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traffic-sign-160659__340TW: brief mention of domestic violence

I have been very outspoken in my support of trigger warnings in the past. I believe it is crucial that we don’t shut trauma survivors of all kinds out of conversations and readings. I believe warning people about the content they are about to consume is not enabling avoidance, but choice. I believe no one else but me should decide when I read or view something that might disturb me. I believe trigger warnings are shows of compassion.

At the college where I work, there was recently a guest speaker who talked about trigger warnings. I couldn’t go, but a colleague gave me the run-down. She said this speaker was adamant that “trigger warning” is an insufficient label, and it really made me think.

A trigger is not necessarily a word or phrase or topic. Triggers are multi-sensory. I am triggered, for example, by loud, competing noises, because concurrent to my being abused was lots of screaming and throwing things and breakage. Sometimes the TV was blaring in a wholly insufficient attempt to cover those other noises. Sometimes my ears still ring. Yes, reading about domestic violence and rape can be triggering for me (less now than ever, thanks to self-care), but I have a very low tolerance for yelling.

Others might be triggered by the smell of a certain cologne, or a specific shade of this or that color. Still others might be triggered by a specific action, such as turning down a familiar road in one’s car or preparing a particular meal.

In short, what I realized–what I probably have always “known” but hadn’t put into coherent thought yet–is that the term “trigger warning” sort of misses the point. We can’t successfully prevent someone from being triggered, and we can’t put warnings on all triggering events. Perhaps the more accurate term for what we need on visual or literary media is content tags or descriptions.

What do you think?