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  • Writer's pictureD Golfieri

It's Time to Kill The Trigger Warning

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

It seems we humans can’t really hang out in the middle. We, with our inclination to gravitate towards polarities and extremes, have a need to always take the most dramatic and opposing stances, do we not?

I grew up with Generation Shut Up and Buck Up, that culminated in the Boomers, and I admit I was happy to see it go, because it endorsed silence when it came to things like sexual abuse or physical abuse at home, rape, and a denial of many types of mental illnesses. It was a generation of repression, absolutely, and one I could never endorse.

Over the years, I watched the pendulum of popular opinion swing the other way, and I was glad of it, until it again reached a new polarity. What I’m talking about is the acquisition and use of the infantilizing term“trigger warning”.

Trigger warnings serve to prepare their audience for material which might be "triggering", consisting of topics like rape, domestic abuse, incest, and gun violence. I don’t wish to make light of any of those topics, and many of them are closer to me than I care to admit. But for me, the trigger warning as a means to protect me, a person who’s endured such things, from further damage is more of an insult, than a friendly shield.

It has been said that there is no growth without adversity. I believe it is true that we never truly know what we’re made of, until we are pushed to our own limits. Fear of the unknown is said to be the worst fear of all, and this, too, I believe. We don't know how we would hold up in a physical fight, until we've been in one. We don’t know how much our heart can love, and then break, until it’s been properly won and broken. We don’t know what we’ll do in the face of our own mortality, unless we’ve looked right into it via a severe accident, or some serious psychedelic drugs. Once we've faced these things, it seems to me that some steam has been taken out of those demons. What doesn’t kill us is supposed to make us stronger- it’s a cliché because its true. It’s impossible, I argue, to be weaker for it. Not to say that after a fresh and traumatic experience one can’t be fragile, but it’s not necessary to assume everyone who’s been through something is now “triggered” by it. Please understand that I'm not denying the existence of PTSD, or trauma response. But what I do push back on is the notion that everyone who has experienced trauma is too delicate to be exposed to stories or visuals of that trauma in the future. And I push back on the notion that this type of after-exposure is wholly bad for us.

Not everyone who experiences trauma needs to be guarded from its existence. The media and too much therapy-speak often feels to me like it's pushing kids today into believing things committed against them incontrovertibly renders them fragile. They turn power earned through pain or suffering (and coming out the other side alive) into a suggestion of exaggerated vulnerability, when in reality, such exposure often strengthens a person, not debilitates them. They are selling the survivors short. Or at least, this is how I feel. Having lived through being hit, makes me much less afraid of being in a physical fight. Having lived through sexual abuse, I don't need all instances of the sexual abuse of others hid from me. I find comfort in knowing I'm not "the only one", and comfort in talking openly about it. I'm personally offended by the notion that I need a trigger warning on sexual abuse content, as if now I can't endure it because I truly know it. In fact, I like reading stories or watching films about violent and dysfunctional childhoods similar to mine, or other girls who were molested by a family member. It makes me feel seen, finally. Not scared. Not triggered. I lived through it. Through it. And despite of it. All be damned if I’m going to pussyfoot around and have to act like I’m sensitive to the material because that’s what’s expected of me. It do experience feelings watching it, but that doesn't feel like a bad thing to me. It's a reminder of what could not kill me. I am stronger. We don’t need trigger warnings; we need survivor shout-outs. We need to tell our stories, hear other stories, and allow ourselves to heal, out in the open, without being handled with kid gloves. Just a person with certain handicaps doesn't like be treated "differently", I don't want to be treated as if I might crumble at any moment in the presence of content which reflects my own abuse. I'd much rather be acknowledged as a survivor, than the wounded.

I strongly believe every terrible thing we endure does toughen us…right up to the point of breaking some of us, yes. But that’s life. Life is filled with lots of unfortunate things. There is no way to shield yourself from it-- it’s all around you. Death, pain, disease, physical threats of all kinds, depression, broken families, addiction, suicide. Life is a dangerous game: ask any other living species on the planet. We can't put our heads in the sand like the great ostrich and pretend life is anything but brutal, and often unfair. And it’s beautiful and startling and awe-inspiring, too. So let's not treat each other so preciously-- let's not handle every survivor with kid gloves, assuming we've become more terrified of the thing we endured. Some of us are truly, undeniably stronger for the experience. And I think it's important not to suggest that survivors of trauma need to be forever treated as precious, delicate, and instantaneously breakable.

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