THE BLOG

TW: Saying Bad Things About Trigger Warnings

07/03/2016 11:11 GMT | Updated 06/03/2017 10:12 GMT

The "trigger warning" has taken a world of its own in the past two years, as it now seemingly dominates FemSoc groups and Far-Left activists Twitter timelines. I have been a regular critic of this phenomenon, and have usually been decried as "insensitive" or someone who lacks empathy. But it is time to set the record straight.

Trigger warnings cannot practically work and indeed we should not want them to work. Of course, that is not to say people are not "triggered" by certain things. As I have battled mental illness; notably that of health anxiety, I today am what one could say, triggered, by programs such as Holby City. The operations, the blood, the death does make me feel uneasy. However, I am not asking the BBC to issue a trigger warning about Holby City, because ultimately, it's my problem in which I have to deal with- the onus does not rest with the BBC, it lies with me. Trigger warnings have become so out-of-control now that writing "Contents of this article may upset some" is no longer enough. Keyboard warriors have demanded I return to my post and edit it so it reads something like "TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT". Yes, there is now a hierarchy of the trigger warning. Another demanded I edit a post sharing the Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett's "car crash interview" with Nick Ferrari, because apparently, it is triggering to those people who "have been in a car crash".

Enough.

Have these Facebook policers ever considered that the issuing of a trigger warning is triggering in and of itself? To me, there is no difference if I watched Holby City with no pre-emptive warning or whether it said at the start "TRIGGER WARNING: BLOOD, DEATH, HOSPITALS" and then decided to avoid it. Either way, I will return to the deeply troubling experiences and thoughts of old. And as I say; if something as innocent as a hospital bed on the TV screen makes me feel uncomfortable, then that is an indicator that I mustn't shy away from these thoughts; I must take them on head on. If just the words "car crash" bring some bad experiences back, then that indicates that you should not avoid it, you should work through these thoughts. The trigger warning contravenes everything that is said by experts who have developed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; they say, work through these thoughts. Rationalise them, challenge them, expose yourself to them- do not hide away from them. Avoiding these things does not bring you any long-term emotional relief or an end to your suffering; instead you just kick the ball down the field and do not bother with engaging with them.

Another reason why they just cannot work as that people's triggers are so diverse and so subjective. There are seven billion of us in this world, all of whom have our stories to tell; some pretty dark stories. The reality is that everything triggers at least some of us. A car crash; the word "mother" (if had a terrible experience with your mum); pork scratchings; a science lab; talk of church; rape; disability; death; etc. Literally everything is a trigger to someone, even if it sounds like a total fallacy. Are we going to be consistent and issue trigger warnings for every single Facebook post and everything we do and say? Undoubtedly, some of the keyboard warriors would welcome that. But to the intelligent being, one would recognise that this is an incredibly unreasonable demand. Why not instead of pretending to be a fighter for social justice by telling your friend to hide away from these experiences, actually support your friend by working through some of these distressing thoughts and feelings. There will be tears and undoubtedly short term anxiety, but emotionally, you will be better in the long-run.

These trigger warnings help nobody. They are not a coping mechanism; they are insulting, they insult our very human nature and our instincts of survival. When did the human mind become so weak that we cannot fight back; fight some of the thoughts and feelings and the experiences of old? When will the human fight back, and tell those intrusive thoughts that you are not going to let them dictate your life for any longer?

No, this doesn't make me any less empathetic. It is precisely that I have been through some pretty dark times that I worry about the impact these "trigger warnings" are having. Despite my critiques, people who issue TWs do so with the most noble of intentions. But they help noone.

I'll finish with a quote from Richard J. McNally, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University:

"Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder"