Ed’s Note: this post was originally written by Steph at Grounded Parents. Click through the link at the bottom if you want to read the whole post and leave a comment.
Trigger Warning: This post contains content related to domestic and sexual violence.
If you spend a lot of time on parenting forums or Facebook groups on the internet, you have probably seen and/or used a trigger warning. Olivia recently provided a great refresher on the subject on Skepchick. I encourage you all to read it, but the tl;dr is pretty simple: people who have experienced trauma – domestic violence, sexual violence, infant loss, racism, combat – can experience trauma responses long after the original trauma occurred. These can be triggered by a variety of things – images, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, movements. Olivia describes trauma responses as emotional, but they can also be physical, your body and brain literally think you are in harm’s way and cause you to have the same fight, flight or freeze response that you would have if you were actually experiencing trauma. It’s important to also recognize that these are unconscious responses and not something that someone does on purpose. Being triggered is NOT the same thing as being offended.
An example: a couple of weeks ago, I bought a new type of garbage bag. I opened the box and replaced the bag in my kitchen garbage can. A few minutes later, I was playing on Facebook when my heart started to race, and I began to sweat. What was happening? I started to panic. I literally thought that there was a man in my house. My kids were sleeping upstairs. I ran and got my giant steel flashlight and went from room to room searching all of the closets and under the beds. I checked all of the windows and doors and even did a walk through of my garage with my flashlight on my shoulder like a baseball bat. THERE WAS A MAN IN MY HOUSE. I considered calling 9-11. I was terrified. I went back into the kitchen and then realized what had happened. There was not a man in my house. The new garbage bags I had purchased were scented. The smell was supposed to be lavender, but to me smells very similar to men’s cologne. I had a panic attack about garbage bags. Whoa.
Clearly we can’t always predict what might trigger someone, but for obvious things – graphic images, content or images related to sexual or domestic violence, stories about child abuse, miscarriage or infant loss, racism or torture – trigger warnings are a kind and easy way to help people avoid trauma responses.
How do I use a trigger warning? Basically, if you are posting something that could be triggering, you type: “Trigger warning: content related to (type of content here)” And then either type a bunch of characters to push your content out of the line of sight or simply post the potentially triggering content in the comments of a thread. This allows people to opt in to the discussion or avoid it if they know it might be triggering. Easy peasy. Or so I thought.
Recently, I was engaged in a heated debate about trigger warnings on the internet (Steph in a debate on the internet? Shocking). Many people expressed dislike for trigger warnings and confusion about them. Some were even angry and indignant. How dare an administrator ask them to “censor” themselves? How could people so sensitive to trauma function in the world? (the answer to that question is not very well some days). People who want trigger warnings should just – “grow a vagina” and “get over it.” (yes, this actually happened).