There has been a new trend of using the term “triggered” as a joke or meme. We are seeing Universities all across the US condemn the use of such warnings. Folx have taken to social media and photoshop to create pictures making a mockery of people who ask for trigger warnings. And now Safe Spaces are taking a hit. In fact, the University of Chicago recently sent out a “welcome letter” to their incoming freshmen class expressing that they “would not shield students from ideas they disagreed with or found offensive.” (Downes, 2016). Later in the letter they told students they should not expect trigger warnings or other coddling behaviors. Another article was posted to The Atlantic, in which the authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt described trigger warnings as “undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” (Haidt, G.L., 2015).

Now, trigger warnings are defined as a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc., alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material. Being triggered is an autonomic response, this means that we have no control over how are body reacts in the face of traumatic events. We either fight, flight, or freeze. And this reaction is not limited to the moment when the trauma is actually happening. Triggers increase the likelihood of someone who has experienced trauma, to relive those events with flash backs, have panic attacks, enter a depressive state, and other reactions. A trigger can be something as simple as hearing a friend say “dude that test raped me” or “I’m Facebook stalking all of these cute people”. It can also be a violent video posted online or something more serious; like watching a scene where someone is raped in a movie.

This discredits the actual meaning of the word and those who are brave enough to ask for trigger warnings on social media


content. People don’t recognize the value and efficiency of these warnings. In this technology driven world we are able to express our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams instantly. We can form fan bases and reach large numbers of people to share those ideas. Yet all of this access and outreach holds weight. The content you post can cause distress for survivors of violence or trauma. With all of the upsetting things happening in the world today, it’s important that we take the time to evaluate what we are posting, and if it could cause harm to another person. A great way to let people know that what they may read or look at could be upsetting, and to reclaim the true use, is to use trigger or content warnings. These warnings are just a simple heads up or PSA to let people know the basic premise of a post. For example, when starting out a post on a sexual assault trial, you can type “CW(content warning): sexual assault”. These few extra key strokes can really help someone. The same goes for warnings on violence, racial profiling, stalking, and the like.

Trigger warnings let people know that the information being presented – through any medium – may cause someone to become genuinely upset and suffer from PTSD and the like. There is a clear difference between not agreeing with something and being triggered. We have all had our views challenged and morals put to the test. This is a normal, productive, part of life that

helps us grow and understand others. Being uncomfortable about a topic is perfectly fine, but it will not cause the same psychological distress that a trigger can. Here is a video that explains this a little more in-depth:

There are many types of violence people can endure, and all of these can cause lifelong effects to the victim. Just because something doesn’t trigger you, or you don’t fully see the potential harm a statement can do, doesn’t mean it can’t still have an effect on someone else. By using trigger warnings at the beginning of Facebook posts, on your research papers, or before giving a presentation, you are showing those around you that you care and take their experiences and health seriously. By using trigger warnings in a legitimate manner you will also show those who chose to make a joke of being “triggered” the validity of the precaution.

Asking for a trigger warning, or coming out about a trauma you have experienced, is a very hard thing to do. Intimate partner violence and sexual violence are some of the most under reported crimes to date. This is partly because of the negative stigma surrounding these offenses. But a negative stigma and use of trigger warnings is not exclusive to acts of violence. Negative stigmas and the need for trigger warnings additionally impact folx who may have mental illnesses.

Trigger warnings and content warnings are resources for those with mental illness. As stated before, triggers can cause panic or anxiety attacks, push someone into a dissociative state, and the like. When we invalidate the purpose of trigger warnings – and use them loosely for our own joke – we are telling those who truly need and benefit from these warnings that their well- being is not as important as our own. Reclaiming the term “triggered” needs to be a priority for all of us. Stepping up to those who use harmful memes or tweet out problematic sayings is a great way to be an ally and fight for others safety. Trigger warnings are not a joke or a trend. They are an asset to survivors and those living with mental illness.

Downes, S. (2016, September 10). Opinion | Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Free Speech, Too. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from warnings-safe-spaces-and-free-speech-too.html

Haidt, G. L. (2015, November 20). The Coddling of the American Mind. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from american-mind/399356/

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This post was written by Jillian Abel.

Jillian is JPHigherEd’s summer 2017 intern. Jillian is a senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University. Over her college career she has developed a passion for inclusion, diversity, and social justice.

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