I Have PTSD and I Don't Want Trigger Warnings

Updated on March 24, 2017

What is a trigger warning? These things started out on college campuses, where student groups wanted professors to put warnings about the course's content in the syllabus up front so that students who can't psychologically handle certain topics can avoid them. Sounds fair, right? No one should have to take a class that will discuss a story in which a woman is raped, for example, if they are a rape victim themselves. But what this caused was a kind of avalanche of paranoia about how anything, no matter how microscopic to normal people, could be traumatizing to imagined people with PTSD, and this has been used as an excuse to censor people. It causes debates about higher education. Isn't the point of college to be challenged by things that might make us a little uncomfortable? Or is this just like an allergy label, helping people who are especially sensitive to certain topics avoid them?

Well, you can decide that for yourself. But as someone with PTSD, I don't think trigger warnings help me at all, at least not in my case. So, from that perspective, here are some issues I take with the whole concept of "trigger warnings".

Everything Could Be A Trigger

You could trigger someone with balloons if they have a fear of clowns. Saying "Bless you" when someone sneezes could trigger someone who was traumatized by being molested by a priest as a kid. You could trigger anyone with anything and not even know it. The people who favor trigger warnings act like that which might be problematic or scary is the same for everyone with PTSD or anxiety or panic disorders. It's far from that simple. There's no clear-cut list of topics that are "warn-worthy" and others that are totally OK and could never trigger anyone. Life doesn't give us things that are that clear-cut and easy to navigate.

Even two people traumatized by the same thing could have different triggers. For example, a person raped by a bald man could come to fear bald men, but be totally fine in a literature class discussing a book about someone who was raped, and may even want to hear that story because it makes them feel less alone. Another rape survivor in the same class might find the book upsetting because the details of the book's story are too similar to what happened to her. People are different. Even if warnings were a good idea, you can't simply label everything that could be upsetting to someone, because people are individuals.

Nothing Could Be A Trigger

I don't have an official diagnosis. I can't afford a quote unquote "real therapist", so I get help through a website called iPrevail for just $10 a month. You don't talk to a licensed counselor, but you can learn lessons, monitor your behaviors and symptoms, and talk with a community of other people going through similar struggles. I have symptoms of depression and PTSD, and my biggest PTSD symptom is recurring nightmares.

But here's a funny thing about my nightmares: they're not caused by anything, or at least, not anything obvious. I had a happy day today and I still had a bullying stress dream and woke up terrified and unable to get back to sleep. Nothing that happened today, nothing that was said actually could be said to have triggered or caused my nightmare. And I can read books or see movies or TV shows wherein someone gets bullied or abused without that triggering a nightmare. In fact, for me, I like seeing most instances of bullying in fiction, because it usually means that there will be some kind of justice done to them that my real-life bullies never actually faced. It gives me a sense of living in a fair world, which I very much wish existed. Every fictional Joffrey dies. Every fictional Trixie changes her ways and learns life lessons. I got pulled out of school, moved to another town where people were not such relentless asshats, and never saw most of those people again. I don't know if they changed or not. I didn't get to see any of them slowly choke to death in a satisfying way. It's fiction that lets me live out that fantasy.

But before I skip off to masturbate to my own revenge fantasies, let me get back to the point I was making. A trigger warning doesn't help me one goddamn fucking bit. Not one iota. Knowing that something contains bullying or abuse of some kind doesn't mean it will necessarily remind me of my own tragedy. And it doesn't tell me if I will find the story uplifting and inspiring or become angry, afraid, triggered by it. But it will likely have no affect on me whatsoever.

The thing is, nobody wants to talk about PTSD and no one wants to study it, and academia is making very slow progress into actually understanding it. I find it embarrassing myself, why should I, a grown-ass woman, still wake up trembling and crying over bullshit that happened to me when I was 12? I was raised in a rural Midwestern family that took great pride in being tough and resilient and confident and all that. And here I am, falling to pieces over like I said, bullshit from a long time ago. It just doesn't make sense. It's hard to grapple with or understand logically. It isn't logical, any more than any other mental disorder is. And it's called a disorder for a reason; it can't be treated like something that always happens in easily predictable patterns. A PTSD symptom like a nightmare, flashback, or panic attack can come from out of nowhere, it does not always have to have a trigger. That's again assuming that everything is way more cut and dried than it ever really is. Your brain can just up and randomly decide to clear out everything else you were thinking about like you're shaking your internal Etch-A-Sketch and replace it with an intense moment of sheer terror. No rhyme. No reason.

I know that scares people and makes them uncomfortable. We'd like to think that it's just like how a wheelchair person needs elevators, there's a simple solution for accommodating people with trauma. There isn't one. We like to think all people with PTSD are the stereotype, the Vietnam veteran with easily defined triggers like sprinklers, alarms, or popping popcorn. But I'm not like that, and millions of people with this disorder are not. We don't fit the mold because that stereotype isn't the mold. There is no mold. There is no "typical" case. You can't treat us like we all have the same exact trauma or that it's always going to manifest for everyone the same way.

Censorship Worries Me More

I'll just come right out and say it: I think the SJW's who are doing this stuff sound exactly like certain girls who used to bully me in school. They reek of a desperation to control people. They don't sound like they're here to help or benevolent, especially not when they're:

  • punching people for having the wrong political opinions
  • blocking traffic
  • intimidating reporters who threaten to document their angry protests (which they have a right to do in a public space, especially if that public space is their own goddamned college campus)
  • trying to kick out speakers they disagree with, and so on.

All while acting with a smug self-assurance that they have the moral high ground. This is classic bullying psychology. They are driven by a need to control the behavior of other people. It's just like what I fell victim to on the playground. Some kid might say something like "this is MY swing!" and I'd say "you don't own it!" and they'd shove me out of it, because they could not handle a challenge to their self-granted authority over the other kids.

"Hey, I need some muscle over here, someone is trying to play tetherball when we clearly told her she's not allowed to play with the good tetherball, that's OUR tetherball space! Can we get a boy to throw her out of here, please!"

It's all about control. These people aren't benevolent and they don't give a single fuck about my trauma or anyone else's. In fact, if they wanted to help me cope with trauma, maybe they could start by ceasing to treat other human beings in the same cruel, hostile, self-righteous, authoritarian cuntish way my school bullies treated me once upon a time. Maybe then I could sleep at night, knowing that even if I went through bad things in school, everyone eventually gets better and grows up, which means they stop being such a horrible person. What I fear most aren't triggers that remind me of my experience, not half as much as I fear running into the very same domineering, bullying people in reality. They are just as unwilling to listen to reason, common sense, appeals to decency, and as lacking in human empathy as the bullies were.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." Animal Farm

What do you think guys? Trigger Warnings?

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      • RachaelLefler profile image

        Rachael Lefler 13 months ago from Illinois

        I think that my happiness should not be dependent on drugs, with all due respect. What's really the difference between someone on those and someone on heroin? One is more approved of by society, that's the only real difference I see. It's both using drugs to cope with reality.

      • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

        Dr Billy Kidd 13 months ago from Sydney, Australia

        I get your story. No one is the same. Some people are even triggered by things that make them happy!

        It has the sound of depression and anxiety. There are psychiatrists who see people at a reasonable cost.

        If it was me, it want to try a small dose of Zyprexa for the obsessive part of this; Zoloft for the depression; and something for anxiety. Sometimes this sort of treatment let's a person take a "mental pause" and carry on with his or her life. Other times it doesn't work.

        But I'd gather up my courage and give it a try. Why? Because I've seen it work on others.