Does Everything Need a Trigger Warning?

Caution tape

I’m sympathetic to people with triggers. Heck, I have a handful of triggers myself! There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see someone look at me “in a weird way” in my mind, and throw me into a brainstorm of, “why did she do that?” “Is he going to kill me?” Seriously.

Since triggers are everywhere — on television, in real life, and in articles — many news sites have started using trigger warnings when authors discuss “delicate” topics. But does every article that contains possibly trigger-causing content need a disclaimer? I’m not so sure…

I read a lot of feminist blogs and magazines. These news sources always have interesting pieces and include voices of women and men who are passionate and smart. But often — too often — each piece leads off with a:

Trigger Warning

Followed by, “rape, race, violent issues are discussed in this piece.”

At first I was pleased when I saw these warnings. But now I feel like I see these warnings, like, four times a day.

I’m not saying that trigger warnings aren’t useful or needed. There are plenty pieces online that contain incredibly detailed accounts of assault. But now it seems it’s commonplace for a piece to prominently feature a trigger warning if the word “rape” is even mentioned in passing. It seems a bit like overkill.

I think part of the reason I’m so frustrated with trigger warnings lately is because most of my triggers are so difficult to pinpoint. Certain benign phrases can send my brain into a downward spiral of yuck. There’s no way a trigger warning would have even made sense in these scenarios. Also, I feel like so many pieces that are written under the “self help” umbrella can potentially be triggering, too. But does that mean every blog that contains clean eating advice, or a new exercise regimen should come with a big, red, trigger warning? Heck no.

When used properly — and sparsely — I think trigger warnings can do a lot of good and help readers decipher the content they are about to read. But when used too much, these warnings can make everyone — even survivors — eyes roll.

Related on EcoSalon

Trigger Warning: That Happened

Sexual Assault: Victims No More

Legitimate Rape: Shutting It Down

Image: Robert Couse-Baker

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.