Trigger Warnings and Books

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Recently, I noticed a discussion going around about whether or whether not books should be given trigger warnings. Here’s my opinion on this topic, which I thought I could give a good perspective on-I have triggers, which have stopped me from reading certain books, as well as DNF them.

Here’s why they’re important.

What is a Trigger Warning?

A trigger warning is a warning, obviously, for potentially harmful content within any piece of media. Say a book discusses abusive relationships. Abusive relationships, despite being fictional, can still harm those who have been in an abusive relationship because it reminds them of their experiences.

The ‘trigger’ refers to possible panic attacks or uncomfortableness that ensues after experiencing the reminder.

Second, what prompted this post?

Recently, a popular New Adult author (that I haven’t read, and will not name) made a post on her blog on why she didn’t want trigger warnings on her books, despite their potentially triggering content. Her reasoning? The warnings spoil the plot.

So, here am, someone who has triggers, with my “experience” and “knowledge” to tell YOU why trigger warnings are needed.

I’ll speak from three different perspectives. My own, my friend’s, and an authors.

Because my friend and I are two different people, we have different experiences. And yet, we both have triggers that affect our day to day lives, and while books aren’t the only things that could/would trigger us, it is very possible, us both being avid readers.

Either way, trigger warnings are necessary because of how they can effect the people who need trigger warnings. While I can go from slightly uncomfortable to in a full on panic attack, my friend gets slightly sick and could end up puking-although I don’t completely speak for her. The more important reasoning is that it can cause someone to take extreme measures, some of which can be quite dangerous. Being reminded of our negative experiences hurts us. And no one wants to run into that on the assumption that it wouldn’t happen.

And, while giving trigger warning to people who need them could spoil the plot . . . why the fuck would you use something that could hurt someone as a plot device. What kind of fucked up privileged do you have to live with to think this? If a book needs a trigger warning, then it’s there for a reason–so people who could be hurt or affected by the topic are able to stay away from it, rather than being hurt by it.

And, most of the time, triggers can be quite vague. Sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm–specific, yes. But they’re vague in accordance to the plot. So nothing should be spoiled by something as vague as a trigger warning. And, even if they’re part of a plot twist or *the big reveal*, topics like that shouldn’t be used for shock appeal or attention. They are serious topics that should be taken seriously. 

And if you can’t take someone’s personal experience to that topic seriously, then you shouldn’t be using that topic as a plot device.

All in all, trigger warnings are no different then those rating screens you see before each movie. They’re just like those tags used on Archive of Our Own, and similar sites. Trigger warnings are not censorship, they are not “ruining” your book.

But without them, they could ruin someone’s life.

This post was inspired by Taryn‘s rant on Twitter as well as Aimal‘s recent post.

7 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings and Books

  1. As a reviewer/avid reader with triggers 100%. Especially as I listen to audiobooks. My triggers *COULD* cause me to crash my car if I’m not prepared. It’s why I don’t listen to the radio. I’ve been triggered too many times while driving. While I’ve been very lucky and this hasn’t happened yet because luckily my brain has protected me enough in the “we need to finish driving and get to where we’re going first before this sets in fully into attack mode” I don’t believe that my luck will forever be there. Especially since I have times I go full on catatonic for hours.

    And just because a trigger is there doesn’t mean I’ll always avoid the book completely. It just means that when choosing the book to read/listen to, I will check in with myself and see how I am mentally. If I’m not in a good mental place, a triggering book isn’t what I want to read. And I want to know that BEFORE I hit the trigger. Before I even open the book to read (unless I’m reading it on one of the front pages). To the point where I have it in my reviewing policy/faq that if I’m being contacted about an ARC they need to tell me about triggers. It’s even in my contact page.

    If we have the RIAA doing content warnings, the MPAA doing them (for both movies AND TV), and the ESRB and no one raises a shit fit about them, we can do it for books. It either needs to be in the description or somewhere before the story starts that this is what’s in the book. And also why all my reviews have content warnings on them. So that people know what they’re getting into with the book.

    • EXACTLY. I’m glad you haven’t been hurt, that would have been horrible. I’ve been meaning to rewrite this post for a while, so when I do, do you mind me quoting this?

      And same here–my triggers aren’t as bad, but they’re enough to throw me into serious panic attacks. I have triggers listed on my Review Inquiries page, and so far people have been nice enough include triggers. For people like us, though, basically all books need trigger warnings. I’ve lost count how many books I’ve needed to put down because there was no warning…

      • Feel free to quote it. I’ve had to blacklist authors from requesting reviews because they can’t be assed to respect my need for warnings. And you can’t respect that then you don’t respect me enough as a person so I can’t review your books. Simple as that. And they’re all romance authors. I have taken myself off review teams for that. Sucks but…..

      • not when you privately email them back and they blatantly refuse to. I have the emails from it and just UGH. I mean the initial email was mass sent but the response wasn’t and the general attitude in the fb group that was mandatory to join was that if you weren’t kissing the author and pr person’s asses then screw you. I couldn’t deal with it. It was a toxic culture so after 1 starring the new release and my review dropping I dropped my links everywhere and told the author and pr person I’m done. And even put that in my review that I wasn’t going to do ARCs for that author. Because I don’t play with shit like that.

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