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Is the internet trigger-happy?

Thread starter #1
Like the road signs warning of sharp curves and icy bridges, society talks about trigger warnings as though they're a helpful addition to content that promotes safety--emotionally, at least. But are they? Have we, as a society, convinced ourselves that we need warning to brace for impact prior to reading something we may find uncomfortable or distressing?

Do we really need prior notification to ascertain whether we read or partake within an activity? Even with such notification, how do you know, without reading first, whether content is going to be distressing for you individually?

The scarier thought is that if we start to think on behalf of everyone else about the possibility content could distress another, should not every piece of content cite a trigger warning to guard against potential individual vulnerabilities?

Are we going to see PTSD claims in the near future from reading supposedly distressing content, citing similarity of outcome to being raped, tortured or partaking in war? Is society merely bored and looking to fill time with useless drama to create ourselves as filling a position of moral righteousness that should never exist?

Many interesting questions, that is for certain.

Here is what I know as the the founder of MyPTSD. I do not concur with the 2013 feminist bloggers movement for use of trigger warnings nor have I allowed their use upon the MyPTSD community for the past decade. It seems that research tends to substantiate my ideals from over a decade ago and not the feminist bloggers.

Every now and then MyPTSD gets a new member who believes trigger warnings are required for their content, warning potential readers that what they write may trigger them. I agree with the concept in theory for its intention, however, I also believe that you must be able to answer this question adequately before you ever use one: "How can you determine what will trigger another person?"

If you can answer that question with conviction, then you believe you know what others are thinking. Is that moral? Do you know what another will think when reading your content? Should we think on behalf of another to claim what may or may not distress them?

After having such discussions on this topic for over a decade, I can attest that the majority of this 25,000 strong community do not want others thinking on their behalf. They like to form their own opinions on whether content distresses them. Some become angry when a person does use a trigger warning, claiming to think on their behalf. Not as righteous an idea as some may perceive? Regardless of how good an author's intentions may be.

The number one reason given to validate trigger warnings is "But all other websites I've been on have used them." Following a popular practice does not an argument make.

How can anyone claim to be right when doing something totally wrong? Like thinking on behalf of others! An equally important question, how do you reduce the possibility for distress when your content could be symptomatic for another?

The University of California-Santa Barbara, in 2014, passed a resolution to mandate syllabi to carry trigger warnings. Professors must alert their students, and exempt them from classes, where emotional distress maybe caused because suicide, sexual abuse, kidnapping or such disturbing topics may occur.

If I were a student who didn't want to attend class on a certain day, I may use such resolution to my advantage and avoid that class. Welcome to the crux of the issue--avoidance.

Prolonged Exposure (PE), to date, is the most efficacious therapy for the treatment of trauma, specifically PTSD symptoms (EMDR is very close, yet that is a different discussion). PE exposes a person to reverting conditioned fear via a desensitization process. Trigger warnings are clinically counter-productive, maintaining conditioned fear towards distressing stimuli.

Although avoidance that such warnings foster mayreduce short-term distress, avoidance of reminders doesmaintain PTSD symptoms. Using Santa Barbara University as an example, students would benefit more through seeking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) such as PE, than insisting professors reconfigure courses that promote avoidance and maintain mental health disorder symptoms.

An interesting aspect from a 2011 study on childhood sexual abuse found:

Many women who have experienced sexual assault reject the label victim in favor of survivor. Although the latter term connotes empowering, having trauma become central to one’s identity bodes poorly for one’s mental health. Among 102 women who reported histories of childhood sexual abuse, the more central their abuse was to their identity, the worse their PTSD symptoms. In particular, seeing one’s future through the lens of one’s abuse was especially associated with the severity of PTSD symptoms. These data suggest that acknowledging one’s abuse but not allowing it to dominate one’s sense of self may foster resilience against the long-term psychologically toxic effects of childhood sexual molestation.

The evidence is stacked against the feminist blogger trigger warning movement. Emotion is not at play here; instead this community seeks logical reasoning towards common-sense. Whilst one may argue that movies have graphic warnings for sex, violence and so forth, they do not think on behalf of the viewer, claiming the content may trigger them.

Trigger warnings are a fruitless, emotionally biased avoidance strategy. Agree or disagree, that is your choice. At no stage, though, am I thinking on your behalf, as I do not possess such telepathic powers. If you believe trigger warnings are still of purpose, I would love to have your super mind-reading powers. I wouldn't be writing this, for starters--but you already knew that, didn't you?

Mr Ian

“*** Graphic content ***” – would suffice, where such content exists. It is true to suggest ‘trigger warnings’ are thinking on behalf of the reader – but this arose out of courtesy following complaints that some readers found some content distressing and would have liked prior warning in order to decide if they wanted to read it. It was not intended as a ‘prediction’ of a persons response; just a ‘heads up’. Notation of the type of content as being ‘graphic’, rather than describing the potential personal ‘trigger’ reaction, would shift the focus from the individual to the subject matter – much like the movie warnings – and allow the person to be empowered to make their choice.

Running water

Hi… I am not up to date about “trigger Warnings” although I have been aware Of and healing my pstd for years. What I wanted to say is that I learned and grew Without ever hearing of trigger warnings.. (In print) ….of course ,I learned ,discussed And wrote about My particular triggers throughout my life but I am glad I Healed without the written ‘ trigger Warnings’….. …I effectively learned to recognize And embrace my triggers through Being ‘startled’ and ‘surprised ‘by them on each day’s March. (Then I would work on the reaction and still do ) It has been a very self-empowering journey.

And, although uncomfortable, I dont know if I would be where I am today , if i was warned while reading… Who knows…. I do know that Without , the ability to compare and contrast Our opinions , we wouldn’t be empowered To reach our own… But that is for a different Discussion. (I also believe that the owner of this website Should have the freedom to set the rules. If he doesn’t want to have trigger warning words Then so be it !!!)



“Trigger warnings empower me to choose”.

I think common sense is empowers me to choose.

Just as the person issuing the “trigger warning” has no way to know what might bother me, I have no way of knowing what they might think of as a “trigger” either. Not very useful!

(I had no idea this term originated with “feminist bloggers”. I’m guessing that would be SOME “feminist bloggers”? I hope not ALL of them!)


Trigger warnings, for me, are a massive jump from, say, news articles/reels that warn “the following may be distressing/graphic/violent/contain uncomfortable imagery” etc etc. The latter is often useful, since the news may be discussing violence, severe human suffering, torture, death, rape, etc.

But I agree with the article – the practice has gotten to a ridiculous level. If I read an article or view media that is personally distressing, I may choose to stop reading, or may force myself to continue – depends on the day. In social media I see “trigger warning/tw” on the simplest things – an image of a woman in a bikini has one, for the sake of those with eating disorders; an image of a military cover has one, in case it brings back memories; an article discussing a fender bender, in case someone who had survived a terrible accident was distressed.

Thing is, while there are some “common” triggers, most of these things are highly individual, as the article states. It’s impossible to predict what will trigger intrusive thoughts or worse in a given day for a patient with PTSD. It’s not up to everyone to present things in a gentle, inoffensive manner in the fear that someone, somewhere may have a bad day – and where does it stop? Do we put trigger warnings on movies? On tv shows? In commercials, magazines, novels?

For every useful “trigger warning” label on material I would predict many to find inherently distressing, I’ve seen dozens that seem redundant and unnecessary.
I believe that we should have a warning. That way we can protect ourselves from reading or viewing a video clip that could trigger a flashback. I have found that just the sound or visual of a gun will most definitely cause a flashback for me. So if I am aware that there is a potential for a flashback I will avoid it.
I never pay attention to trigger warnings. Jeez, searching the Internet for hours reading peer reviewed articles on PTSD and childhood sexual abuse have steeled me to take whatever a writer decides to write. And, by the way, I can only be helpful to a person posting here if I know what’s bugging them. And this is a support group.
Having been a member of other mental health and PTSD support sites, I found this point of view to be a breath of fresh air. I don’t participate on any groups now specifically because of the trigger warning criteria. At times I have felt I had no one to turn to for support because what I’ve needed help with was gruesome and I worried about “triggering” someone. There is no way to get real support from others when you fear triggering them. Some of my stuff, if I let it all out, has caused PTSD like responses from people who didn’t even have it. I’ve even lost friends who I thought would be able to support me because it’s just to intense. Thanks for the article. I hope others will follow suit. BTW a real feminist is strong. We don’t need trigger warnings.

Susan P Banitt LCSW

As a therapist for and a sufferer I support the use of trigger warnings. I once was very traumatized by hearing some extremely graphic war stories at a lecture I attended at a conference. All the major conferences on trauma ask presenters about triggering content for this reason. I assure you, you would not want me posting details about my ritual abuse clients without some trigger warnings – not to mention the fact that some triggers are installed and are dangerous. I would strongly encourage you to get more education and reconsider your position. That having been said, thresholds for posting warnings should get a lot of mindful thought.


I don’t agree. I have in the past been thankful for trigger warnings – and I agree that they empower me to choose. The other day I was driving to work and the radio issued a warning. I turned the radio off. After many years in therapy I knew that that was NOT the appropriate time for exposure.
This is not the first time I’ve had the thought that this site has developed a preoccupation with ‘triggers’ and how other people view them and whether they are using the term correctly. I don’t think that’s particularly helpful to anyone and I don’t think this rant is particularly helpful to people either. What if a person is not ready for exposure? Rants like this only serve to make a person feel bad about where they’re at.
It’s not about reading peoples minds or thinking you can. It’s about courtesy. If you’re doing a segment on childhood abuse or domestic violence, there’s a strong possibility that could be a trigger for someone.
Get off your bandwagon. The idea that these warnings are somehow based on the idea that people think they know what’s in your head is just overly dramatic for no reason.
This was an enlightening article and I personally agree with this opinion “against” trigger warnings because of the mind-reading issue. People should realize that they take a risk of being upset just by joining this website, and they may need to stop reading if they come upon difficult content. Thank you anthony.
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