The Truth about Trigger Warnings

The Truth about Trigger Warnings

We have a wonderful, global Complex Ptsd Peer Support group, run by a fully trained and in training Team of Admins, Moderators and Assistants. The group is fully equipped with close to 40 Units – now called Guides – of information for Effective Complex Ptsd Recovery.  One of the questions we get asked is what is a Trigger Warning and why do we need it? One of our Team, Lauren, answers the questions for us.

The admin team get a lot of questions about trigger warnings. Unfortunately, because Facebook restricts both the number of rules a group can have and the number of characters admins have to explain each rule in, we can’t explain each rule in as much detail as we’d like.
 
Consider this post a supplement to rule 5, answering the most common questions we get asked about trigger warnings.
 
Q: So, what is a trigger warning, anyway?
 
A: A trigger warning is a short note before a post making it clear that the post contains specific topics that may cause distress in people with PTSD (or, indeed, cPTSD).
Emotional safety is one of our core values in this group, so we strongly advocate for trigger warnings – they enable members to make an informed decision about whether they’re in a position to engage with the post then and there, whether they might be able to engage later in a more private place, or whether they are not yet in the right stage of recovery to read the post at all.
Some people prefer to use the terms “content warning” or “content note” but they are essentially the same thing as a trigger warning.
 
Q: Does my post need one?
 
A: That depends on what it’s about. Obviously, we can’t predict everything that could potentially be a trigger for someone somewhere (Bruce Bogtrotter from Matilda might well find chocolate cake a trigger!), but there are some general topics that we can foresee that individuals in this group may need to avoid. These things include: abuse, assault, addiction, self-harm, suicide, bereavement, disordered eating, forms of discrimination (e.g. racism, homophobia).
Basically, if you think a member in the group who has had a similar experience to you might want a heads up about your post’s content, put a trigger warning on it.
 
Q: But aren’t all posts in this group potential triggers?
 
A: That’s a great question! We are a cPTSD group, united by two things: our shared experience of trauma, and our commitment to healing from it. That second part is particularly important; we’re not just here to share painful stories but also to support each other to process and heal from that pain.
Posts focusing on the healing process, e.g. “Today I made real progress in my therapy”, are unlikely to be triggering and so don’t need trigger warnings. However, posts that discuss the trauma that led us to developing cPTSD will need trigger warnings.
 
Q: Members agree to manage their own triggers when they join the group – does that mean I don’t need to put a trigger warning?
 
It’s true that we need members to be able to manage their own triggers, but managing our own triggers doesn’t mean that our past traumas no longer have the ability to cause us pain. Rather, it means that we are aware of our triggers, that we make sensible decisions about when and when not to engage with such posts and that we know to make ourselves safe before posting or commenting. Trigger warnings help others to do this more effectively.
 
Q: How do I do a trigger warning?
 
A: So, you have a post that you desperately want to discuss with your peers in group, but you’re not sure how to do it sensitively? No problem, just follow these simple instructions:
1. Draft your post.
2. Read back what you’ve written and mentally list topics you discuss that could be triggering to other members.
3. At the top of your post, write “Trigger Warning” or “TW”, then list the topics you noticed in step 2. This is really important! Writing a trigger warning is like putting up a big sign that just says “danger” in front of a low bridge: listing topics is like putting a “low bridge” sign up so motorists are aware what could be problematic and can decide whether or not this warning is relevant to them.
4. Between the end of the trigger warning and the beginning of your post, type one symbol per line for 10 lines.
 
Q: What’s all that about symbols?
 
A: With long posts, Facebook only shows the first few lines – if you want to read the whole post, you have to click “see more”. This is actually an advantage in a cPTSD context. Using symbols makes the post longer, which helps to hide the potential trigger from people who need to avoid that specific content.
An example post using symbols looks like this:
TW demonstration post
*
#
*
#
*
#
*
#
*
#
So, if you’re reading this post then you’ll have seen the trigger warning and actively decided to keep reading.
 
Q: Can I include images?
 
A: Including relevant images can be a good way to illustrate your point – they do say that a picture says a thousand words, after all. But be aware that images can also be triggering. If you are going to post an image that might be problematic, please don’t include it in the main body of your post – instead, put it it in the comments and add information about this to the trigger warning. Again, this means that only people who are prepared to engage with the picture have to see it.
 
Q: What about comments? Do they need trigger warnings too?
 
A: Yes, comments that discuss potentially triggering subjects need trigger warnings too. Follow the same step by step process as for posts, and if in doubt, give a trigger warning.
 
Q: But do I really need a trigger warning?
 
A: If you’re posting about something other members might find distressing or triggering, yes. Period.
 
We’re really grateful when our members want to share their stories, but we also need to maintain the emotional safety of the group, and that means insisting on trigger warnings. If your pending post doesn’t have a trigger warning and needs one, your post will be rejected. Also, when a post is rejected, Facebook in their infinite wisdom only return the first 240 characters of the text, not all of it, so please do keep a copy of what you want to post in your word processor/notes app of choice. That way, you don’t have to type it all out again if you want to resubmit with an appropriate trigger warning.
 
 
I just wanted to message you or one of the admins from the CPTSD group and say thanks ❤️ I was diagnosed recently and honestly this has been a blessing finding this group. Lots of amazing resources and members. I love the content and it’s really organized which is nice. It feels like an online peer support group which is empowering.
 
 

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