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“Triggering” means to produce a strong, negative emotion in an individual, such as feelings of depression, anxiety, or suicidal tendencies.  Some individuals become triggered when they see certain images, hear detailed descriptions, or are called specific names.  Some individuals may try to overcome being triggered while others may choose to avoid such things whenever they can.  Although I have not written many, if I do write a blog that is very graphic and detailed I chose to attach a “trigger warning” to alert those that may be upset or triggered by such descriptions.  I believe that these (if given with a short description about what exactly is triggering) can be very helpful and prevent unnecessary problems.  But do these warnings solve everything?

Trigger warnings can be positive.  Take for instance a person who can read through blogs like mine without any trouble but feels like self-harming when shown a picture of self-mutilation.  If this person knows that the images trigger them and the blog’s author states in the description that there will be an image, the reader can skip over this blog post without feeling the urge to hurt themselves.  The individual avoided being upset and it only took knowing what troubles them as well as a few extra words by the author.  As an author it might be worth adding a short warning to have the peace of mind that you may have prevented someone from being triggered.

One problem with assigning trigger warnings to pieces of written or visual work is deciding what types of things are triggering to someone.  Human diversity is wonderful but it also makes protecting people difficult.  I will generally only attach a trigger warning if I describe in detail the physical appearance of wounds, the act of harming, or dark thoughts that would circle throughout my head as I hurt myself.  But does that work for everyone?  Maybe my words wouldn’t have triggered a person but they avoided my work anyway and maybe missed out on something they may have liked to hear.  On the other hand maybe some people will be triggered just at the mention of specific modes or motivation for self-injury.  Furthermore, an individual’s specific triggers may vary just depending on their mood.  Sometimes I can read or see something extremely grotesque and not be affected at all.  Other days I can just see a self-injury scar and feel down.  Such fluctuations make it difficult to determine when warnings are proper.

Another problem is that these warnings can only be available in certain instances.  Maybe every blog will have warnings before showing graphic content.  But will every social media post take this into account?  Will every movie or television show include one aside from the general warnings that come with their rating?  These ratings may mention violence or sexual content, but someone may be able to stomach all the other violence on the show but perhaps not the imagery of self-injury.  And we can’t expect trigger warnings on people or events that happen outside of written or visual work.  We can’t put a warning on every person who walks around with their scars visible or who is noticeably thin due to an eating disorder.  Since warnings can only go so far they shouldn’t be the only solution.

Of course you shouldn’t tell anyone to just “get over” what’s bothering them.  But if you are someone who is upset or triggered by specific things you cannot just assume that you will always be warned.  You should use your discretion to avoid what you think may or may not be upsetting.  If images of self-harm trigger you, don’t go looking through the self-harm tag on tumblr.  Perhaps read through synopses or ask friends about books or movies if you don’t know what they may include.  You might be upset about a spoiled plot line but you have to decide what is more important to you.

Sometimes being triggered cannot be avoided.  If this happens try to leave the environment, end the conversation, or find someone in whom to confide.  There is nothing wrong with you for being upset by certain things.  The most important thing is not to act out on these feelings in a negative way (such as relapsing into self-harm).  Look out for yourself by trying to avoid what you can and calmly dealing with what may occur.