone sees something triggering, has a flashback, pulls him/herself out of it, and moves on. That's generally not the way it works. I said to one PTSD sufferer that a trigger doesn't mean ruining a half hour of your life, it means ruining the rest of the day, and she laughed kind of bitterly and said "That would be really lucky. It usually ruins a few days or maybe a week." I was going to try to explain it myself, but I don't have PTSD and I'd do an incomplete job. So here's what Toby M (@tylluan) on Twitter has to say:
"For me, triggers mean: can't breathe, can't speak, can't tolerate touch, sweating, crying, frozen, out-of-body consciousness experience. After effects linger for days - voice doesn't return, jump at shadows & sudden sights/sounds, can't sleep, nightmares."
So let's stack that up. That's what people with PTSD can experience when they are triggered. Some people have less severe reactions, some people have more severe reactions, but for all, it is an immersive experience that plunges them back into the worst thing they have ever experienced -- and remember that the worst thing they've ever experienced is unimaginable to the rest of us. When they're triggered, they're being raped again, they're in the middle of a war zone again, they're being brutally assaulted again, and so on. Not just remembering it: they are in that moment again.
In a hefty percentage of cases, all of that can be avoided if people want to give a shit about it. I have seen many, many people bitching about having to put trigger warnings on blog posts or fanfics, as if it is some incredibly difficult task that will somehow tax the writer. People generally get offended at the idea that someone else might get offended by something they've written. Apart from the irony here, that demonstrates willful ignorance: interpreting a PTSD sufferer's experience through one's own lens and then blatantly ignoring anyone who tries to explain. Because trigger-warning supporters do try to explain. A lot. Strong trigger-warning opponents don't give a shit. They would have to put something like "TW: rape" on THEIR story or THEIR blog post! But they are STANDING STRONG and NOT BOWING TO THE PC POLICE.
So they just go ahead and risk causing others to have that horrific experience Toby M describes, because what the hell, no one is going to tell THEM what to do.
Why would they not actively *want* to spare people that? Why would they not want to spend *two seconds* trying to help people not to be triggered? Because fuck those whiny hypersensitive people. That's why.
The discussion, of course, doesn't center around an issue as neat as that. People warn that trigger warnings are going to become endemic, that people will have to issue trigger warnings before everything they say or do lest people who don't *really* have PTSD, people who just like taking offense, yell at them. The linked article notes sardonically that people have requested trigger warnings for books and movies used in college classes,** for television shows, for... actually, those are the only real examples they've got, but they pad the article out considerably by imagining a whole bunch of other settings in which no one is using trigger warnings *yet* -- but they might have to in the future! Everyone knows that speculation is just as good as facts. Right?
And again, I say to you: who cares?
Why do you care about taking five seconds to put out a trigger warning? Even as a just-in-case? Maybe some people who appreciate their use don't technically have PTSD. Maybe they just want to avoid reading about things they don't like. Why do you care? So you take a chance that someone with PTSD will see the trigger warning, and instead no one with PTSD happens to see it. This is really your big argument, that that's somehow too much for you to do?
People are saying trigger warnings can't possibly encompass everything that could be triggering. No, they can't. Now explain to me why that means you shouldn't use trigger warnings for common triggers.
Is it possible for demands for trigger warnings to get out of control? Of course. Just look at all the speculative stuff in that article! It's possible for anything to get out of control. But I haven't seen trigger warnings get out of control. I've seen people asking for trigger warnings for a wide variety of common triggers, it's true. I've seen people asking for trigger warnings for things that seem trivial to people who don't have PTSD.*** But most of what I have seen is people balking at the idea of trigger warnings themselves, thinking they're enacting that most horrible of modern bugaboos, political correctness. Think-pieces in the New Republic might focus on the fringes of the trigger-warning movement, talk about them as if they are the mainstream, and then speculate about where they might take us next. But that is not what is happening in the mainstream. The mainstream is having a debate about whether trigger warnings should exist at all. Instead of taking a compassionate view, a "hey, I don't want to send people into a horrible experience" view, it's all "I don't want to do this but they're making me!"
To those people: stop it. Think about someone other than yourself for once. Stop making dire predictions about the future and look at the now. Right now there are people whom you could be plunging unknowingly into horror. Think about them, and write the goddamn trigger warning. I guarantee you you will not be harmed by doing so. You'll be fine. Really. I promise. So do it.
*OH MY GOD SERIOUSLY.
**I am so not tracking why they're upset about the college materials thing in particular. Many college materials deal with stuff that can absolutely be triggering -- it's part of the deal; college is meant to be intellectually challenging. They talk about a woman who got triggered by a graphic rape scene in a movie but didn't leave the room because she didn't want to stand out or betray her history/level of upset. The general tone of the sentence implies that she could have just left and there wouldn't have been a problem. The issue with that is that a triggered mindset is not a rational one. It also very often makes it difficult to make decisions like a decision to walk out. People feel frozen and cornered and sometimes physically can't remove themselves from the situation.
***Apparently the people writing that article don't know this, but in my corner of the Internet there's a thing called "content warning". A trigger warning warns of common triggers. A content warning warns about things that might be overly upsetting to people who don't have triggers and about passing, non-graphic references to things that can be triggering. I still don't get why it's a big deal to do this. I'm not saying people should *have* to do it (nor am I saying that about TWs, by the way); I just think it's a nice thing to do. People could stand to be nice more often.