Trigger Warning: Reality Hurts (2022)

This is aMindf*ck Monthly newsletter from September 7, 2022. Every month, I send out big ideas I’ve been chewing on in the hopes that it makes you less of a shitty person.

Let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

  • Trigger Warnings
  • The Verdict Is In
  • Death of “Safety-Ism”

Trigger Warnings

Years ago, many readers wrote to me complaining that I didn’t include trigger warnings in my articles. This was 2014-15 or so. The trigger warning thing had become popular on university campuses and left-leaning news sites. Given that at the time many of my readers were young students, an expectation arose that I would follow suit.

Yet, I refused (and still do). Back then, this caused a lot of headaches for me and made sifting through my inbox feel like playing hopscotch in a minefield. “How could you not?” readers would write, exasperated. “I thought you cared about mental health issues.” Well, yes I do… which is why I don’t use them.

I remember when I was struggling and broke in my 20s, a family friend bought his daughter—who was a couple of years younger than me—her own house. One day, joking around with my dad, I said to him, “You know dad, if you really loved me, you’d buy me a house too.” He quickly replied, “No Mark, it’s because I love you, that I would never buy you a house.”

(Video) (TRIGGER WARNING) Reality Bites Episode One: Suicide

To me, it felt as though readers were coming at me saying, “If you loved us, you’d protect us from anything that might be upsetting or uncomfortable.” And I was responding with, “No, it’s because I love you that I will never protect you from what is potentially upsetting or uncomfortable.”

This shouldn’t have surprised anyone, as this is and was pretty much my entire message around personal development and self-help: pain is a healthy part of the process. Discomfort and upsetting ideas are what make you better. Confronting things that upset you helps you overcome them and yourself.

On top of that, I would argue, I doubt trigger warnings work, anyway. Anyone who has studied psychology (or advertising) for half a minute knows that people are drawn to what upsets them, not the opposite.

I took a lot of shit for this stance, back in the day. I even had a couple journalists talk some shit about me for not using them, implying that I was hypocritical. But whatever, I had better things to do. I guess you could say (here it comes) that I didn’t give a fuck.

The Verdict Is In

This is the part where I get to say, “I told you so.”

Researchers have been studying trigger warnings for the past seven years and a couple weeks ago, the first meta-analysis was done to gauge how effective they have been. Meta-analyses are a big deal because they gather all the major studies that have been done on a topic and pull all the data together as though they were done in one giant piece of research. This gets them to a dependable result. And in regard to trigger warnings, the results were stark: They don’t help. At all. And in some limited cases, they may even make things worse.

(Video) Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings | Keely Ball | TEDxWarwick

Let’s talk about why.

Studies consistently showed that trigger warnings do nothing to alleviate fears, pain, or anxiety about upsetting material. In fact, in some rare cases, they actually made it worse.

Imagine you lose your job. That’s pretty fucking upsetting.

Now, imagine the way you lost it is that you’re at work, doing your thing one day, and a co-worker walks by and says, “Hey, just want to give you a trigger warning: you’re going to lose your job tomorrow, maybe don’t come in to work.”

Would that make you any less upset? Would it make you feel better at all? Would you be like, “Oh cool, I can just stay home tomorrow”?

No, not only are you still upset about losing your job, but now you have all this extra time to agonize and think about what the fuck is happening. This is, on a small scale, what trigger warnings do to people: it gets them upset about the fact that they’re going to be upset at some point in the future.

The counterargument here is that, “Well, that analogy doesn’t work because trigger warnings help people decide what to read and what not to read.” But again, the data doesn’t support this. In study after study, researchers found that trigger warnings had no effect on people’s choice to read content. And, in fact, a few found that people with PTSD symptoms are actually more drawn to content with trigger warnings.

(Video) Well, I guess SOMEBODY had to read “Trigger Warning”

This will not come as a surprise: as I mentioned earlier, people don’t turn away from what upsets them; they are drawn to it. Ever heard of, “If it bleeds, it leads?” Yeah, there’s a reason that is a thing in the news media: people can’t help but look at stuff that bleeds.

The Dying Fad of “Safety-Ism”

In their 2018 book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff write about a culture of “safety-ism” that arose in the early 2010s. They called it “safetyism” because it was a collection of morals and values that obsessed over and optimized everything for young people to feel safe and comfortable. This meant parents not letting their children play outside alone. It meant removing upsetting or controversial content from television, the internet, or news media. And yes, it also included trigger warnings.

The aims of safety-ism were noble. They saw that young people were experiencing greater amounts of anxiety, stress, and depression than previous generations and sought to remedy their angst by protecting them from anything that could potentially harm or upset them.

But this is not how the human mind works. The human mind is not fragile—it does not need to be protected and cushioned from the hard surfaces of reality like a vase or piece of fine china. The human mind is antifragile—that is, it gains from discomfort and strain. That means to grow stronger, the human mind needs to regularly be confronted with difficult and upsetting experiences to develop stability and serenity for itself.

Unlike most people, I’m actually optimistic that safety-ism has peaked. It’s been years since I’ve gotten an email complaining about trigger warnings. I get far fewer emails complaining about upsetting content or accusing me of some form of bigotry or fascism. Either I’ve successfully alienated all of those readers out of my audience or many of them are finally realizing and accepting that this bizarre “woke” version of the world is unrealistic and untenable.

Either way, surveys show that these sorts of ideas are not exactly popular. Most people don’t believe trigger warnings work. Only a small but loud minority does—17% of people, according to one survey.

(Video) Trigger Warning!

But think about it this way. If you’re running a news media company in a highly competitive environment with razor-thin margins and you know that including trigger warnings can make 17% of people like your publication that much more, why not include them? Why not promote them? That 17% of readers can be the difference between a profitable year and an unprofitable year. They can be the difference between hiring more staff and firing them.

So you use them. They’re easy. They take no effort. And the 83% of people who don’t believe they work likely won’t notice or care anyway.

Then when you use them, your competitors start using them because they also want to win over that 17%. Pretty soon, everyone’s got trigger warnings. And suddenly, there’s this awkward sense that, “Wow, trigger warnings are everywhere—so I guess everyone must believe in them.”

And yet, most people don’t.

Like most things online, it’s a mirage. It’s simply another example of the great internet funhouse mirror: the views of loud minorities get exaggerated and the views of the silent majority are squashed and minimized.

Don’t lose sight of reality. Yes, the hard, persistently unpleasant, always surprising reality. Not the one invented in the minds of the mob on Twitter.

And never, ever email me about this dumb shit ever again.

(Video) When Trigger Warnings DON'T Exist: Existing in Relationships & Culture Without Warnings (PTSD)

Until next month,

Mark

P.S. If you want to actually get better at managing your emotions and develop resilience, check out my courses on Emotional Mastery and Resilience in The Subtle Art School. I also cover other topics like creating fulfilling relationships, finding meaning and purpose in your life, challenging harmful beliefs, finally getting your shit together, and more. Check it out.

FAQs

What is the psychological impact of trigger warnings? ›

Most of the flurry of studies that followed found that trigger warnings had no meaningful effect, but two of them found that individuals who received trigger warnings experienced more distress than those who did not. Yet another study suggested that trigger warnings may prolong the distress of negative memories.

Do trigger warnings actually help? ›

Some research does suggest that trigger warnings may be able to reduce distress — but only very, very marginally. A 2018 paper, though, concluded that “trigger warnings” were not only largely ineffective but also, in some cases, amplified the anxiety people reported in response to distressing material.

Why do trigger warnings exist? ›

For those who have experienced trauma, trigger warnings help them to avoid fight-or-flight modes that occur when they are exposed to words or imagery that remind them of the trauma. Trigger warnings can also help students who are recovering from mental illnesses, suicidal tendencies and eating disorders.

What is considered a trigger warning? ›

A trigger warning is a statement made prior to sharing potentially disturbing content. That content might include graphic references to topics such as sexual abuse, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, and so on, and can take the form of an image, video clip, audio clip, or piece of text.

What's the difference between trigger warning and content warning? ›

Content warnings: These should be used to describe something that might upset readers and make them feel bad e.g., blood and nudity. Trigger warnings: These should be used to prevent exposing someone with past trauma, to something that might insight a physical and/pr mental reaction e.g., sexual violence.

What do you do when you accidentally trigger someone? ›

How To Help A Friend Who's Been Triggered
  1. Understand what triggers are in the first place. ...
  2. Don't tell them they're exaggerating or doing it for attention. ...
  3. Get them out of the situation as quickly as possible. ...
  4. Reassure them that they are safe. ...
  5. Don't treat them like they're crazy. ...
  6. Get them to breathe.
4 Jun 2015

What triggers trauma? ›

Anything that reminds you of what happened right before or during a trauma is a potential trigger. They're usually tied to your senses. You may see, feel, smell, touch, or taste something that brings on your symptoms. While triggers themselves are usually harmless, they cause your body to react as if you're in danger.

What is a trigger in mental health? ›

A trigger, sometimes referred to as a stressor, is an action or situation that can lead to an adverse emotional reaction. In the context of mental illness, referring to triggers usually means something that has brought on or worsened symptoms.

What happens when someone gets triggered? ›

Responses to Triggers

You may feel strong emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness, or feeling out of control. Being triggered may primarily show up in how you behave; you might isolate yourself from others, become argumentative, shut down emotionally, or become physically aggressive.

Can you be triggered without PTSD? ›

Though commonly used to refer to the experiences of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the term "trigger" can also be used in the context of other mental health illnesses. This includes substance use disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety.

When did triggered become a thing? ›

The popular language of triggering emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s on women's message boards online, used to notify readers of explicit content ahead such as discussions of eating disorders or self-harm.

Does TW mean trigger warning? ›

A “trigger warning” (often abbreviated to TW) is a notice at the start of a piece of content such as a social media post, video, or a piece of writing. The purpose of a Trigger Warning is to attempt to forewarn the audience of potentially distressing material that may have a negative impact on viewers.

How do you avoid getting triggered? ›

Here are the steps on how you can recognize your own triggers:
  1. You Should Pay Attention to Your Mind and Body. ...
  2. You Should Step Back and Think. ...
  3. Determine the Cause of the Intense Emotions. ...
  4. Be Curious. ...
  5. Acknowledge Your Feelings. ...
  6. You Deserve Some Space. ...
  7. Be Open-Minded. ...
  8. If You Feel Negative Emotions, Practice Positive Actions.
1 Oct 2021

How do I identify my triggers? ›

  1. Listen to your mind and body. A key step in learning to recognize your triggers involves paying attention when situations generate a strong emotional response. ...
  2. Step back. When you notice these signs, stop to consider what just happened and the response it activated. ...
  3. Trace the roots. ...
  4. Get curious.
13 Nov 2020

How do you announce a trigger warning? ›

When posting a picture on a social media, start your description with the warning type (“TW:” or “CW:,”) and then add keywords. Make them clear enough that people know whether they want to go on with the read or not, but not so descriptive that they might alone trigger a reaction.

Why does eye pulling need a trigger warning? ›

They were popularized in the feminist blogosphere, to warn participants of the self-designated safe spaces about stories involving rape, abuse, or self-harm that might induce flashbacks to their own past traumas.

When should I put content warning? ›

Any time that you discuss a topic that you believe may cause a negative reaction for anyone, at any scale, then it would be best to give a content warning. It is best to try and think objectively about this, rather then just through the spectrum of your own personal experience and triggers.

What are examples of content warnings? ›

Examples of sensitive content:
  • Sexual assault.
  • Abuse.
  • Child abuse/pedophilia/incest.
  • Animal cruelty or animal death.
  • Self-harm and suicide.
  • Eating disorders, body hatred, and fat phobia.
  • Violence.
  • Pornographic content.

What happens when PTSD is triggered? ›

Overview. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

How do you comfort someone who is triggered? ›

If somebody has been triggered, here are a few things you can do to help them recover:
  1. Let them know that they can contact you. This is a simple gesture and a very important one. ...
  2. Be physically close to them. ...
  3. Distract and/or comfort them. ...
  4. Don't be judgmental. ...
  5. Don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake.
19 Aug 2018

How do I know if I've been traumatized? ›

Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression. Unable to form close, satisfying relationships. Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks. Avoiding more and more anything that reminds you of the trauma.

What does a PTSD episode look like? ›

vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now) intrusive thoughts or images. nightmares. intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma.

What does a complex PTSD episode look like? ›

Symptoms of complex PTSD

avoiding situations that remind a person of the trauma. dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma. hyperarousal, which means being in a continual state of high alert. the belief that the world is a dangerous place.

How do trauma triggers heal? ›

Instead, replace them with one of these strategies:
  1. Learn about PTSD and trauma.
  2. Talk to others.
  3. Talk with your doctor or counselor.
  4. Practice relaxation methods.
  5. Increase positive distracting activities.
  6. Start an exercise program.
  7. Volunteer in the community.

What are the 5 signs of mental illness? ›

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five adults in the U.S. has mental illness.
...
Here are five symptoms of mental illness that are often overlooked.
  • Constant Fatigue. ...
  • Physical Pain. ...
  • Perfectionism. ...
  • Lack of Emotion. ...
  • Avoidance.
3 May 2021

What are examples of emotional triggers? ›

Some more common emotional triggers:

Someone discounting or ignoring you. Someone being unavailable to you. Someone giving you a disapproving look. Someone blaming or shaming you.

What do PTSD triggers feel like? ›

With PTSD, a trigger is something that brings on memories or reminders of a traumatic event. For example, flashbacks are often prompted by a trigger. The flashback causes you to feel as though you're reliving the traumatic experience (or some parts of it) all over again.

How long can being triggered last? ›

Acute trauma

Symptoms may last from 3 days to 1 month.

How do you heal an emotional trigger? ›

8 Simple Strategies to Help You Identify, Manage, and Heal Your Emotional Triggers
  1. Figure out your big three. ...
  2. Understand what comes right before a reaction. ...
  3. Identify your story. ...
  4. Recognize the physical signs. ...
  5. Find an effective method to interrupt your reaction. ...
  6. Take deep breaths. ...
  7. Change the atmosphere. ...
  8. Practice thought stopping.
28 Jan 2022

How does a person with PTSD Act? ›

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people.

What does trauma response look like? ›

Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect. Most responses are normal in that they affect most survivors and are socially acceptable, psychologically effective, and self-limited.

Does triggered mean angry? ›

Meaning of triggered in English

experiencing a strong emotional reaction of fear, shock, anger, or worry, especially because you are made to remember something bad that has happened in the past: With my PTSD I'm very easily triggered. When you're triggered it can be hard to think rationally.

When did trigger warning debate start? ›

Trigger warnings are a relatively newer concept in academia. They began to dominate the academic discourse in early 2014, when students from several US colleges formally requested that they be placed in syllabi and used in classrooms (Wyatt 2016.

What does trigger mean in slang? ›

Urban Dictionary is used to define slang and colloquial terms, and it proceeds to define “triggered” as “when someone gets offended or gets their feelings hurt, often used in memes to describe feminist, or people with strong victimization.”

What does FW mean warning? ›

Summary of Key Points
FW
Definition:F*ck With
Type:Abbreviation
Guessability:2: Quite easy to guess
Typical Users:Adults and Teenagers

What does Byf stand for? ›

byf means before you follow, dni/dfi means don't interact if/ don't follow if 😊

What does sa warning mean? ›

Especially when used in trigger and content warnings, SA stands for "sexual assault." This acronym warns readers that the content to come mentions and possibly describes a sexual assault.

What are 3 types of behavior triggers? ›

Types of external triggers
  • Spark: The spark trigger motivates you to act. ...
  • Facilitator: This trigger works with complicated things like dealing with trauma, setting up a new phone, etc. ...
  • Signal: Signal triggers act like reminders of who we are, what we can do, or what we want to do.
26 Aug 2021

How do I stop reacting to everything? ›

Top 7 Ways to Practice Thoughtful Response and Avoid Hasty Reactions:
  1. Train and Plan. ...
  2. Get Perspective. ...
  3. Mindfulness - Considering the 360° View. ...
  4. Manage Emotions Balanced with Facts. ...
  5. Pause and Breathe. ...
  6. Consider the Consequences of your Choices.
8 Jun 2019

What does an emotional trigger feel like? ›

An emotional trigger is something that causes distress. Emotional reactions to triggers can look like crying, unexplained anger, increased anxiety, feelings of panic, physical symptoms, and more.

Can being ignored be a trigger? ›

Feeling ignored can trigger something very specific in a complex trauma survivor's nervous system. A lot of our woundedness tends to revolve around the feeling that we were unwanted or unimportant to the people who were supposed to want us, care for us, protect us, love us.

What is emotional trauma? ›

Emotional trauma is the end result of events or experiences that leave us feeling deeply unsafe and often helpless. It can result from a single event or be part of an ongoing experience, such as chronic abuse, bullying, discrimination or humiliation.

How do I write a social media trigger warning? ›

You can put a trigger warning by writing TW: death, TW: violence or TW: grief at the beginning of the narrative.

What does TW stand for on twitter? ›

TW means “trigger warning.” It is a courtesy extended to others who may view your content on social media when your post is potentially an emotional trigger.

What complications comes with the use of trigger warnings? ›

Summary: New research suggests that trigger warnings have little or no benefit in cushioning the blow of potentially disturbing content and, in some cases, may make things worse. For some, traumatic events leave deep psychological scars that can resurface many years later as renewed emotional pain or unwanted memories.

What happens when someone gets triggered? ›

Responses to Triggers

You may feel strong emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness, or feeling out of control. Being triggered may primarily show up in how you behave; you might isolate yourself from others, become argumentative, shut down emotionally, or become physically aggressive.

What is a trigger in mental health? ›

A trigger, sometimes referred to as a stressor, is an action or situation that can lead to an adverse emotional reaction. In the context of mental illness, referring to triggers usually means something that has brought on or worsened symptoms.

What triggers trauma? ›

Anything that reminds you of what happened right before or during a trauma is a potential trigger. They're usually tied to your senses. You may see, feel, smell, touch, or taste something that brings on your symptoms. While triggers themselves are usually harmless, they cause your body to react as if you're in danger.

How do you announce a trigger warning? ›

When posting a picture on a social media, start your description with the warning type (“TW:” or “CW:,”) and then add keywords. Make them clear enough that people know whether they want to go on with the read or not, but not so descriptive that they might alone trigger a reaction.

What are trigger phrases? ›

Trigger words and phrases are those that cause a listener to feel strong emotions because of previous experiences. While the phrase is used in a number of different ways, we're using it here as many people now do, to refer to words or phrases that trigger memories and emotions from traumatic events.

What are examples of content warnings? ›

Examples of sensitive content:
  • Sexual assault.
  • Abuse.
  • Child abuse/pedophilia/incest.
  • Animal cruelty or animal death.
  • Self-harm and suicide.
  • Eating disorders, body hatred, and fat phobia.
  • Violence.
  • Pornographic content.

How do you know if you're traumatized? ›

Signs and symptoms of emotional & psychological trauma
  • Intrusive thoughts of the event that may occur out of the blue.
  • Nightmares.
  • Visual images of the event.
  • Loss of memory and concentration abilities.
  • Disorientation.
  • Confusion.
  • Mood swings.

How can you tell if someone is traumatized? ›

Changes in physical and emotional reactions
  1. Being easily startled or frightened.
  2. Always being on guard for danger.
  3. Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast.
  4. Trouble sleeping.
  5. Trouble concentrating.
  6. Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior.
  7. Overwhelming guilt or shame.

What do PTSD triggers feel like? ›

With PTSD, a trigger is something that brings on memories or reminders of a traumatic event. For example, flashbacks are often prompted by a trigger. The flashback causes you to feel as though you're reliving the traumatic experience (or some parts of it) all over again.

How do trauma triggers heal? ›

Instead, replace them with one of these strategies:
  1. Learn about PTSD and trauma.
  2. Talk to others.
  3. Talk with your doctor or counselor.
  4. Practice relaxation methods.
  5. Increase positive distracting activities.
  6. Start an exercise program.
  7. Volunteer in the community.

How do I stop being triggered? ›

Tips on Managing Your Emotional Triggers
  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings. Feelings are part of your everyday existence. ...
  2. You Deserve Some Space. ...
  3. Be Open-Minded. ...
  4. If You Feel Negative Emotions, Practice Positive Actions. ...
  5. Create Positive Memories from Positive Experiences. ...
  6. Learn to Communicate.
1 Oct 2021

How do you heal emotional triggers? ›

8 Simple Strategies to Help You Identify, Manage, and Heal Your Emotional Triggers
  1. Figure out your big three. ...
  2. Understand what comes right before a reaction. ...
  3. Identify your story. ...
  4. Recognize the physical signs. ...
  5. Find an effective method to interrupt your reaction. ...
  6. Take deep breaths. ...
  7. Change the atmosphere. ...
  8. Practice thought stopping.
28 Jan 2022

What does a complex PTSD episode look like? ›

Symptoms of complex PTSD

avoiding situations that remind a person of the trauma. dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma. hyperarousal, which means being in a continual state of high alert. the belief that the world is a dangerous place.

What does PTSD look like in a woman? ›

Feeling jittery, nervous or tense.

Women experiencing PTSD are more likely to exhibit the following symptoms: Become easily startled. Have more trouble feeling emotions, experience numbness. Avoid trauma reminders.

Can yelling trigger PTSD? ›

Such an interaction could likely cause stress. And yelling can be a trigger for PTSD.

Videos

1. Your Reality | Award-winning short film on Gaslighting
(Tatjana Anders)
2. Massive trigger warning. Consent
(The Phoenix Podcast)
3. Trigger Warning: Mention of Loss
(Lynn Clementi)
4. Heal - Part 2 (13+) Trigger Warning!
(TheNamelessDoll)
5. TRY NOT TO CRINGE CHALLENGE
(Gakuć)
6. Trigger Warnings + What “Recovery” is
(OCD Recovery)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated: 12/04/2022

Views: 6282

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.