Trigger Warnings

In the last couple years I’ve been introduced to and slowly become more fluent in Tumblr, and one of the more interesting terms I’ve picked up from there is “trigger warning.”  A trigger is an idea, image, or topic that can remind a person of something stressful or upsetting to them.  A person writes “trigger warning” before a post that may have a trigger, as a courtesy.

It’s a good system, aside from one thing: I think it teaches people to avoid triggers.  Makes the trigger out to be a bad guy.  Triggers aren’t bad guys, they just exist.  A person can use a trigger maliciously, and then that person becomes a bad guy, but a person who simply writes for a general audience and doesn’t realize that they’re writing about someone else’s personal anxieties is simply a person, and their topic is simply a topic.

This is a philosophy that I came up with before I’d heard the term “trigger” used in this way, but having the term certainly makes thinking about it and discussing it a lot easier.

My best friend passed away shortly after I’d moved to the other side of the planet, and because almost nothing in my life had anything to do with the parts he was involved in at that point, I was forced to deal with how I felt pretty much on my own.  That meant that I didn’t have anyone or anything to moderate my reactions to things I did not yet realize were my triggers.

And after several years, I realized that I didn’t like how I’d been acting.  And that awareness, simply realizing “the speaker isn’t bad, he’s just reminding me of something bad, and he doesn’t deserve my reaction” allowed me to start changing my behavior, and start dealing with my own triggers in a way that acknowledges them, but doesn’t let them control me.  It took a long time to get to that point, and it isn’t a process that really has a definite end.

Why do I bring this up?  Something Positive.  Ironically, Randy Milholland’s Something Positive webcomic was one of the things that got me through that first tragedy.  It had a storyline around the same time involving the death of a character’s mother, and I greatly appreciated how that was handled.  But I had another tragedy this year: the passing of my own mom after a years-long mental and physical decline.  And as it turns out, that’s a trigger for me now.

Randy gave Fred, one of his older characters, Alzheimer’s many years ago.  Every so often the topic comes up, but generally it stays in the background.  However two recent comics indicate that it may become very relevant very soon.

There’s a traumatized part of me that can’t help but hear Fred’s words from that second comic coming out of my mom’s mouth.  And on a million different levels, that feels wrong.  But Fred’s reactions are completely in line with Fred’s character, and legitimate in their own way, and that story is happening irrespective of my own personal experiences.  And I trust Randy to do these storylines well, as he has done for almost a decade and a half.

So I have my trigger warning now.  Fred’s story is going to be difficult for me.  But knowing that, I’m still going to continue reading, because it only does me harm to remove things I enjoy from my life just because of a trigger.  And so long as I know what I’m getting myself into, I know I’ll be able to prevent the kind of behavior that I didn’t like seeing in myself years ago.

For example, maybe instead of sending an unfair email to a beleaguered artist, I might just write an introspective blog post for my family and friends.

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