• Tavisha Jain

Importance Of Trigger Warnings

Have you ever seen the ‘Sensitive Content: This photo/video contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing’ warning on Instagram? This is the app’s way of ensuring that its users are less likely to have surprising and unwanted experiences on the platform. Trigger Warnings such as these are statements that tell you to fasten your seatbelts and prepare yourself for something that has the potential to make you feel uneasy and elicit an emotional response. You can look out for abbreviations- TW/CW (Trigger Warning/ Content Warning) to prime yourself or simply forego the content.

Trigger Warnings are often associated with topics like animal abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, or gratuitous violence. This concept came about to insulate individuals with PTSD. They can experience flashbacks, anxiety, and panic attacks when confronted with sensitive material, which acts as a trigger. Hence, these warnings are especially beneficial for them and for those dealing with eating disorders, self-harm, or sexual violence.

However, the effectiveness of these warnings is still being debated. The other side of the argument holds that exempting oneself from the harsh realities of the world renders one too emotionally fragile.

While research continues to expand in this domain, so far literature suggests that “trigger warnings” are considered to have little or no benefit. It's also possible that trigger warnings lead people to have more intrusive thoughts afterwards. For instance, if I tell you not to think about bluebirds, you’re likely to think even more about bluebirds. Moreover, research suggests that trigger warnings increased expectations of negative emotions to warned-of content.

It is therefore vital to understand that relying on trigger warnings doesn’t work in the long run; psychological literature suggests that avoidance as a coping mechanism maintains and prolongs stress. So, while you should be mindful of the content you are going to consume after the warning, it is equally important to remain cognizant of what triggers you and seek help, if possible, if it starts hindering your lifestyle :)

Writer: Tavisha Jain

Illustration: Smith, Iman. “Content Notice: Here Are a Few Ways Professors Use Trigger Warnings.” NPR, NPR, 21 Sept. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/09/21/493913099/content-notice-here-are-a-few-ways-professors-use-trigger-warnings.

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