- Trigger Warning: mention of the experience of flashbacks, repressed memories, panic attacks and traumatic experiences.
You might have heard of trigger warnings. They are the disclaimers at the beginnings of books or in book blurbs that warn potential readers about their contents. Readers can learn ahead of time if a book possesses something that could cause past traumas they have experienced to resurface.
It was a great step towards inclusivity in the literary industry by including a simple disclaimer to ensure that everyone who wanted to read could do so comfortably. After all, reading is how we escape our realities. How can anyone relax if there is a chance the ghosts of their past might jump out at them from between the pages?
Though it’s difficult to know why, the idea of trigger warnings was put under immediate scrutiny by many. In my personal browsing through social media, the words “pandering” and “childish” were used to describe trigger warnings. Often by people who were only opposed to them because they personally had no need of them.
It’s disheartening to see people oppose trigger warnings when they hurt nobody but enable many to enjoy reading to the fullest extent. So, for everyone at the back who can’t see the point in trigger warnings, I’ve got three reasons why they are one of the best things to happen to books in decades.
Flashbacks and Repressed Memories Are No Picnic
Flashbacks and repressed memories aren’t just ways to drip-feed backstories in books and movies. They really happen to people and they aren’t pleasant. If you’ve never experienced either of these, picture this: you’re going about your day, minding your own business. Out of nowhere, a memory from your past will completely take over your consciousness and you will witness something highly traumatic. Either for the first time, or all over again.
These visions don’t just show themselves to you, they make you feel, too. A rush of panicky, sometimes despairing emotions that make watching these memories all the more horrifying. Why don’t we just think of something else to take our minds of it? Newsflash: you don’t get a choice. This is happening and we have to ride it out whether we like it or not.
My own experiences of a repressed memory has involved it bubbling to the surface and manifesting in dreams that will return to me in flashbacks during my waking hours. This has led to many instances of remembering the traumatic memory and inclusive dream for thirty or so seconds. After that, it disappears and I am unable to remember it again. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what it is that’s haunting me, only that it does during times of stress.
These experiences are not only traumatic in themselves but bizarre, intrusive and with the weirdest triggers. I personally went through a six month period when broccoli, croissants and bunnies would trigger these flashbacks. Trippy stuff and not nearly as fun as it sounds.
I don’t want to labour the point, so I’ll sum it up here: flashbacks and repressed memories aren’t some convenient plot device. They are real, they are traumatic and at times highly confusing. Trigger warnings of graphic and traumatic experiences help people just looking for a new book to avoid experiencing flashbacks. To the author, it’s only a sentence or two. To the reader, it’s a bullet dodged.
Nobody Wants a Panic Attack
Panic attacks are just as unpredictable and traumatic as flashbacks but in my experience, not the same. They are much less about visuals and more about feelings. What a panic attacks boils down to is the overwhelming sense that you are going to die, right then and there.
It’s difficult not to stress points that have already been made but quite obviously, this is not something anyone wants to experience. Not only because of the trauma involved but because of the effect it has on day to day life. Living an ordinary day is made much more difficult if worrying about encountering a trigger that may cause a panic attack.
Books are supposed to be a safe space for everyone and trigger warnings can make it so.
This World Could Do With More Empathy
Without going down the deep, dark rabbit hole of current affairs, it’s safe to say that society as a whole could do with more empathy. We fight over everything under the sun these days and trigger warnings should not be one of them.
Trigger warnings are a couple of sentences designed to make media a safer space for people who need it. They hurt nobody and do the world of good for a portion of the population. Yet there are still people out there who believe they shouldn’t be used.
Let trigger warnings be the first step to a more empathetic world by making them industry standard. To anyone who opposes trigger warnings and hasn’t suffered so much as a heart palpitation before, do us all a favour. Keep your opinions to yourself and let us traumatised folk heal on our own terms. A-thank you very much.
Thanks for reading! Did you know I also write urban fantasy books? Check them out here!