Tuesday, 11 December 2018

What Are Trigger Warnings? ~ Should I put a trigger warning on my book?

OMG, am I about to offend someone? Quick, put a trigger warning on it! 😲

Alright, calm down.
First, let us look at two different types of triggers.

Emotional Triggers

Someone may make a joke, but to you it hurts and can affect you, making you feel off-kilter.
You question whether the person making the joke respects you or not.

Feelings brought up can include:

  • A sense of rejection
  • Being left/singled out
  • Disapproval

~ basically you feel inferior in some way

Reactions to this can include:

  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Self-medication (drugs/alcohol/food etc.) 
  • Compliance
These are normal human reactions, and are often associated with things from your own past. It is your reaction based on previous experience, and not the fault of the person making the joke, which to everyone else is harmless. 
This does not mean in any way it is your fault either. It's just one of those less pleasant experiences of life. Good news is, there's coping mechanisms and people trained to help you with this. 

Emotional triggers are not what trigger warnings are about, as we cannot feasibly all foresee how every single person is going to react. We all have the potential to associate an infinite number of innocuous things with a negative reaction. 

Psychological Triggers

These go way beyond our feelings being trampled on (which is unpleasant enough, right?). These are so much more. 

These types of triggers can be set of with a particular sound, smell or sight which are associated with a trauma, and often cause flashbacks. Often used in conjunction with PTSD (and other anxiety conditions) , and commonly (but not exclusively) include post-war/combat soldiers and survivors of sexual abuse. 

Flashbacks are no laughing matter. They have oddly become more common since movies started. And it is a bit like watching a film, only this is the 3D, fully immersive kind. Your brain throws you right back into the traumatic event, and you relive it as if you were there. It is terrifying, debilitating and to be avoided. It is deeply traumatic in itself. 

These are the folk we need/want to protect, right? 
We do not want to drive anyone to despair. 
In all fairness to them, a little word of caution so there's no nasty surprises is a simple courtesy which can save severe pain and suffering. 

It serves as a warning for them to put their coping strategies in place and/or choose not to read a book they will find too difficult to cope with. 
By the way, they may well choose to read your book anyway. With the correct coping strategies in place, it may help them face/overcome their issue/s. 
What we are doing is offering them the information so they may make an informed decision. 
Trigger warnings give people the power of control and choice.

So, if your book (especially if it's unexpected) contains scenes of:
  • Violence/war
  • Sexual/physical abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Oppressive language
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide
...please put a trigger warning under the blurb to save long-term psychological damage.
It just makes sense, doesn't it? 

No, you do not need a trigger warning if there's something such as a cliffhanger. 
Get a grip!! 
If book 1 in a series does not say, "And they lived happily ever after. The end." it is NOT going to inflict long-term psychological damage. It will not cause flashbacks. It might just cause mild annoyance/aggravation. 

Please learn this important difference. 

There are people with actual debilitating problems (hopefully seeking professional assistance to come to terms with their trauma).

Demanding trigger warnings for things which cause disgruntlement helps no-one. 

To help you further, the dictionary definition of trauma:

  1. 1.
    a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

    "a personal trauma like the death of a child"

  2. 1a. mass noun Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis.
    ‘the event is relived with all the accompanying trauma’
  3. 2.
    physical injury.

    "rupture of the diaphragm caused by blunt trauma"
    "the gallstone can be extracted without unnecessary trauma to the liver"

~ basically events outside the ordinary, expected human experience
~ experience which involves actual or threatened death or severe injury (of self or others)
~ involves overwhelming fear, helplessness and/or horror 

This has been a public service blog post, brought to you with concern for mental well-being.  
It is meant to inform and educate, not to criticise or belittle. 
My aim is to help authors decide whether or not to include a trigger warning under their book description, and the reasons why. 
And to bring a little perspective to the confusion that exists out there. 

Always with love and light,

If you are affected by the contents of this blog please do seek help. 
There are so many people, trained, willing and ready to take your call. Don't be alone. 
Thank you.


  1. Really wonderfully thought out post, T.L! And I concur with your deductions!

    1. So glad you concur xx
      Just trying to bring some sense to the confusion.

  2. Absolutely - just shared on twitter with another post on the same topic XX