trigger warnings

Why I Am Never Going to Use Trigger Warnings in my Reviews

I know this post about “trigger warnings” isn’t going to make me any friends. If anything, I am going to lose some of you, because you will be annoyed by my thoughts on the subject. BUT, I’ve decided that’s okay, because I legit need to get this off my chest.

I’m writing this post in the midst of reading a book (let’s call it “The Book”) that I would say is very “triggering” for me (and by “triggering” I mean that it makes me uncomfortable in a personal way). When I started the The Book and found myself in the middle of a story I really didn’t want to be in, I thought about how much I wish I had known what this book was about, so that I could have avoided it. But then I thought about all of the reasons listed below, and realized that avoiding this book would have done me no good. So here are a few reasons why you’ll never see “trigger warnings” on my blog.

1. You are going to be faced with “triggering” things your entire life. 

Turns out, you’re going to run into crappy things your entire life. What’s the point of avoiding it in a book when you’re likely to encounter it elsewhere? Also, as an adult you’re not going to be able to run away screaming at the sight of something “triggering.” You’re going to have to extricate yourself from the situation as reasonably and maturely as possible. 

So as I read The Book, and found myself very  uncomfortable, I had two adult choices to make: 1) close the book and stop reading it, or 2) work through the discomfort and continue reading. I happened to chose option 2, but not everyone would have and that’s okay. The point is that you faced your issue and made a choice with how best you needed to deal with. With a trigger warning, you wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to make that decision.

2. I am not responsible for your feelings. 

While I am going to do my best to not be overly offensive, I can’t cater to everyone’s needs. I am not in charge of making you feel comfortable all of the time. NO ONE IS. You are responsible for dictating what you allow and don’t allow in your life.

If you want to know all the possible triggering things in a book prior to reading it, that’s fine. You’re just not going to find it here. I am here to talk about books, and part of story-telling is evoking emotions (including uncomfortable ones!) and detailing life-experiences in fictional ways.

3. How can I possibly know what could “trigger” you?

This is the thing that really gets me. When describing “triggering” things, it’s like there’s this finite list of things that might “trigger” someone. Often these things include rape, alcoholism, drug abuse, racial issues, violence, etc. But guess what? You can never know what is going to actually ‘trigger” someone.

In The Book, no one could even begin to guess what I find so upsetting about it. No one would have listed it under “trigger warnings,” and that’s the silliness of it all. Our experiences are so unique and varied, that even if I wanted to list “trigger warnings” for people, I wouldn’t be able to catch half of them, because they would seem so benign to me! So I’m not even going to try to guess.

Instead, I’m going to say, face your fears, and handle that BS like an adult. 

trigger warnings

What are your thoughts on “trigger warnings”? Do you use them? Do you like seeing them on reviews? 

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30 comments

  1. I agree with you completely! Most people forget that simply avoiding things they dislike or fear will simply keep those dislikes or fears alive, that they’re essentially allowing them to handicap and limit them in life. YOU are more powerful than you know and it’s YOU who should be in control of your life. Horrible things happen and that will always be awful, but we shouldn’t allow those things to take over our lives. The only way to make life your b*tch is to confront and handle and DO something about it. At least, that’s what I believe. So I enjoyed this post very much!

    1. Woot! Obviously I 100% agree with you! Glad you enjoyed it. I was a little nervous about the post, because I know that there are going to be some people who don’t like it, but at the end of the day – you’re absolutely right: confront and handle that sh*t!

  2. This subject will always be a difficult one for me, because I’m a survivor of sexual assault. However, I do agree with you to an extent, because you’re right: there’s no way to know what triggers someone has. My attacker happened to be my boyfriend at the time, and there are random and stupid things that remind me of him that can give me panic attacks to this day. But do I think those things should be erased from the world, or do I try to avoid them at all costs? No, because then I would be letting him win in a way. The more I’ve faced these things in a positive context, the less likely the panic attacks have been.

    1. Thanks for sharing Anna. And I have to say bravo to you for NOT being a victim, and not letting him get to you in that way. You go girl! That’s true girl power.

  3. YES YES AND YES AGAIN 😍❤️ This is what I need and you did it brilliantly. This is also why I never wrote Trigger Warnings on my blog. I think it is afterall PERSONAL. No one would know what triggers you or not.

  4. I think point 3 is important because I would not be comfortable issuing triggering warnings for things unless I had a whole list of guidelines I was using to try to make my warnings consistent. I think that if I just sat down one day and said “I should be putting trigger warnings on my reviews!” I would end up with a very arbitrary and uneven system that perhaps wouldn’t even help anyone. I’d hate for my readers to think that I was providing trigger warnings they could trust, only to drop the ball because I didn’t put one on a review that someone thought *should* have one. I have no problem with people seeking out information and trigger warnings about books so they can decide what they do and do not want to read, but I guess in the end I don’t want to be responsible for that because I’m sure there would be times, plenty of them, when I would get it wrong.
    Briana @ Pages Unbound just posted Picture Books Aren’t Just for ChildrenMy Profile

    1. Yes, I think you put it very well: if you chose to use trigger warnings, you are choosing to take on that responsibility. If someone wants to take that on, that’s fine – but it definitely won’t be me.

      1. Yes, I think my issue is that If I start putting trigger warnings on *some* books, then the implication is that I have deemed any book that does NOT have a warning to be “safe.” I don’t want to be responsible for implying a book is fine for someone, only to have it actually trigger them because I missed something or because people have different triggers. I get that some things are “obvious” marks for trigger warnings (like because they have an explicit rape scene), but other things are not obvious and are going to vary person by person, and there’s no way I would be able to be consistent or catch it all.

        I think this is also one of the reasons (of many) that most publishers are not going to start putting trigger warnings on their books either. The same applies: If it doesn’t have a warning, the publisher is implying it’s safe and won’t trigger anyone…and that is going to open the door to a lot of controversy and conflict for them that it would be much easier for them to avoid. Publishers, first and foremost, are businesses, and if providing trigger warnings isn’t going to be profitable for them, they’re not going to do it just because some people think it would be nice of them.
        Briana @ Pages Unbound just posted How to Use Tutoring in CollegeMy Profile

  5. I think you’re entitled to your opinion, and I definitely think you can include or not include whatever you want in your book review, but I don’t entirely agree with everything you said. I try to mention when there are common triggers in a book (though I simply don’t remember to sometimes). I think it’s fair for people to want to avoid things that trigger them in books. I mean, yes, you will likely run into these things in real life, but a lot of people read for enjoyment, to de-stress, etc. and don’t want to deal with those things in their down-time. I think that’s understandable. And sometimes facing your fears doesn’t make them go away. And I think, for some people, triggers go beyond simply making them uncomfortable or being something they dislike—they might have PTSD or panic attacks or something more serious from triggers. You just never know what people’s individual situations are. However, I do agree that ANYTHING can be a trigger, making it impossible to list all triggers. I guess I feel it’s better to list the common ones than none at all. But I myself don’t even think about it half the time since I don’t have any serious triggers, and most people w/o serious triggers are prob in the same boat, so I’ve never condemned a reviewer for not mentioning them. Maybe it just ought to be the author’s/pub’s responsibility to mention them.
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight just posted Bookish Musings: Separating the Author from the BookMy Profile

    1. We actually don’t disagree at all! I NEVER said it’s unfair for people to want to avoid “triggers,” and I definitely didn’t say that people will get over things if they face them. I just said that I won’t be putting them on my reviews, because I don’t want to take on that responsibility, and ultimately, it’s only the responsibility of the person who has the issue to avoid what “triggers” them. I am also not saying ANYTHING against people who use trigger warnings at all! So I hope you didn’t read my post in that way. Thank you for commenting Kristen!! I appreciate your thoughts (:

      1. Ah, ok, then I just misunderstood some of your post. I agree, it is the responsibility of the person w/ the triggers to try and avoid them, not anyone else’s responsibility, but that’s hard for people to do if no one tells them about the triggers, you know? I see what you’re saying in other comments though about how if you put it for one book, people might come to expect it for every book, and then if you forget or something on one, someone might think the book is ok only to end up triggered. That’s an understandable concern as a reviewer. But that’s why I think it would make the most sense for authors/pubs to include trigger/content warnings in the blurb or on their site or somewhere instead of expecting reviewers to take on this responsibility. I know that some pubs do, which is nice!
        Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight just posted Book Review: Creatures of Will & Temper by Molly TanzerMy Profile

  6. Hello! I completely understand your point of view and this is your blog so it’s honestly not up to anyone else to tell you how to run it! I would also like to input my 2 cents as well if that’s okay.

    Uncomfortable =/= being triggered. The word has been misused, and it’s supposed to be for those who suffer from PTSD or have panic attacks. Those are the people who the trigger warnings are, and it can really help maintain their mental and physical health if people are thoughtful enough to state the triggers in books. Obviously, people aren’t obligated to do this in any way, nor are they responsible for the health of their viewers, but it is a kind thing to do that really doesn’t take that much time.

    Your first point is true. People will always be facing triggering things throughout their lives and we can’t change that. However, the same is true for racism. If a child was facing racism at their school, the appropriate thing for the school to do in that situation would not be to give the racist a free pass because the other child will ALWAYS face racism in their life – but rather they should try and do something to stop it. It would be heartless not to as schools are supposed to be a safe place for learning. It’s arguable that the same thing could be said about books. Reading is supposed to be something where you lose yourself for a little while. Somewhere that you can have fun.

    It’s also possible that not everyone reading your blog is an adult! Children don’t need to be told what they can and can’t read, but if they see a warning for ‘rape and mutilation’ then they might be able to figure out that it’s really not for them. I hope that I’m not coming across as too preachy! Thanks for reading my long comment xx
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    1. Yes, I agree with your statement in the second paragraph about it being a kind thing to do! It is a kindness, but it is also a big responsibility. I would hate to use trigger warnings and let people presume that I was warning them adequately when really I missed something important to them. That is a tough thing about trigger warnings – it’s impossible to know them all.

      I agree with what you said about schools and their responsibility to protect the child, but that analogy doesn’t quite work with books. Simply put, children don’t choose the school they go to or who they are surrounded by on their campus. People are completely in control of what book’s they pick up and put down. But I think I’m understanding what you’re saying for the most part – and ultimately, I don’t condemn trigger warnings! I’m saying that I’M not going to use them, not that they shouldn’t be used.

      I thank you so much for your long, respectful comment (:

  7. The thing is, trigger warnings can actually help people face their fears. It’s been studied and proven that when people choose to view something that may trigger them, it helps them get over the fear. However having it pop up without expecting it can ruin someone’s day or even their week.

    I think you’re entitled to your opinion but I don’t understand why people can be so against trigger warnings. Yeah, in life people do get unexpectedly triggered, but when you’re doing something that’s a hobby like reading or looking at reviews, you’re trying to enjoy yourself. The last thing you want is to have something you enjoy doing ruined by a trigger. It’s also not very difficult nor does it take very long to type up a few words for a trigger warning.

    I’m not trying to come off as aggressive or like I’m lecturing and I’m sorry if I do, but as someone who’s close to people with PTSD and mental illnesses and as someone who has mental illnesses, it’s not always as simple as just dealing with it. And if you have mental illness(es) or something, you have to remember that not everyone experiences mental illness the same way.

    1. I actually agree with you! I think you misread my post – I wasn’t saying that trigger warnings shouldn’t exist. I was just explaining why they won’t be on MY blog. I definitely think if someone wants to seek out trigger warnings prior to reading a book, that’s totally okay! I would never tell someone what they could/couldn’t do. They just need to know that they won’t find them on my blog (:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Logan!

  8. I completely agree with you. I find it weird to add trigger warnings but I’ve been doing it because everyone else does and I thought it was the norm. I find bullying triggering. And sexual assault. But I don’t mind anything else so it’s like you said. Varied people varied experiences. I’d hope people still love to keep reading your blog and that’s just what I’m going to do.
    MyBookJacket just posted Bookish News And A Book HaulMy Profile

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad we can have different opinions about whether or not we want to have trigger warnings on our posts, and still be friends (: That’s exactly how it should be!

  9. I do feel like this is a bit of a controversial subject. I do have to say that personally, I used to find rape and abuse extremely triggering (to a point where it was not just a matter of deal with it and get over it). Because of that I do feel that it is important that people know if there is especially graphic content in certain trigger areas. I’ll just say that I’m 23 it has taken me over 15 years to even be able to sit through a near-rape scene, or abusive content (think Outlander…I wish to god I had known how MUCH rape and near rape there was before I watched it, even if only to be able to brace myself and not have a total breakdown), without falling back into my depression.
    I will say that I don’t think it’s particularly fair to say you’ll NEVER put trigger warnings in your reviews…some people are struggling on a daily basis. I personally don’t put warnings in my reviews unless there is extremely graphic content, but I should also hope that the author puts a warning in as well.
    Of course, this IS your blog and I would never tell you how to run it. I am only speaking from personal experiences.
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    1. It’s very controversial! And I agree- when there is extremely graphic content I usually mention it somewhere in the review. I guess I don’t explicitly say: “Trigger warning: graphic content/rape/etc.” It will just be mentioned somewhere throughout the review. It’s an interesting topic and certainly a hot one!

  10. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Ali! I’m in the same boat. Other people are certainly welcome to put trigger warnings in their reviews, but it’s not something I do. I’m offering reviews from my subjective POV. Hopefully it’s helpful to other readers considering the book, but it’s by no means a manual on everything everyone will and won’t like about it. 🙂
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    1. Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about it. I do reviews like I was talking to my friend about the book, and I never go “Friend, trigger warning! They talk about alcoholism” or whatever!

  11. Great post! I don’t put trigger warnings in my reviews, but it is something that I’ve debated doing. I like what Melanie over at Grab the Lapels does – she puts “content warnings” in her reviews, and I actually get a better idea of what is in the book because of these content warnings. I like your point about how could you possibly know what is triggering to someone. We can’t ever know what could effect every reader.
    What I like to do in my reviews is to mention if there is a troubling scene (like graphic violence, graphic sex, mistreatment of animals, etc). I don’t particularly care for reading those, nor do I care for a lot of swearing, so I try to make a note in my review if there’s something that someone might have an issue with.
    I like this post – I see why people put warnings in reviews, and I see why people don’t. It’s something I’m still trying to decide whether or not to do. Thank you for making me think more about it!

    1. Thanks for your input Ami! I agree with the “content warnings.” There are times when I will alert readers to those, too. I think those are different than “trigger warnings,” though they certainly do overlap! It’s a controversial subject, and it’s fun to hear everyone’s different opinions on it!

  12. As I suspected, I definitely agree with you. I would go so far as to say my opinion on trigger warnings it even more unpopular than yours, as I am not nearly as nice about my opinion 😉
    (I think they are stupid and they annoy me. And I do have PTSD.)

    Honestly, to each their own. I am aware there are people who want trigger warnings. But I believe the onus should be on them to seek those warnings – in today’s world there are literally websites for everything. I am sure there could be a website that lists books/movies/whatever that are “safe” or whatever for whatever your trigger is. If not, and you are particularly sensitive and mindful… then ask someone. If you don’t want to deal with a trigger, don’t expect warnings – be prepare to say “I can’t read books that involve blah, would this book be all right for me?” to someone who has read the book.

    Anyhow. end of my 3rd night shift, so finding words a challenge right now…. but I am please to know *trigger warning* won’t be a thing on this blog 😉

    1. Well I was being diplomatic and trying to be kinder with my opinion XD Didn’t want to upset too many people. My husband and I were discussing that it seems as though a lot of the people with true PTSD don’t actually care for trigger warnings (of course this isn’t true for everyone, but it seems to be a pattern).
      I agree, it’s up to the person to seek them out if they want them. I feel as though we’re fostering a group of people who forget that they need to take responsibility for themselves. At the end of the day, the only person who is going to be able to deal with life crap is YOU.

  13. This is definitely an interesting take on the issue and while I agree, to an extend, on some points, I don’t on all (which is fine, too!).

    Yes, it’s true that we will come in contact with triggering things throughout our life, but it would be to nice to avoid where we can. Possibly one of the easiest ways to do that is setting aside books that have may have triggering content for readers. I’m a recovered self-harmer; I fought with it for 5 years. At the same time, I also dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts. While I’d like to say I am fully recovered, I’m still hesitant and wary going into books with that content, so for me, a trigger warning would be nice. Of course, not everyone feels that way; I don’t expect them to. But if I were younger and still struggling with those issues, then yes, it would be nice to have.

    I think being “uncomfortable” is not the same as being “triggered.” There are a variety of situations that make me uncomfortable, but not many of them trigger me to relive some of the darker parts of my past.

    I’m a bit on the fence about “I’m not responsible for your feelings.” I never want to feel like a burden to anyone, which I sort of see where that opinion comes into play. We don’t want to feel as if we’re talking on eggshells around people. But I also feel like warning people can help them “dictat[e] what [they] allow and don’t allow in [their] life,” especially if they are in a fragile state.

    I do agree that yes, you and others have no idea what triggers a certain individual, but again, sometimes it’s a tittering side to walk on. But yes to “Our experiences are so unique and varied, that even if I wanted to list “trigger warnings” for people, I wouldn’t be able to catch half of them, because they would seem so benign to me!” Despite that, there are some things we do know and should be mindful of.

    I hope I didn’t sound too contradicting.
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    1. Yes, a lot of people commented on the “uncomfortable” phrase. That was my way describe how I felt without getting too personal – I do recognize that “uncomfortable” is not the same as being “triggered” or having true PTSD symptoms.

      Ultimately no one is responsible for the feelings of another person. There are societal norms that encourage us to be kind and thoughtful towards others, which is why I would never intentionally try to “trigger” someone or make them relive something that happened in their past. But ultimately, if that happens unintentionally, that is something that the person is going to have to deal with. It is not my job to protect them – how could we possibly attempt to protect everyone? People need to protect themselves, so if something “triggering” happens, they would have to extricate themself from the situation however they see fit. Of course, 95% of us would apologize and help them remove themself from the situation – because that’s just a nice thing to do. Trigger warnings are a kindness, not a responsibility.

      You don’t sound contradicting at all Nicole! I really appreciate your thoughts. It’s an interesting topic and a lot of people feel very strongly about it on both sides!