Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings in Books

trigger warnings

Hello, everyone! Today, I thought I’d talk to you about something that’s been under discussion for the past few days, and because it’s a topic involving mental health – something I’m very passionate about, I’d thought I’d write a post discussing my feelings.

Background & Disclaimer

A certain popular and well-known author (who will remain unknown in my writing) recently wrote a blog post about trigger warnings. Now, I’ll admit that this post is not about the author because I did not read the blog post thoroughly enough to articulate a response, but this post is about the reaction to said post. It is about the comments underneath Author’s Facebook post, and about the drama that has taken place around social media regarding this topic.

Now, some people may be wondering why I’m talking about trigger warnings. Do I suffer from mental illness? No, I do not. Has something traumatic happened to me in the past that I can’t read about? No, fortunately not. So why am I opening the lid? Because too often are ‘unglamorous’ and ‘controversial’ issues ignored and left alone because people are afraid of the drama. I’m a Psychology student- by no means am I a professional, and the stuff that I am saying is stuff that I have been exposed to, or have researched in my life as someone who is passionate about mental health. I’m not going to stop talking about controversies, even though it gets people riled up. It’s okay if you have differing opinions- as long as you express them with words rather than hatred, I will listen to you. As for drama: bring it on.

Triggers: What are They?

In an article on Psych Central, the Sexual Assault Center at University of Alabama writes that a trigger is something that “sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting [someone] back to the event of [their] emotional trauma” (Source). Unfortunately, this world is a fucked up place, so there are countless types of trauma someone may suffer from, and because human beings are highly diverse individuals, traumas are highly personal. Something that triggers one person’s trauma may not trigger another person who has gone through the same thing. Triggers and traumas are not definitive concepts; they are abstract, but even though they are not set-in-stone, I can tell you this: they exist.

Trigger warnings are statements that let someone who is going to be experiencing something know that it contains sensitive materials that may trigger a trauma. The trigger warning serves as a caution to help people who are emotionally vulnerable, or people who have gone through something traumatic in their lives be 1) either be prepared for what is coming so it doesn’t completely catch them off-guard, or 2) help them make an informed decision to avoid potentially triggering material.

This is where I can insert myself into the story. In my second semester of university, I took a class on Abnormal Psychology. Our professor was a hands-on type of person; he would show us episodes of TV shows and movies that depict mental health, and ask his students to diagnose characters or offer treatments. Movies depicting mental health are usually difficult to watch; understandably so. And our professor would send out an e-mail before every movie-viewing, simply stating that, “the movie we will watch in class today contains rape and/or suicide. If this is triggering for you, I will request you to put your mental health first and please not show up. You will not be penalized for your absence.”

If trigger warnings play a role in psychology classrooms where highly trained mental health professionals proceed with caution, why are they controversial? Triggers are obviously real things, otherwise professionals trained with the DSM and the mental health discipline would not be throwing around the word. It is their job to equip students to have an up-to-date, modern education about psychology- and triggers are a part of this. Why are they controversial?!

Are trigger warnings ‘censorship’?

New York Times article notes that after a movement was started at Rutgers University that asked professors to apply trigger warnings to the reading materials they presented in class, many academics were left “fuming.” It writes, “professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace” (Source). This is a valid criticism, and it’s worthy of acknowledgment- much like any opinion is worthy of acknowledgment in controversial situations. Education is sometimes meant to be provocative; it is meant to question your existing notions of comfort. It is meant to challenge your opinions…

But at what expense? I’m not going to spend my time talking about trigger warnings in classrooms, because I’ve already seen that they work. They work in classrooms that are meant to be about mental health, and the opinions of mental health professionals matter more to me than the opinions of professors who feel like their intellectual freedom is being challenged. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants people the right to speak freely, but it also grants people the right to not listen if they do not want to.

As far as censorship is concerned, people have compared trigger warnings to banning books, to which I – very eloquently – say: what in the actual fuck? Book bans are blanket. They prevent people from reading certain books about certain topics; books that are banned are taken out of school and public libraries. Adding trigger warnings to content is not censorship: it does not prevent the general masses from reading the material. It does not prevent the circulation of content. It is not blanket; it is a simple statement that alerts people who are sensitive to certain topics. It prepares them, or it tells them to avoid the material. Your freedom of speech is not being challenged.

The Debate of Trigger Warnings in Books

But where I can understand concerns about trigger warnings in academic material, I am genuinely bewildered by the people “against” trigger warnings when it comes to mainstream fiction. What are their reasonings for trigger warnings? That they have the potential to spoil books. The original author’s blog post (the little that I read) expressed concern about authors who do not want their readers to know what triggers a book contains, simply because it will “spoil” the suspense.

It’s unfortunate that we, as a human race, have become so apathetic. It’s unfortunate that we care more about entertainment and the suspense and thrill of our stories than we do about people’s well-being. I have several things to say in response. First of all, trigger warnings in books would not require booksellers to tell every single reader that this book contains sensitive material. If books do contain trigger warnings, I assume they would be on a page in the back or near the front- a page clearly distinguishable, a page that you will not have to read if you do not want to. You can very well avoid this trigger-warning page if your enjoyment of the story is at risk.

When a movie or TV show starts to play, a jumble of words appears on the screen before the first scene rolls:

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 7.23.26 PM

Sidenote: the hilarious fucking thing is that this screen is displayed to everyone, regardless of their health. Even if you don’t want to know, this shows up everywhere.

This screen is important. Why? Because it allows parents to make decisions for their children who may be exposed to sensitive material. If I had a child who was extremely sensitive to any type of violence, I probably wouldn’t want him/her watching a movie with violence. But perhaps this warning contains a spoiler: perhaps this story is about a bunch of children, and the fact that it contains violence and drug-use is a spoiler for what will happen at the 60% mark. By your argument, we should remove this. But we don’t, because it’s important for us to make an informed decision going into a certain movie.

So, why is the same comfort so fucking controversial when it comes to books? Why can’t a page be added in the beginning – a page that can be very easily avoided if you do not want to be spoiled – that lets potentially vulnerable readers know that this book will contain sexual assault, or suicide? We make decisions for our children for them, but why can’t people make informed decisions for themselves when it comes to their own mental health?! Trigger warnings do not exist for people who can take potentially sensitive material. They do not exist for people who can separate themselves from what they read/see. Trigger warnings do not exist for someone like me, who can digest depictions of violence and assault. Trigger warnings exist for people who are potentially emotionally vulnerable, whose livelihood and well-being can be put in danger because they are forced to re-live a trauma that they have tried their level-best to forget or get around. If you are willing to put their well-being – and even lives – in danger because you risk SPOILING YOUR FUCKING BOOK, here’s what I have to say:


If They Are Triggered, They Can Just Stop Reading

Can they? If someone who was a victim of abuse in the past stumbles across abuse in a book, can they really close the book and get over it? What’s the point? They’ve already been triggered. They’ve already had to re-live their abuse; they have already been reminded of something traumatic that happened in their past. If you think that they can simply close the book and read something else, my friend, you are so completely out-of-touch with how mental health and psychology works. And if you genuinely believe this, this blog post is not going to convince you otherwise. This is a great textbook that can help you get in tune with how mental health and abnormal psychology works. I highly recommend it- you are in dire need of some education.

We avoid taking alcoholics recovering from their addictions to the bar or a club. We avoid smoking a joint around someone who is recovering from their drug addiction. We avoid talking about cancer around someone who lost someone to the disease. We avoid talking about things around the people we love that have the potential to harm them. We do not ask them to get up and leave the fucking room if they cannot take it. 

If you do not do it to your loved ones, why are you so adamant on doing it to others?


  1. Triggers are professionally and academically recognized, and warnings are implemented by professionally trained mental health officials- which means they are important.
  2. Trigger warnings are not the same as censorship, because they are not blanket blockades that do not let the masses access material. Trigger warnings are simply cautionary statements that exist for the well-being of those who many need them.
  3. We implement warnings and ratings in movies because it’s important to make informed decisions for people who do not know better re: children. So why can’t the same comfort be granted to people who might need to make a decision on their own about their own mental well-being?
  4. You need to educate yourself if you think someone can close a book and get over it. Check post for recommended textbook.
  5. If spoilers and enjoyment matter more to you than someone’s well-being, livelihood and sanity: fuck you.

P.S: this post is dedicated to Taryn whose thought-provoking rants on Twitter made me aware of the issue at hand, and basically prompted this discussion post. 

What do you guys think? Are trigger warnings necessary in books, or are they not? Tell me why in the comments below!

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  1. Grown adults should take responsibility for their own mental health, experiences, and issues, instead of expecting that the world walk on eggshells on their behalf. It’s ponderous and nearly impossible. Plus, a trigger warning is a case of putting a band-aid on something that needs actual attention.

    I took responsibility for my own. It wasn’t easy.

    For example, I have suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [OCD] for most of my life. Having this issue, it does catch my attention when someone says something like this:

    “My boyfriend just spent TWO hours cleaning the kitchen. He is SO OCD.”

    At first, I would feel offended, as there is a major difference between being overly-tidy, and suffering from a debilitating mental illness that can prevent me from even leaving the house.

    But what was I going to do? Should I berate this person and “educate” them about OCD? Am I going to do this to everyone I encounter? Will I make MY issues the responsibility of the entire world? Certainly, if I correct this friend, then I won’t have to worry about it happening twice with them, because they will never talk to me again. Should I demand that the entire world be turned into a safe space for my frailties?

    Should I be a grown child that everyone avoids?

    Instead of berating the person or correcting them, I acknowledged their comment with a slight grin and nod. People who don’t know better will offer up a big smile and even a laugh.

    In the end, their ignorance on the issue would have no impact on my life. Conversely, my attacking their ignorance would have a negative impact on my life, for I would lose an otherwise valuable friend. When the time is right, I can talk with them reasonably about it.

    It just seems unreasonable to expect people, communities, businesses, art, science, books, movies, and the entire world to give me a warning because I am fragile.

    I have chosen to deal with my fragile issues, so that I can interact with the world.

    • I’m glad that you have managed to deal with your issues and can now interact with the world; truly, that’s good for you. But I think you are purposely avoiding the fact that human beings are vastly diverse creatures, and while you are able to move on, some people cannot. This is not a scenario of them needing to suck it up and get on with their lives – mental illness is not “a frailty.” Mental illness is a severely stigmatized, severely misunderstood, severely debilitating thing – especially when it involves things like “triggers.”

      I am not a mental health professional, but as someone who is studying psychology, I am constantly reading academic and non-academic literature on the issue. Triggers are not “frailties.” Someone who has undergone severe trauma, something like rape, child abuse, loss or violence will most probably disagree with you when you tell them that they are “frail,” or that their mental illness is a “frailty.” Triggers are an academically, professionally recognized aspect in the field of mental health. A war veteran who has overcome PTSD can still very well be triggered by something that can bring traumatic memories back. And no, the world is not full of mind readers who can tell what triggers someone and what does not, but the responsible thing to do is make a warning for common triggers, so that people who are at risk of a devastating consequence can avoid the material.

      I don’t know why you think issuing a warning is “walk[ing] on eggshells.” It’s not difficult for boards working on films to come up with content warnings. An author – after writing a book – need only writer “trigger warning: rape” and that’s that. Are you seriously suggesting that writing an extra fragment of a sentence is too unreasonable? Too much to ask? Really?

      When people begin to realize that triggers are very real things that genuinely have the power to put people’s lives at risk, only then will this conversation get anywhere. Until people’s severe mental health issues are passed off as “frailties,” this stigma will exist. Again, I am genuinely glad that you have learned to “deal,” but I think it’s important that you realize that not everyone is wired that way. And especially when it comes to things like books – specifically YA literature – which often serve as escapes for adolescents suffering from post-traumatic stress of depression or any sort of stigmatized situation, having to experience unexpected triggers can be severely harmful.

      • When someone has gone through a traumatic experience, they need to get help to cope with that experience. A lifetime of hand-holding and warnings is not coping with that experience.

        My sister was violently raped a knife-point years ago. She went through all of the physical treatments in the hospital, but then continued on with psychological treatments. She can watch a movie, read a book, hear a song, or whatever the case may be. Whether rape is implied, or is the central topic, she does not experience a trigger.

        But it’s not easy.

        I was carjacked at gunpoint by a twitchy crack addict black man in 1993. When I hear college kids talk about how they have PTSD because they heard someone disagree with them, I get concerned.

        At any rate, I would have trouble interacting with black people as a result. I was afraid to leave the house. The trauma was intense.

        Should I expect everyone around me to be white? Should I make society responsible for my issues? Would that even be reasonable?

        Five years of intense therapy was what it took for me to be able to handle this.

        For movies, sure. Put a warning on there, for the parents. But grown adults who suffer from “triggers” need to hunker down and deal with their issues. My issues were nobody else’s problem, and their issues are not my problem.

        Grown adults. Don’t put a band-aid on your triggers. Get real professional help, and put the work into it.

        You are not babies. You are not teens living at home. You are grown adults. The world is a nasty place, it’s hard to cope at times, and nobody gets out of this alive.

        In most cases, yes, too much to ask. Unreasonable.

        If you need a trigger warning, then you have problems. Get help. Professional help. I highly recommend it. It is essential if you wish to function in real-world situations with other grown adults.

        • Again, you seem to want to apply your experience to everyone, as if the stuff you endured or the stuff people around you endured should be some standard for what other people should do in their own situations. You need to realize that you situation does not apply to everyone- or in fact, most people who are abused.

          The number of child-abuse cases in the United States each year is startling; it is much higher than any of us expect it to be. These kids suffer from trauma in various shapes: neglect, disaster, violence, sexual and physical abuse, and displacement. Many kids who grow up in foster care have faced some form of trauma in their lives; they do not have the luxury to seek expensive professional help. It is a sad reality of the system. Mental health care is expensive and in many, MANY places over the world, help is so far out of reach. As someone who was born and raised in Pakistan, I can tell you this first-hand: there is no therapy in South Asia. It’s virtually non-existent; you can afford it if you have five or six cars standing in your driveway. The fact that you can very simply say ‘seek professional help and deal with it’ says a lot about your rather Eurocentric or perhaps privileged view of mental health. No, not everyone has the money or the resources or the accessibility to seek professional help. Do I wish they did? Of course I do.

          But even if they do seek professional help, the brain is a fickle bastard. I gave you an example of a war vet. who recovered from PTSD; triggers can still affect someone who is on the path of recovery, or who has recovered. What do you suggest these people do? Put aside your “grown adult” argument for a second and think about teenagers- teenagers who are sixteen or seventeen years into their lives, have undergone severe trauma, are TRYING to recover from abuse or whatever triggers them. What are they supposed to do? Sit on their ass, and not touch a single book? Triggers are not controllable; you don’t get to control what triggers you, and what does not. And in this case, if you’re saying that adding an extra sentence at the end or start of your novel is unreasonable – even though it may save someone’s life – then I’m afraid this conversation is going to go nowhere.

          • I agree that it is going nowhere. It would be very easy for me to be upset, offended, or hurt, and then subsequently demand that the entire world re-work itself so that I can be cared for.

            I chose to fix myself. Others choose to be victims. You have your choices to make as well. Best of luck.

  2. Amazing article! I personally read The Bell Jar thinking that I could handle it. I never had any problem with any kind of book, so I did not really question it. My friend recommended it, and I know it’s an appraised classic. But as a person who suffers from depression, this books was rather disturbing, and really made me feel terrible, though I still wanted to finish it. I think you have made an excellent point here, and while I am now more careful, I also believe trigger warnings are important!

  3. I am in tears right now. But before I go on to say why, I want to congratulate you for every word you’ve written in this post! I love it. I’ve already come to admire your thinking and reasoning skills a lot. I’ve got quite a history with mental issues and health and it really saddens me that people care more about their content than the well being of the person who is going to read it. It is really great of you to talk on this subject matter so willingly even if you’ve not been directly affected by triggers.
    Personally, whenever I pen a review on a book that deals with a sensitive subject matter as suicide, I take my time to alert my readers of what it contains. In my opinion, if I can inform the reader of what awaits them, it gives them a chance to appreciate my interest in their well being and also wisely decide for themselves. While most things in life do not come with a trigger warning I wish more of our fiction did not make it even worse. 🙁
    I hope more people read through your post and try to analyse this whole situation 🙂

  4. This is a really well written and amazing post! I’ve been wondering for a while why there aren’t any trigger warnings in books, but I just found out about the drama that surrounds it. I don’t get why people think trigger warning is the same as banning books. Banning means stopping the circulation, NO ONE can read the book, while trigger warning only PREVENT CERTAIN PEOPLE from reading the book. Also agree, I can’t believe that people would put enjoyment and entertaiment against other’s mental health. AND I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW SOME AUTHORS ARE AFRAID IT WOULD SPOIL THEIR BOOKS. My reaction is literally “fuck them”. Trigger warnings don’t spoil the content, they serve as a WARNING. This is something people should be aware and talke about more, I can’t believe how ignorant people are. Again, this is a really amazing post Aimal!

  5. I think this post perfectly summed up all my views on trigger warnings! I just can’t fathom why some people would prefer not to have trigger warnings when they could just skip the page they are written on instead if they are so worried about spoilers?!

  6. I like the idea of warning people about material that could cause them psychic discomfort. But I also think that books have a category in the beginning of the book of the topics covered, like it will say: Supernatural – Fiction, Sexual Abuse – Fiction…you know what I mean? There on the page with the copywrite date?
    They could put the trigger warning there. Then both parties are happy, because you would be able to see what the material might contain and those who don’t want to be “told” can just skip the page, you know? (I’m all about compromise on most things…I do think it is silly that people get so upset about adding something to benefit people. I would like something that rates YA material myself, and I don’t think that includes censorship…but people have strong opinions on these subjects)

  7. I feel like this post has said everything I’ve been wanting to say about this entire mess. I don’t even understand why there is so much controversy over this topic, it’s basic human decency not to want to cause someone the type of pain that not including a trigger warning could lead to. So really why are people debating against them? Times like this it makes you realize how desensitize we’ve become to issues that don’t personally affect us. Publishers provide us with synopsis of books which spoil parts of the plot too, so should we eradicate them to? Since people are so worried about getting spoiled. I was actually discussing this with one of my friends the other day and she made a really good point; a trigger warning isn’t going to tell you exactly what happens since it doesn’t make any mentioned of which character it happens to or at what point in the book it happens. Therefore, that plot point will still have as much of an impact on the reader as if there was no trigger warning. So really, why are people even against them?

    Great post!

  8. I’m a lit student. Books are products of their time, and many of the ones we read were written back when social attitudes were different. This generates a lot of discussion and debate, some of which may make people uncomfortable. We don’t have trigger warnings, but we do have a course overview before we actually start reading the books for the module which briefly tells us about what we’ll be studying each week. I don’t know if we have a policy or anything, but I imagine you could email your seminar leader if you had an issue with a book for personal reasons and they would probably allow you to skip that week’s class. We choose which books to write on, so skipping one book would not impact your grade.
    You do get books now with ‘not for younger readers’ written on the back. This strikes me as similar to the green screen at the beginning of films. Agree/Disagree?

  9. I didn’t even know this was a controversial topic only because it doesn’t make sense to deny people a chance to prepare themselves or avoid sensitive content. Why would you want to cause your readers pain when it could be very easily avoided. Hopefully, in the upcoming years we will see an increase in books which include trigger warnings. You’ve done a beautiful job discussing this topic.

  10. I don’t specifically use trigger warnings with my writing, but I do try to be upfront with people about dark or mature themes and events in my work. I’m also 100% happy to answer questions about the contents of my work. I certainly don’t intentionally withhold information about something I know is a common trigger by crying spoilers.

    I guess I’m just a little bit afraid to list things off as a warning. I’m afraid people will assume the warning list is exhaustive, which I doubt is possible, and someone will start reading my novel with a false sense of security. I really don’t want that to happen!

    Do you think what I’m doing is enough? Or should I get over my fear and make a specific list of trigger warnings like I’ve seen some other writers use over the years?

  11. Everything that I’ve been thinking about this issue has been summed up in this post. After reading this author’s blog post and the comments that followed, I was so incredibly angry. TRIGGER WARNINGS ARE SO FUCKING IMPORTANT. For a lot of people, books are escapes. To be so fucking insensitive and not include a trigger warning, ESPECIALLY, if the book includes some heavy handed material, is a big fuck you to the readers.

    People who have been saying that trigger warnings have no place in books simply to not have the empathy to understand people who have struggled with mental illnesses and traumatic experiences.

    Thank you for this post.

  12. what a well thought out post! You make some excellent points! I 100% agree that books, or any form of media, should all include trigger warning info. Like you said, what is the harm in putting the details on a page in the beginning or back of the book so any person can make the decision for themselves to view the trigger warnings? Most people who are against putting trigger warnings in books most likely have never experienced any form of trauma themselves, therefore do not understand the implications that these types of subject matter can have on someone who has.

  13. Trigger warnings and censorship are definitely two separate things. I think that trigger warning are important especially for people who have had terribly traumatic experiences. For example, a lot of people say that they love Perks of Being a Wallflower and that its a great book. When you find out what happens to Charlie and have had an experience, that book could have a devastating impact on someone. And the truth that’s revealed is very unexpected. So I guess I’m saying that certain books should have trigger warnings for the sake of the reader

    • Yes, the Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great example! Sexual abuse plays a HUGE role in the book and is a vital development in both the story and characterization, but if one were to warn everyone that it contains a trigger for sexual abuse, it WOULD be a spoiler. But it’s also so important to let unassuming people prone to mental illness that it does- which is what it comes down to. Having a page in front or in the back of the book where people LOOKING for trigger warnings will be able to find them.

  14. This is a great post! Important one. Just yesterday, I was also thinking about trigger warnings and researched them. I’m sure we had the same reason and the same author’s post in mind when we decided to give the trigger warnings a deeper thought. I absolutely believe that if book contains sensitive subjects it should be declaimed at the beginning. It is not ruining anybody’s entertainment, it just makes sense to do so. Just like in the movies, those are rated and everybody sees the rating – good point on that.

  15. I think trigger warnings should be something that’s at least implemented on the reviewer level of this platform. That we as reviewers are able to read material and go, ok so here’s a subject some ppl might not be comfortable with. I think it should start on that level before it get a to actual publications. Idk I take it personally as my job as a reviewer to warn my audience about material that might be uncomfortable and traumatizing for others.

    In terms of why it’s not taken more seriously I think it has to do with a lot of factors. One, I remember when it was becoming a large thing on Tumblr when I used to go on like it was water. After a while the meaning became more of a joke among other ppl because of how people were utilizing it. Also it’s the Internet so there are ass holes everywhere. Two, I think it has to do with people’s stigma and preconceived notions about mental health. By having triggers on books being seen as something that’ll hinder the learning process is showing a sign of ppl against a solution to a problem for many traumatized individuals. There’s probably also the notion that some ppl might take advantage of it (i.e. emotional support animals just turning into “but I want to bring my dog to the store”).

    I’m on the boat of having the warnings. It doesn’t spoil anything if you say something as simple as “hey this book deals with abuse, drug abuse, drug use, or sexual violence” Isn’t spoiling anything. It’s a WARNING as the term states.

    Unfortunately there are a larger, more vocal group of ppl who wouldn’t be effected either way, and they don’t simply have the desire to learn or understand and now we’re stuck with this situation haha.

    Great post!

    • I think that should definitely be the first step. I’ve made the mistake in the past of not including trigger warnings in my reviews, something which I’ll make an intentional effort to change in the future. But yes, before it can be recognized on a publishing level, reviewers should make the conscious decision to include caution in their reviews.

      As for your points: 1) I agree. Trigger warnings started off on a large scale, something that alerted people to traumas like depression, suicide and abuse. After a bit, I noticed that smaller things were included as well- which is not to say that they are not valid traumas. Just that the term became overused to the point where it was no longer taken seriously. Which is something I don’t know how I feel about; since traumas are highly personal (and thus, so are triggers), how do we decide what deserves a TW and what doesn’t? It’s complicated…

      2) You raise a very good point. This is something that crossed my mind when the professor I mentioned in my post sent out his first e-mail. I was like, “Okay, someone may definitely need the warning but what if people don’t show up just so they can get an out from class?” I think people will misuse almost anything- that’s a risk that’ll always exist, and we need to decide whether the risks outweigh the benefits- which I don’t think that they do, at the moment.

  16. Many people are convinced that all liberals want to stifle intellectual discourse, so they distort arguments for trigger warnings into whatever fits their preconceived notions of ‘the oversensitive liberal.’ It’s ironic, because trigger warnings are the opposite of mindless censorship. Making an informed decision before proceeding is obviously a more intelligent way to consume media than our current state of passive over-sensory bombardment.

    I think people who oppose trigger warnings a) think that the people who need trigger warnings are simply people who are ‘easily offended,’ not people who have actual PTSD, and b) they think trigger warnings sound more like ‘DO NOT READ: A REPUBLICAN WROTE THIS,’ rather than, ‘Note: This contains reference to sexual assault.’

    I’ve personally never felt like books need trigger warnings, but I obviously can’t speak for everyone. If survivors of trauma are arguing that they’d be helpful, then why wouldn’t we use them?

    • You raise a very good point. I think the political angle comes into play much too often. While I do consider myself a liberal, I sometimes am concerned about the mob-culture of attacking people with conservative views. And while I don’t think liberals are stifling intellectual discourse, I know both sides need to learn how to have a respectful, educated conversation about important issues. But I digress.

      From the academic POV, I kind of understand where professors are coming from. There’s so much in my classes that challenges my pre-held notions, that provokes me to think outside of my beliefs and values. In that sense, I SORT OF understand where they are coming from when they say trigger warnings make it ‘too easy’ for people. Which is to say I ‘understand’ what they’re saying, but perhaps they should drop their entitlement issues and pick up a Psych textbook that will make them realize that people’s well-being is in danger.

  17. First things first, 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    Second, I don’t really know what prompted this discussion but I’m glad you brought it up. I’m like you, though I do suffer from certain mental health issues, I can still separate fact from fiction because my mental health doesn’t deal with flashbacks. But I feel like trigger warnings are so important to keep people safe and sane in life! I will admit that because it doesn’t affect me, I don’t have trigger warnings in my reviews but I think that’s the best solution to something like this. If you’re a person who understands their triggers and their issues, I would suggest researching books before buying. If the synopsis doesn’t include a warning, then read the reviews to see if someone mentions it. I’m not a 100% convinced that the book itself should have it but it would only be beneficial to readers if it did. And how about we stop using abuse and rape and other other kind of violence as big reveals in books? They’re real and dangerous and harming and they shouldn’t be used as a plot device at all in my opinion

    • That’s a great point. I think it’s less about putting trigger warnings in books and more about reflecting on *why* rape and abuse are so often used as plot devices. Like WTF? Especially in the romance genre! How many scenes have we seen where the man saves the woman from potential gang rape (looking at you, Bella Swan walking in Seattle, of all places…)? Maybe instead of using trigger warnings, we should think more carefully about writing triggering things for no good reason.

      • Exactly! There’s a way to write characters that deal with those harsh realities without making it this huge surprise or shock or reveal or whatever else. Or romance too. There’s no need to always make the guy be the one who encourages escape from abuse or something of the sort

    • Thank you so much, Sara!
      I’ve been guilty of not including trigger warnings in my posts too. For example, The Summer that Melted Everything is a very painful book (I mention it because I noticed you’d finished reading it), and it slipped my mind to add trigger warnings. And that book is in DIRE need of some sort of warning (I’ll go back and edit my review ASAP). I definitely think we can do that and please both the people who need caution, and those who do not want spoilers. Maybe changing the color of the text so that the people who need to see it can intentionally highlight the text and read the triggers, and the people who do not want to be spoiled don’t accidentally see something that might do so. I don’t know.

      And 100%. Using mental illness, rape and abuse as ‘plot devices’ is so repulsive. I do think these issues are important to talk about, and they’re being talked about more recently because the ‘taboo’ was just lifted, but I think there’s a sensitive way to do that. Simply using such harmful, traumatic experiences to add shock value to your book – just no.

      • I need to do that as well! I shared my review yesterday but I didn’t share trigger warnings for it either. Definitely should because it’s a really heavy book.
        I think that’s a great idea actually! That way the people who want to see them can and those who want to skip over can as well.
        That’s been the trend for the longest time and I really hope it changes


  1. […] Let’s Talk About Trigger Warnings in Books is an incredible, incredible discussion post by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks. The discussions surrounding trigger warnings flew over my head (because I was at work), but Aimal eloquently (and flawlessly!) outlines why trigger warnings are important. I have no words that could adequately describe how fantastic this post is – go read it. […]

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