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Trigger warning

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Trigger warnings are customary in some feminist and other spaces. They are designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response (for example, post-traumatic flashbacks or urges to harm themselves) to certain subjects from encountering them unaware. Having these responses is called "being triggered".

Content which is widely agreed by feminist blogs and fandom writers to be warned for:

  • graphic descriptions of or extensive discussion of abuse, especially sexual abuse or torture
  • graphic descriptions of or extensive discussion of self-harming behaviour such as suicide, self-inflicted injuries or disordered eating
  • depictions, especially lengthy or psychologically realistic ones, of the mental state of someone suffering abuse or engaging in self-harming behaviour

These are more extensive than the mainstream media observes. Of these typically only suicide is elided, understated or warned for by the press. In some countries television shows or movies might be preceded by an indication of the nature of violent or sexual content. Professional fiction does not typically warn for any such content on bookjackets or in reviews or similar.

Some people argue that even factual, dry mentions of the above subjects should be warned for. In some sections of Media fandom there are also arguments that warnings should be made for:

  • depiction or discussion of violence
  • depiction or discussion of particular kinds of consensual sexual activity (BDSM, homosexual encounters, heterosexual encounters...)
  • depiction or discussion of any consensual sexual activity
  • depiction or discussion of discriminatory attitudes or actions, such as sexism or racism

Wording

A trigger warning usually takes the form of some emphasised (usually bold) text starting with a warning phrase (such as "trigger warning," "content warning," or just "warning") and describing in broad terms the upsetting nature of the content. The actual triggering content might be below the warning or hidden in some way requiring readers to click through.

There is no consensus on the 'best' way to word a trigger warning so that it accurately describes the potentially-triggering content without becoming a trigger itself. The phrase "trigger warning" may itself be triggering to some trauma survivors. People can also be triggered by warnings that include too much detail. Warnings with very general language, such as "Warning for a graphic depiction of sexual violence" or "Content Warning: disordered eating" are less likely to trigger readers than warnings that include specific details about the triggering content.

Other communities

In online support group communities, trigger warnings might be required for something commonly upsetting to members of the group, for example, an infertility support group might require warnings for pregnancy announcements or discussion of pregnancy, parenting groups might have warnings for harm to children, and so on. These are sometimes called trigger warnings and sometimes other jargon is used.

A similar style of warning is often used in a variety of media in Australia to warn that the names, voices, and/or images of people who are deceased may be shown. This warning has developed to support some Indigenous Australians, for whom such things are highly distressing and in contravention of avoidance customs. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, who also offer guildelines on the appropriate way to interact with a greiving Indigenous community here, offer a standard form for use:

WARNING: "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following program may contain images and voices of deceased persons".

Further reading

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

These articles explain triggering and trigger warnings. When trigger warning precedes the link, a trigger warning applies to the article itself.

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