*A handful or two of times in the last few years I’ve used trigger warnings on social media, though I rarely use them in real life beyond warning someone that something is graphic or “fucked up”.
Using them always rubbed me the wrong way and it’s only this year that I’ve disavowed them as a rule. It took for Bryant Cross to share this post on the Bully Bloggers’ site to enumerate why.
This post is just an amalgamation of my issues with trigger warnings, so don’t look for it to be a comprehensive, academic treatise on the matter. Take from it what you will; disregard it entirely. I don’t care.
The whole triggering phenomenon has really gotten out of hand. It’s crossed the line of “political correctness” (whatever the hell that means) into censorship and also causes everyone involved to stay small. I’d argue that it’s antithetical to long-term healing and progression and creates more problems than it solves.
Much like a physical injury, emotional injuries can be exorcised from the body and psyche.
To rehab an injured muscle or ligament, you would exercise it through progressive ranges of motion over time. If you didn’t, scar tissue would build up and it would remain locked into a limited range of motion, indefinitely. You only increase mobility by being mobile, not by standing still.
Likewise, progressive confrontation of triggers can loosen the anxious, painful scar tissue associated with it, so that the trauma can be released. Not doing so would be to intentionally stunt your emotional growth. It would be putting yourself at an emotional standstill.
Further, avoiding triggers is a way of avoiding responsibility on two levels:
1) It delays action in the direction of your own recovery.
2) It delays accepting responsibility for creating certain social climates.
It also doesn’t do much to actually help the wounded and tries to force the world around us to move at our pace, which is a fool’s game.
I get it. I really do. Terrible things happen. Terrible things happen to people that’s not their fault. That being said, the recovery from those terrible things can only be done by the traumatized and is therefore their cross to bear. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Avoiding situations that hint at those triggers is to actively avoid confronting said trauma. I speak from experience when I say this: Avoiding triggers also keeps the traumatized from picking up on a number of personal issues: unhealthy coping mechanisms and thought patterns chief among them. In his book The Toilet Paper Entreprenur, Mike Michalowicz said, “The meek may inherit the earth one day, but they sure as hell won’t be entrepreneurs.” I’d apply that to triggers by saying that while the traumatized may never be triggered by censoring others, it comes at the expense of their healing and increased greatness. No matter how emotionally painful a situation is, the reality is, you’re not gonna physically die from it.
Further, by censoring would be offenders, intend of “offending” someone, dealing with the repercussions of triggering someone and better figuring out their line between self-expression and tact, they simply don’t say their piece or only speak in like-minded company. Operating that way is neither the hallmark of a free society, nor conducive to anyone’s personal growth. It keeps that person from examining their own problematic patterns of interaction.
I’m not saying this to give the spiteful a free pass on prickling others. I’m saying it because from my vantage point, it’s true.
Case in point: A good friend of mine and I disagreed about a situation and instead of letting me say my bit, she kept cutting me off. I couldn’t make it through one sentiment, without her interrupting. By the time another friend joined in and cut me off, I was over it. I slammed by hand on the table and before I realized it, had hopped in a cab and gone home. It happened so quickly it almost felt as if I’d blacked out between slamming my hand down and reaching the door. The situation was very dramatic to all there, because no one present had ever seen something rile me up to the point that I’ve left on my own. It left a mark.
Upon further examination, I acknowledged that it irks the shit out of me when people do that to me, because it was a regular part of my father’s punishment ritual as a kid and my friend acknowledged that the way she had been dealing with others around the issue was to not let them get a word in, edgewise.
We both came out better people because of it. This only happened, because I had never told her that irked me, so she did it, and we both had to deal with the fallout.
Avoiding triggers would have avoided that ugliness (we didn’t speak for two weeks), but we’d also have both avoided dealing with the issues it brought up for who knows how long.
How that helps people with trauma is beyond me.
In my humble opinion it further plays into the narrative of disempowerment and division already rampant in society. It puts self-healing out of reach and would be allies at each others’ throats over semantics and imagined slights. I say imagined because many of the most vocal proponents of trigger warnings and politically correct speech have never experienced the trauma they’re supposedly trying to shield others from.
The Bully Bloggers asked,
Is this the way the world ends? When groups that share common cause, utopian dreams and a joined mission find fault with each other instead of tearing down the banks and the bankers, the politicians and the parliaments, the university presidents and the CEOs? Instead of realizing, as Moten and Hearny put it in The Undercommons, that “we owe each other everything,” we enact punishments on one another and stalk away from projects that should unite us, and huddle in small groups feeling erotically bonded through our self-righteousness.
If the Trigger Warning Police have their way, I think yes, it is. It’s also part of the way that we stay small, disenfranchised, and hurting. I can’t abide that in the name of Unhurt Feelings.