[TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, RAPE CULTURE, TRAUMA]
If you're confused right now, that headline and this article is a direct response to the Pacific Standard article that showed up in my inbox this morning.
Trigger Warnings Do Not Work, New Study Finds
I don't remember how or why I ended up subscribing to the Pacific Standard weekly newsletter, but I thought they were a pretty good publication, so I let it slide. Not anymore. UNSUBSCRIBE.
I would love to go over this study in detail, but unfortunately, it's behind a fucking paywall. However, this one line buried in this incredibly irresponsible article with the irresponsible headline tells me all I need to know.
"It's worth noting that the study participants did not include people with diagnosed psychological ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorder."
So you're telling me that they stuck a bunch of neurotypicals in front of a screen, showed them disturbing content, and they were disturbed? Groundbreaking!
This study and the reporting on it, which is shitty across the board although the New York Times' headline is at least better, represent a complete misunderstanding of the nature of trauma and triggers.
Trigger warnings work for me every time. The point of trigger warnings is to warn me that there might be triggering content ahead. As soon as that warning is delivered, their purpose has been served. They work by existing.
I'm well aware that I will likely still end up with emotional distress after reading the triggering content even with the warning. I know that trigger warnings aren't a magical shield that prevents me from feeling disturbed by disturbing content. Trigger warnings allow me to decide whether or not I want to read or watch the thing based on how I'm feeling BEFORE I read it.
The study and the article fail to represent even a basic understanding of emotional/trauma triggers. Being triggered can result in anything from low-level emotional distress to emotional numbing to full-blown panic attacks that make you feel like your brain is tearing itself apart and the fabric of space-time with it. Trigger warnings can allow me to steel myself in a way so that I feel emotional distress, yes, but I can keep myself from spiraling into a panic attack or a deep depression.
Other times trigger warnings don't work, because triggers are complicated as fuck. I once read a book that did not have trigger warnings, but I was able to essentially trigger warn myself. The book was about a sex worker and I was fully aware how often sex workers are sexually assaulted. But it was a review copy, so I steeled myself and read on. I ended up identifying deeply with the protagonist and when the sexual assault scene did come, I was triggered. I felt emotional distress. But the part that was much more triggering than the assault itself was the way it was brushed off by the staff of the BDSM dungeon and the way the protagonist had her career ruined by it but she couldn't see it, and ended up quitting and marrying a guy who was clearly a misogynist and maybe an abuser. And the fact that it was non-fiction.
ALL of those details converged into one of the worst triggering events of my life. But even though a trigger warning in that case would not have prevented that, it doesn't mean I think trigger warnings don't work. In the vast majority of cases, they help. And again, their very existence allows me to avoid triggers entirely when I need to.
I need trigger warnings. But there's a subset of people out there who think that trigger warnings are the work of the devil or something. People literally write entire books about how trigger warnings will bring about the end of the human species. People will see this study AND this headline from a respected publication and use it as an excuse not to use trigger warnings and to further hound people who do and attack people who ask for them. I'm so tired already of having to explain how triggers actually work and now I feel like I'm going to have to do it all over again to every asshole shitstain who sends me a link to that same fucking article.
So fuck you, Pacific Standard, for your shitty, ignorant garbage pile of an article and your even shittier clickbait fuck headline. Way to help make life even more miserable for those of us who have PTSD or any other mental illness or trauma that leaves us with triggers that make life a fucking minefield already. Thanks for trying to take away our one little safety vest in an ocean of shit. Trigger warnings are so easy to post, too. It takes so little effort. But sure, declare they don't work in spite of the millions of us who actually need them screaming that THEY FUCKING WORK AND WE NEED THEM. Because clicks or whatever.
I hate you, Pacific Standard, and anyone else even reporting on this shitty study.