I read an article today called “How the Trigger Warning Debate Exposes Our F*cked Up Views on Mental Illness” on Everyday Feminism. This comes at a good time since the University of Chicago recently sent out a letter to students saying that they do not support trigger warnings or safe spaces. The argument against using trigger warnings in a classroom environment is that students should be able to just deal with what triggers them and to have trigger warnings is to limit freedom. While I do believe that exposing ourselves to our triggers can loosen its power over us that is something we need to decide for ourselves. We decide where and when, how much or how little and who is with us when we do it. Having the exposure sprung on us in the middle of a lecture surrounded by random classmates and a professor who potentially lacks understanding is not the time to do it. A professor does not get to decide when we face our triggers. We decide that.
I have been using trigger warnings for years on my blog, Facebook postings, presentations etc. It has never pained me to do so. All it is is a quick blurb acknowledging that for the following reasons some people may find the following content triggering. I always add that I want people to do what they feel they need to do to stay safe, including removing themselves from the room is needed and to do so without fear or shame. Their personal safety is more important than sitting through what I’m doing. Some people did choose to get up and leave the in-person presentations but more often people sat through it, maybe had a cry, and shared publically or privately at the end their experience with me. A safe space was created and that is what we all deserve.
I find trigger warnings helpful. Trigger warnings give me a choice. I can choose if the trigger is one that I feel confident in confronting so I can stay or read further. Or I can choose to leave or not read because I have not dealt with the trigger yet. I have confronted most of my triggers and can cope with them effectively in public. I may still feel a twinge inside and a bit of discomfort and because I choose to be with the trigger I can use coping skills to deal with it. For example, if someone is talking about self-harm I can shift my mindset to remind me that I am safe and have successfully been self-harm free for almost 2 years. This makes hearing about self-harm and even seeing self-harm easier to deal with. When I am given a trigger warning and can prepare myself I am better able to function within the environment and engage with the material, my peers and myself.
Trigger warnings do not mean that something cannot be spoken about. It acknowledges that some material may be painful for some and that we respect this pain. Freedom is about choice and to deny trigger warnings is to remove choice for selfish and silly reasons.