Trigger Warnings in Books – My Ity Opinion

This is a sensitive topic but I felt that it was something that I wanted to put on my blog. I grew up in a time when Trigger Warnings were never a thing, you’d be lucky that you’d get that viewer advisory before a show or something gross on TV. It was just a different time, so the idea of Triggers and Trigger Warnings never really made much sense to me as I got older and heard more and more about them. I can honestly say that for a long time I just thought that they were unnecessary. For me they really aren’t, but I’m not so self-absorbed to think that someone else couldn’t benefit from them either. I like to think that we could live in a world that they weren’t needed but that isn’t realistic is it?

Everyone has experienced different things, no one’s life is exactly the same as someone else’s. The choices that we make, the events that happen to us, they shape us. For better or worse. And no one’s experiences should be discounted. I don’t think it’s ever fair to make someone feel bad for something that happened to them, especially when it was out of their control. Having an open mind and being able to see something from all sides is so important even with this topic.

So what are they exactly and what is their true purpose? I thought, like I think most people do, that they were like viewer advisories in the sense that if something you are about to read makes you uncomfortable than you shouldn’t read it or it’s giving you fair warning so you can’t complain about it. This topic came up all over twitter after an author stated that her books wouldn’t have them and I read a lot of the responses that people had to that. It made me realize that they really aren’t meant for that. That, in fact, they have a very significant purpose that people have abused and used poorly to give a lot of people like me this huge misconception of what they really are.

They are, from what I read, more for people who’ve experienced something traumatic and that reading something that involves that same type of trauma can trigger panic attacks and severe emotional distress. They are for people with PTSD more than they are for someone that gets the heebie jeebies over reading a rape scene. That doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to everyone though, to get an idea of what you are getting yourself into but they aren’t this terrible thing.

I’m not one to shy away from the traumatic things that you can read in books, in fact I think that it’s healthy to read that and then have an emotional reaction to it. I have never experienced a trauma myself. I don’t know what being raped is like, or having to be in the middle of a war, or to be abused. I don’t have anxiety at a level that requires meds, I’m not depressed and I’ve never been suicidal. It’s awful that people have experiences those traumas, that to read about those things again can affect them in a terrible unhealthy way, so the idea that Trigger Warnings aren’t needed is naïve.

I do think that people tend to talk about being ‘triggered’ over the littlest thing these days. I’ve read that people have been up in arms over shirts or posters. There will always be a part of me that feels like instead of putting something on blast through the internet, instead of essentially shaming those that enjoy the thing that you are offended by, you could just not buy it or go someone else. I don’t get that at all, but I think that we make the mistake of calling that being ‘triggered’ because that makes the people who really needs these kinds of warnings to be lumped in with those kinds of people. It’s an unfair assessment. The use of trigger warnings may seem silly or unnecessary to you but there is someone that needs to know if something is going to be in the book they are about to read that could cause them to have a panic attack.

Of all the things that I’ve written I’ve never considered Trigger Warnings before. I probably will, but also I don’t think that should be up to the author of any book. That should be up to the publisher who’s distributing that book as to whether there are warnings of any kind and what they would say. I know that some people thought that it would spoil the book, and I would say does seeing the content warning before a show or movie ruin or spoil anything? It’s general, I feel that if you put it before the chapter it happened that may spoil a plot because then you know but honestly I would just ignore it. I don’t look for or think about Trigger Warnings.

Bottom line, if they help people then there is no harm in them. If you don’t need them, you won’t even think to look for them so they can’t ruin anything for you. Don’t shame someone because you don’t like something that helps someone else or is liked by someone else. It’s not about you, ya know?

Let me know how you feel about TW and if you think they are needed in books or not.

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0 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings in Books – My Ity Opinion

  1. Great post – interesting points! I actually get put off a book if I see trigger warnings… in theory I would rather not have the warnings but at the same time, if a book has content I would find very upsetting (and would make me want to abandon the book) such as animal cruelty or child abuse, I would rather know and save myself the pain of reading it. Ideally the blurb/marketing of a book would have a little indication of the contents, so the reviewer does not feel obliged to mention those triggers.
    I agree that people talk about being ‘triggered’ too easily now – they actually mean they got upset, or angry, or offended.

  2. Very interesting post! I do think books should contain trigger warnings in the same way films etc do. When I began blogging I did not include them in my reviews, but now believe them necessary.

  3. It is a very interesting topic and something that I debate regularly with a particular person in my life who unfortunately suffers with PTSD. Let’s just say that they would tick the box for potentially needing a lot of different trigger warnings. They themselves are actually against trigger warnings, where as I think it is something that needs to be standardised across the industry. You would have thought it would be the other way around! Trigger warnings are easily placed on the back of a book where only those who are specifically looking can read them. I don’t personally see them as ‘spoilers’ because as you say, something like a film rating gives you an idea of content without being considered a spoiler. I think that their should be an area on each publishers website where they list trigger warnings and you could, perhaps, filter titles that way. I greatly dislike the term ‘snowflake’ but in terms of trigger warnings I think that there are people doing a great disservice to those who genuinely would benefit them. A ‘trigger’ is not something that is a little bit uncomfortable, as you say, it is a full on experience. It is what causes, for example, an adult to stand pale, sweating, shaking, trying to stop themselves being sick because something has just taken them back to a place in the past and they feel like they have lost control all over again. I’ve seen that and it isn’t pretty. Great post and a very interesting topic.

    1. So true, there is a vast difference between finding something uncomfortable or even distasteful and having an actual panic attack over it. It would help so many to have it. I think the easiest thing is that if you don’t need it, you don’t have to go looking for it or even read the warning it in the first place and can enjoy the book without the warnings all the while they are still there for those that DO need them.

  4. As a school library consultant I find trigger warnings about books extremely useful. I can’t read every book published (even though I do my best to try!) but I need to know the content, level of detail, emotional engagement, etc. so I can recommend them to readers. I need to know, for example, if the character is experiencing grief over the loss of a parent or sibling or if they are depressed and self-harming or having suicidal thoughts. Not so I can censor the books but so that I can consider them against the mental well-being of the student. It also helps to meet any challenges from parents so when they say “There’s swearing in this book” I can say “Yes but it’s in context and part of the story as the character has Tourette Syndrome” …

    1. That makes sense! And it’s awesome that you can provide that for students or even parents so that they understand the context of those situations! Thanks so much for the comment!

  5. I would rather error on the side of providing a trigger warning. Everyone responds differently to content and I think deserves the information so they can make an informed decision for themselves. I include them in my reviews as necessary.

  6. Really great and interesting post! I had an internal debate with myself the other day after reading a book and reviews of that book. I believe that I came to the conclusion that trigger warnings are being over used these days. They are everywhere and “warning” against everything. I think this is wrong in several ways. First I think the meaning with trigger warnings is lost and second I think it spoils too much.
    In the book I read there was one mention of self harm, one mention, and it wasn’t graphic. In a review I later read there was a trigger warning for self-harm. I don’t think that was necessary if you ask me. I hardly believe a former self-harmer could be triggered by that. I may be wrong of course. I haven’t dealt with anything serious regarding my mental health. But I don’t think we give people who have, enough credit.
    I am afraid the overuse of trigger warnings will take over. We can’t warn against illness, death or heartbreak in books (we can but that would be ridiculous if you ask me). These things are a part of life. We can only try to understand them better by reading about them I believe.
    With all that said I do “believe” in trigger warnings. Especially in books like Am I Normal Yet and Asking For It. These books were very real and graphic (and utterly great!!) but I do believe a trigger warning for OCD and rape are in order for these ones.
    Sorry this comment became way longer than intended ?

    1. I totally agree with you in that they don’t mean what they should mean anymore. My kids say triggered and when I talked to my twelve year old she even agreed that it just means upset nowadays.

      Thank you so much for your detailed response! I love the long comments the most.

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