18 votes

Defining Triggers

There was a discussion yesterday about if adding "Trigger warnings" was something we should do on Tildes. One of the things that I noted is that we don't have a general consensus on what actually constitutes a trigger. I thought it might be a good idea to have some discussions on what triggers are, so that we can have an effective discussion on the matter.

I'm attempting to refrain from editorializing, and I'm open to revising how this is presented to meet that goal. I will editorialize in the comments, though.

Accepted Psychological Definition. From Psychcentral.com, a generally accepted psychological definition of a trigger. The article I linked is a quick read, and I recommend you check it out, but if it's too lengthy:

A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

Tumblr Definition. Some people are using a softer version of what a "trigger" is, and the definition is something more like this one, from mashable, discussing Tumblr

... a trigger is defined as content that could make someone upset, uncomfortable, or forced to remember or relive a past trauma.

Another definition direct from Trigger Warning Guide on Tumblr:

trigger or content warning, or TW and CW for short, is used to warn people of content that might illicit a strong or potentially harmful emotional response.

Meme Definition. Other people didn't even understand that "trigger" actually has a real, psychology definition; they seemed to be more in line with an Urban Dictionary-esque definition (this is unpleasant, but important):

A word used often by idiots on Tumblr to justify their bitchy attitudes, most of whom don't know what a real traumatic experience is.

27 comments

  1. [4]
    blanketNTea
    (edited )
    Link
    I have chronic PTSD from sexual assault. I'm in therapy. I've been doing EMDR. It's been helping. For a little while I couldn't function as normal people do. I stayed inside. I had flashbacks of...

    I have chronic PTSD from sexual assault. I'm in therapy. I've been doing EMDR. It's been helping.

    For a little while I couldn't function as normal people do. I stayed inside. I had flashbacks of the events. I could barely take care of myself in terms of getting out of bed, eating three meals, taking a shower, not killing myself, and maybe going outside for generally less than an hour. All of my responsibilities fell apart around me. During this time I tried going online to do the things I used to find normal: reading reddit, watching netflix/movies, going on youtube, reading the news, reading books, reading/looking at porny material. I the majority of the time I went to do any of these things there would something in them that would cause me to mentally and emotionally fall apart again. It was an obstacle to getting better. After a particularly bad week I realized that if something didn't change the few things positive things/people in my life were all going to leave. I stopped consuming media, I stopped consuming content online, in books, or in movies unless a friend of mine that had intimate knowledge of my triggers consumed them first.

    I started getting better.

    It was so hard during that time because I wanted to be able to be able to connect with the modern world in any way. I looked to see if there were trigger warnings on so many different kinds of content. They don't exist as far as I can tell. The most frustrating part was that people didn't even try. The argument so often was:

    "because we can't accommodate all triggers we won't even bother trying with the most general of them".

    Beyond that most content doesn't even have content warnings. Film is the best at this because at least they will tell what to most generally what to expect. They also have easy to find synopses.

    I started going back online a while after I started getting my feet back on the ground again. At first it was only discord and only in small friend chatrooms/dms. Slowly I started to craft a world around me that I could be happy and healthy in. I started adding a few more sites here and there. It's incredibly slow going but I'm gradually being able to live happily while also doing the things I want to. Now every once in a while I can be in forums with people who discuss topics that are difficult for me to handle.

    One thing that would have made this process so much easier would have been if there were short agreed upon list of content warnings to give people the barest notion of what something is. The ones I'd suggest are based off of the most common causes of PTSD: Veterans Affairs Statistics Overview

    War:

    • Violent injury or death
    • Explosions
    • Gunfire

    Terrorism:

    • Mass Shooting
    • Suicide bomber
    • Building explosion
    • Car bomb

    Violence and Abuse:

    • Physical abuse
    • Verbal abuse
    • Emotional abuse
    • Financial abuse
    • Explicit sexual abuse
    • Non-consensual sexual acts

    Disasters:

    • Earthquake
    • Tornado
    • Fire
    • Flood

    It would be great if people provided these content warnings with the format of "General type" "specific content" in the tags. It may seem like this is a small issue but it affects a huge number of people:
    "
    About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
    About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
    About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
    "
    For perspective this means approximately 1 in 13 or slightly over 2 in 30 (comparable to classroom size).
    Veterans Affairs Statistics Overview

    Edit: I know this might not fit this thread exactly but I'm putting it here anyway because I feel it's relevant. I'll be posting the same comment to the other thread.

    9 votes
    1. Litmus2336
      Link Parent
      I also suffer from certain triggers based on past experiences, and I agree. I think perhaps a hoverable item with a trigger, which expands to a list of premade categories would be an ideal model....

      I also suffer from certain triggers based on past experiences, and I agree. I think perhaps a hoverable item with a trigger, which expands to a list of premade categories would be an ideal model. This could also allow tagging of content you see which is potentially triggering.

      4 votes
    2. [2]
      aphoenix
      Link Parent
      I'm concerned that you may be attributing this mentality to me. Is that the case?

      It was so hard during that time because I wanted to be able to be able to connect with the modern world in any way. I looked to see if there were trigger warnings on so many different kinds of content. They don't exist as far as I can tell. The most frustrating part was that people didn't even try. The argument so often was:

      "because we can't accommodate all triggers we won't even bother trying with the most general of them".

      I'm concerned that you may be attributing this mentality to me. Is that the case?

      1. blanketNTea
        Link Parent
        Oops, nope, I'm really sorry it came off that way even a little bit. I highlighted it because I wanted people to see that even though it was buried in text. In no way is it meant to be a quote of...

        Oops, nope, I'm really sorry it came off that way even a little bit.
        I highlighted it because I wanted people to see that even though it was buried in text. In no way is it meant to be a quote of you or a quote of anyone here. Instead it's supposed to be a summary of a lot of comments and discussions I have read elsewhere.

        3 votes
  2. [3]
    thisonemakesyouthink
    (edited )
    Link
    Trigger is too large of a word to have built into the website, although there IS a psychological definition it's still just too broad.

    Trigger is too large of a word to have built into the website, although there IS a psychological definition it's still just too broad.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      aphoenix
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think you may have intended to reply to the other thread. This isn't about "should we have trigger warning tags" but "what even are triggers" because there was not a lot of consensus in the...

      I think you may have intended to reply to the other thread. This isn't about "should we have trigger warning tags" but "what even are triggers" because there was not a lot of consensus in the thread yesterday.

      Edit: that doesn't mean you can't post this here too though!

      I think that "trigger" is too broad a term to have a tag, and I think having subtags for it, as tumblr does, is inherently problematic and infantilizing. I think we already have a system in place that addresses the needs that were brought up (ie - a way to hide things that trigger people from people who get triggered) and we should focus on enabling people who need to use the system to do so, and on getting people to accurately tag and describe the content that they are submitting, without having to decide on something fundamentally unknowable, such as how their posts will make other people feel.

      5 votes
      1. thisonemakesyouthink
        Link Parent
        I know, I'm just throwing in my two cents which is that trigger is too broad of a term to have built into the system entirely.

        I know, I'm just throwing in my two cents which is that trigger is too broad of a term to have built into the system entirely.

        3 votes
  3. [4]
    BuckeyeSundae
    Link
    I typically understand triggers to be specifically and exclusively about the potential to make someone so unsettled (usually from reliving past trauma) that they are no longer able to participate...

    I typically understand triggers to be specifically and exclusively about the potential to make someone so unsettled (usually from reliving past trauma) that they are no longer able to participate meaningfully in whatever content is being discussed. It speaks directly to an unconscious reaction that a person might know exists, but cannot control themselves. Triggers can be anything, but the common ones typically evoke specific scenarios of physical violence, be it rape, assault, shootings, or some other life threatening injury.

    4 votes
    1. [3]
      aphoenix
      Link Parent
      I was right with you until this point. Common triggers are sights, sounds, touches, tastes, or smells that are evocative of whatever is the root of one's psychological issue. They may not...

      the common ones typically evoke specific scenarios of physical violence, be it rape, assault, shootings, or some other life threatening injury.

      I was right with you until this point. Common triggers are sights, sounds, touches, tastes, or smells that are evocative of whatever is the root of one's psychological issue. They may not necessarily depict the things that you listed.

      Triggers are often (usually) related to having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are an abundance of causes for PTSD, and anything related to the causes can be a trigger.

      This is my main issue with the other post - there are as many triggers as people who get triggered. There isn't some grand unifying set of things that trigger people, and we should not be prescribing to people that they should or should not be triggered by something in the content that we post. This is why having a global tw tag and nesting other things underneath it is wrong; it's attributing the "power" to the people who are not triggered, to decide what is triggering.

      Instead, people who submit things should accurately tag the things that they submit. People who have triggers can filter out the things that they need to filter out. This gives the power to the people who need to have it.

      It is not my right to say what is and is not triggering for someone; it is their right to decide for themselves.

      3 votes
      1. BuckeyeSundae
        Link Parent
        The sights, sounds, touches, tastes, smells, and yes sometimes even text-based content that discusses those things can all be triggers that evoke the specific scenarios that cause the extreme,...

        The sights, sounds, touches, tastes, smells, and yes sometimes even text-based content that discusses those things can all be triggers that evoke the specific scenarios that cause the extreme, unconscious reaction in the mind of the person being triggered. There are common experiences that evoke a PTSD response, and physical violence (especially life threatening injury) is like seven of the top ten common causes of the PTSD in the first place. It's reasonable to believe that things related to those experiences are more likely to be someone's trigger than other, more associative and scenario-specific factoids.

        There are also triggers that are more common than others. That does not mean that a text-based forum must concern itself with creating tags to address each one as such. I am merely pointing out that it's not random. There is a reason that PTSD was called "shell shock" in WWI, because shelling was the trigger that would cause soldiers on the line to relive all the other horrible days and friends, neighbors, and comrades they got to see obliterated in front of them.

        2 votes
      2. hackergal
        Link Parent
        I agree with this. It also makes more sense because what would be the difference between the tag trigger.violence and violence? It creates redundant tags, and an OP would basically be deciding...

        I agree with this. It also makes more sense because what would be the difference between the tag trigger.violence and violence? It creates redundant tags, and an OP would basically be deciding arbitrarily between the tags.

        1 vote
  4. [6]
    Rocket_Man
    Link
    I'm fine with the Tumblr definition. I'm a little unsure what you're asking as you seem to have defined them and explained the situation quite well. Triggers are generally reminders of something...

    I'm fine with the Tumblr definition. I'm a little unsure what you're asking as you seem to have defined them and explained the situation quite well. Triggers are generally reminders of something bad or uncomfortable. If you have some conditions such as PTSD this can manifest as panic attacks or reliving the situation. Otherwise you might just be reminded of uncomfortable events. Trigger warnings are just warnings of such content to help people avoid or prepare for topics and things that might not fix the experience they're looking for.

    3 votes
    1. [5]
      aphoenix
      Link Parent
      I'm not actually asking what a trigger is - I wrote a rhetorical question as the introduction to my rhetoric on the matter. To be blunt, the Tumblr definition really irks me, similar to how people...

      I'm a little unsure what you're asking

      I'm not actually asking what a trigger is - I wrote a rhetorical question as the introduction to my rhetoric on the matter.

      I'm fine with the Tumblr definition.

      To be blunt, the Tumblr definition really irks me, similar to how people who say, 'Oh, I have OCD' irk me. It's indicative of a lack of understanding on both of those topics. If something makes you slightly sad, you are not being triggered; if you have a desire for things to be clean, you do not have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These things have actual meanings, and when we dilute the meanings that they started with, we allow the "meme" definition to exist. This dilution is a disservice to all the people that have what I'll (possibly aggressively and unfeelingly) call "real triggers".

      Regardless, I think the solution is the same; tagging things appropriately (without adding "trigger warning" to the tag) is a natural solution that already exists, and people who don't want to read the topics can actually already filter them out.

      6 votes
      1. [3]
        parenthesis
        Link Parent
        I think reducing the Tumblr definition to something that "makes you slightly sad" is a bit reductive. To my mind, there's a middle ground between that and the psychological definition you gave. I...

        I think reducing the Tumblr definition to something that "makes you slightly sad" is a bit reductive. To my mind, there's a middle ground between that and the psychological definition you gave. I don't have triggers that make me relive a particular past trauma, but there are topics that make me feel deeply anxious/dissociative/unable to participate. The thread yesterday was fairly triggering in that way. Is that a trigger in the classic sense? No, probably not. But it's definitely a much more intense experience than feeling slightly sad, and it's something I wouldn't necessarily want sprung on me.

        Should people have picked a different word to describe that experience? Maybe. But it's a bit late to undo that. Words evolve, like it or not.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          aphoenix
          Link Parent
          The problem with word evolution is that often jargon doesn't evolve - it has a specific meaning. Then we have a collision between a specific jargon term and a colloquial term. I enjoy language...

          Words evolve, like it or not.

          The problem with word evolution is that often jargon doesn't evolve - it has a specific meaning. Then we have a collision between a specific jargon term and a colloquial term. I enjoy language evolution, but there are definitely times when evolution equates to dumbing down of the language, which is observably problematic, and this is one of those times.

          The thread yesterday was fairly triggering in that way.

          Which thread do you mean was triggering?

          3 votes
          1. parenthesis
            Link Parent
            I don't necessarily disagree, but I don't think you can do anything to stop language changing, realistically. Perhaps if you got a big enough social opposition going, but I would be surprised if...

            I don't necessarily disagree, but I don't think you can do anything to stop language changing, realistically. Perhaps if you got a big enough social opposition going, but I would be surprised if people mobilized around bringing trigger back to its jargon roots.

            And I mean the thread about threats against a trans child, which is the post that sparked the discussion about trigger warnings.

            1 vote
      2. Rocket_Man
        Link Parent
        The solution does seem to be the same in either case. I also sympathize with not wanting to broaden the usage of the word outside it's psychological roots.

        The solution does seem to be the same in either case. I also sympathize with not wanting to broaden the usage of the word outside it's psychological roots.

        1 vote
  5. [2]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. aphoenix
      Link Parent
      I don't think that this is actually different from what I've stated above, because I think that one can certainly experience "a strong response" that isn't remotely triggering. I linked an article...

      might illicit a strong or potentially harmful emotional response.

      I don't think that this is actually different from what I've stated above, because I think that one can certainly experience "a strong response" that isn't remotely triggering.

      I linked an article where I obtained the definition that I used - I did not write it myself. I'm happy to include this one, though I admit that I often find it hard to take things seriously when they have simple spelling or grammatical errors in them (ie - I don't believe this is official documentation by Tumblr, or anything that is retrospective, but is another prescriptive idea of what trigger warnings should be).

      1 vote
  6. Zaren
    Link
    Instead of having trigger warnings, wouldn't it be better to have some sort of filter besides the tag filter. For example, a filter that looks for certain words or phrases in comments or titles. A...

    Instead of having trigger warnings, wouldn't it be better to have some sort of filter besides the tag filter. For example, a filter that looks for certain words or phrases in comments or titles. A hide-post feature would also be useful.

    2 votes
  7. [8]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [7]
      NessY
      Link Parent
      So then what specifically is a trigger? Simply something that reminds you of a past event can't be terrible enough to warrant everyone else going out of their way to warn you about it. If you...

      So then what specifically is a trigger?

      Simply something that reminds you of a past event can't be terrible enough to warrant everyone else going out of their way to warn you about it.

      If you react so severely that you have a panic attack just from reading the word Meth, you probably aren't ready for the internet.

      Not trying to direct this at your specifically just using your example as a point.

      4 votes
      1. [6]
        aphoenix
        Link Parent
        I think that's an intensely unfair position to hold, especially when there's already a trivial solution in place here. If everyone tagged their drug related posts with the term "drugs" then people...

        If you react so severely that you have a panic attack just from reading the word Meth, you probably aren't ready for the internet.

        I think that's an intensely unfair position to hold, especially when there's already a trivial solution in place here.

        If everyone tagged their drug related posts with the term "drugs" then people who have an issue with drug related posts can easily filter them out. Then regardless of how you feel about it, everybody wins.

        Additionally, I really dislike the idea that people should be shunned just because they have some kind of psychological issue, or that someone with such an issues doesn't deserve to use the internet. People need to have a bit of compassion.

        6 votes
        1. [5]
          NessY
          Link Parent
          My only issue is that you seem to be missing the distinction between mandatory rules and voluntary tagging. Edit: mixing up responses here, but if we're working with the idea that a big 4 is...

          My only issue is that you seem to be missing the distinction between mandatory rules and voluntary tagging.

          Edit: mixing up responses here, but if we're working with the idea that a big 4 is reasonable I think it can still apply. What would you suggest we implement @aphoenix ?

          Drugs and Depression weren't listed in your big 4 originally that you were saying should be understood mandatory warnings. I'm fine with people tagging things they think are relevant that may also be triggering (since literally anything can be). All you're saying is people should add more tags to be more specific. I'm fine with that.

          But if you're asking to make a side wide RULE that requires that people HAVE to tag it. That's where I disagree. My suggestions was simply to add a simpler version of that if you were going to make it mandatory.

          2 votes
          1. [2]
            aphoenix
            Link Parent
            Here's my position in a nutshell: There already exists a well thought out way to deal with triggers. It's tags. People should be tagging things as much as possible when they submit. People...

            Here's my position in a nutshell:

            • There already exists a well thought out way to deal with triggers. It's tags.
            • People should be tagging things as much as possible when they submit.
            • People shouldn't be held accountable for thinking of every possible tag for their content, so we need to enable community tagging.
            • These tags should not be nested under "trigger warning" because it's not up to us to decide what triggers someone. They should just be descriptive tags.
            7 votes
            1. NessY
              Link Parent
              I agree with you here. Maybe the only thing separate is either approval of a tag by someone trusted or a separate section of tags for community tags vs submitter tags.

              I agree with you here.

              Maybe the only thing separate is either approval of a tag by someone trusted or a separate section of tags for community tags vs submitter tags.

          2. [3]
            Comment deleted by author
            Link Parent
            1. aphoenix
              Link Parent
              No, I certainly didn't. I'm arguing for more strenuous tagging, and for people to be able to tag other things. What I disagree with is doing that under the umbrella term "trigger warning".

              They also argued against that, in fact.

              No, I certainly didn't.

              I'm arguing for more strenuous tagging, and for people to be able to tag other things.

              What I disagree with is doing that under the umbrella term "trigger warning".

              4 votes
            2. NessY
              Link Parent
              Yeah I noticed that after replying but hadn't gotten around to the edit there.

              Yeah I noticed that after replying but hadn't gotten around to the edit there.

  8. Tyrienne
    (edited )
    Link
    I am diagnosed with migraines and CPTSD. I wish there was a word to differentiate the medical definition of 'trigger' verses the rather new social context. I have started to refer to health issues...

    I am diagnosed with migraines and CPTSD.

    I wish there was a word to differentiate the medical definition of 'trigger' verses the rather new social context.

    I have started to refer to health issues as 'episodes'... it is easier than attempting to 'take back' the former use of the word from 'something that precipitates a negative medical event' as opposed to 'may cause upset'.

    ...Although putting "TRIGGER WARNING" on artificial sweetners and strongly scented detergents would amuse me greatly and likely help many also enduring headaches a great deal :3

    Edited to add: my primary PTSD episodes are related to interrogation and specific places. I just avoid the news.

    1 vote