Trigger warning

Trigger warning (TW), also known as content warning (CW), is a way of allowing people to view, read, listen to, or otherwise experience something consensually. TWs can be seen as akin to age certificates on films or video games.

The purpose is two-fold: a trigger warning allows one to know the contents of what they are about to experience, in order for them to decide if they want to indeed experience it. Trigger warnings also allow one to prepare themselves, because they have to experience something. Both these cases largely overlap; one is being informed of what one is about to experience.

Furthermore, a warning allows one to take self-care measures or even adhere to the directions of a therapist, doctor, or other authority if applicable. While in some cases, gradual and controlled exposure to a source of trauma, anxiety, or fear may be prescribed or may feature in some therapy regimens, that exposure should not be in the control of an outside, untrained, or pseudomedical source. It is not cowardly or "sheltered" to require a trigger warning or need content filtered, and the presence of reasonable content warnings is not merely courtesy but a matter of health care importance.

Most importantly, a single individual is not the authority on whether something is triggering or not. If someone else says something is triggering, you need to respect that. We have all had unique experiences at various ages and had different limitations on safe ways to cope with the harshness of reality, so don't project your ideas of what is triggering or not onto others. Respect their boundaries.


The ideas for issuing a warning for potentially triggering material has existed for at least 100 years:

The clinical notion of triggering dates back far as 1918, when psychologists tried to make sense of “war neurosis” in World War I, and later World War II, veterans. The term “post-traumatic stress disorder” came into use after the Vietnam War, but was not recognized as a diagnosable affliction until 1980. Then, psychologists started to work with clients to identify possible PTSD “triggers,” or a sensory input that somehow resembles the original trauma. But anticipating them is notoriously difficult. They assume disparate and unpredictable forms. An essay, or film, or other piece of media might trigger a person, as could a sound or a smell, a physical space, a specific object, or a person.[1]

Usage and examples

"A sophomore at the [University of California, Santa Barbara], Bailey Loverin, and others have formally called for “trigger warnings” on class syllabuses that would flag potentially traumatic subject matter."[2]

TWs have gained broad usage both online — on social media sites such as Twitter, LiveJournal, and Tumblr, as well as on the Huffington Post[1] — and offline, with some universities introducing them for their course materials.[3][4][3] Such warnings, especially in lecture theatres and classrooms, offer a further level of pedagogical rationale for their use:

In the original cut of the 1933 version of the film "King Kong," there was a scene (depicting an attack by a giant spider) that was so graphic that the director removed it before release. He took it out, it’s said, not because of concerns about excessive violence, but because the intensity of the scene ruined the movie — once you saw the sailors get eaten by the spider, the rest of the film passed by you in a haze.

A similar concern provides a big part of the impetus for content warnings. These warnings prepare the reader for what’s coming, so their attention isn’t hijacked when it arrives. Even a pleasant surprise can be distracting, and if the surprise is unpleasant the distraction will be that much more severe. I write quite a bit online, and I hardly ever use content warnings myself. I respect the impulse to provide them, but in my experience a well-written title and lead paragraph can usually do the job more effectively and less obtrusively.

A classroom environment is different, though, for a few reasons. First, it’s a shared space — for the 75 minutes of the class session and the 15 weeks of the semester, we’re pretty much all stuck with one another, and that fact imposes interpersonal obligations on us that don’t exist between writer and reader. Second, it’s an interactive space — it’s a conversation, not a monologue, and I have a responsibility to encourage that conversation as best I can. Finally, it’s an unpredictable space — a lot of my students have never previously encountered some of the material we cover in my classes, or haven’t encountered it in the way it’s taught at the college level, and don’t have any clear sense of what to expect.[3]

On this wiki, TWs for outgoing links are denoted using a superscript[tw] that links back to this page when clicked. On the other hand, whole articles are denoted as potentially triggering by the following banner, placed at the top of the triggering page:

Trigger warning.png

Trigger warning!

The following article might be triggering for some people depending on past experiences.

Please read with caution, go back to the home page, or look at something nice.

See also

External links