If feminists and other enemies of free speech had their way, this article and others like it would have a large bold trigger warning, stating that the content might be offensive some readers. Already, trigger warnings are finding their way into academic classrooms, art exhibitions, and mainstream publications. The true purpose these warnings is not to protect those who suffer from trauma, but to silence dissent and protect the ego.
Although trigger warnings were initially used to warn victims of rape that a post might contain explicit descriptions of violence or sexual abuse, the practice has been extended to include any written word which might be accused of “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” Just as the word troll has come to mean “someone who disagrees with me,” trigger warning has come to apply to any opinion that might offend a protected class.
The demand for trigger warnings has nothing to do with PTSD. Though the word trigger comes from PTSD related symptoms, it’s being applied to any content which may be emotionally strong. Writers are now expected to warn their audience they might feel something. The implication is that simply by stating a controversial viewpoint you are hurting fragile victims.
Trigger Warnings Aren’t About PTSD
Real PTSD triggers often come from unexpected everyday things. A sound, or smell might take someone back to a traumatic experience. I have an older friend who suffers from PTSD due to his service in Vietnam. Loud noises or helicopters overhead make him anxious, and can provoke panic attacks. If we were to apply feminist logic to the world, every chopper would come with “trigger warning” written on the side of it for him and other Vietnam vets. Police and emergency rescues teams would have to avoid certain areas to protect people’s feelings.
Of course, instead of making absurd demands, my friend chooses to spend his time doing what he loves, volunteering at his local church, and finding ways to serve others. He has a strong community he can call upon if something triggers him. Rather than trying to change the world, he changes himself, and focuses on creating the kind of life he wants.
Saying that an article on girls with short hair “triggered” you is an insult to the brave men and women who’ve experienced real PTSD. There’s no image or your friends dying or an older relative violating your body being conjured. What most people mean when they say they were “triggered” is not a PTSD-trigger, but an ego-trigger. They were forced to question their belief system when confronted with an opposing perspective. To which I say – good.
If your belief is so sensitive it cannot stand up to dissent, it deserves to be destroyed. Real victims of PTSD don’t want to silence others, they want to heal. If your opinion is so fragile that it requires curtailing the freedoms of others, then you’re not triggered, you’re tyrannical.
Triggering Is Spiritual
Undoing the ego is the work of a good spiritual teacher. Many spiritual teachers deliberately emotionally trigger their students in order to force them to question their beliefs, and let go of the ego. There is an entire spiritual tradition known as “crazy wisdom” in which the spiritual teacher uses unconventional, outrageous, or what might be called “triggering” behavior to shake up their students conception of spirituality. They troll their followers to liberate them.
In the words of Tibetean Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, one of the foremost practitioners of crazy wisdom, “compassion is not so much being kind; it is being creative to wake a person up.” Triggering a strong emotional reaction if done with what spiritual teachers call “skillful means” can be an act of compassion because like a zen koan, the shock can suddenly cause someone to drop part of their ego.
If you avoid any article or experience that may provoke an emotional reaction, you’ll miss out on any meaningful experiences, personal growth, or change in your life. You’ll narrow your experience till all the joy and emotion is sucked out of it. Rather than getting reactive when someone triggers you, use it as an opportunity to let go of old patterns, and refocus on what it is you really want.
Trigger Warnings Are About Avoiding Change
Real PTSD survivors avoid triggers, but trigger-junkies seek them out. The friends I have who’ve experienced war don’t walk into an violent films and act shocked at what they see. It’s very easy to tell from a trailer or headline if the content is going to be triggering. Trigger-junkies do the opposite. They’ll blog, retweet, and spread the content they find offensive far and wide.
Getting triggered reinforces the ego’s identity as a victim. By exposing themselves to things they know will offend them, trigger-junkies reinforce their story as victims and avoid change, which is exactly what the ego wants. Many feminists “hate-read” sites like Return Of Kings because they love the feeling of drama their ego gives them.
If you click a headline that reads 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder, and you’re triggered by discussion of eating disorders, you’re not a victim, you’re masochist. People who continually read content they know will anger them are trapped in a negative cycle and need help.
This goes both ways. How many men hate-read stories about feminism the same way? Which articles get the most views – the genuinely helpful advice, or articles bashing women’s negative behavior? While acknowledging negativity can be helpful, wallowing in it is not. Once you understand the problem, move on to the solution.
Survivors Deserve Better
Compare this to way the way men and women who’ve experienced actual trauma behave. I met an African woman recently, who told me she’d been sexually mutilated, and forced to marry a Muslim man who beat her regularly, before escaping to the United States. When asked her if she felt like a victim, she said. “No. I never let anyone call me that. I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.” Even after experiencing the worst forms of sexual abuse, her focus was on becoming a whole, healthy person, rather than on the trauma in her past.
None of these issues diminish the importance of helping and healing real PTSD survivors. I’ve dealt with that trauma myself and worked on projects to help others who’ve experienced PTSD. My heart goes out to them. I pray they get all the healing and love they deserve. It angers me when I see their genuine suffering exploited for weak egos and political control. I hope those asking for trigger-warnings get the healing they need too, even if it comes form of constant triggering till their ego finally lets go.