• Sahar Abdulaziz, MS

Trigger Warnings

Just like with any other subject, there are opposing mindsets concerning the use of trigger warnings to alert readers to potentially disturbing content. Those against the use of content warnings argue that it allows readers to become intellectually lethargic and hypersensitive to offense. Others have accused the use of these warnings as being akin to book banning and censorship; deciding preemptively what a reader should and should not read. However, because I recognize the subject matter of my books is often emotionally hard-hitting and discernibly complex, I take a different view. Self-care for my readers remains an important consideration for me precisely because the topics I expound upon are often uncomfortable, depicting a broad range of multifaceted situations concerning personal trauma, [both cause and effect].

I have voluntarily chosen to employ trigger [content] warnings, as another tool to help individuals decide for themselves whether or not the material contained within my pages is something they desire to engage actively in. Personally, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t include such a caveat at the beginning of my fictional novels. In doing so, I can inform prospective readers to be cautious, especially if they believe that any of the material or storylines could become too distressing, leaving them vulnerable and pained. Since I didn’t write these books to cause pain, it only seems like common sense to include a content warning.

Let me give you an example: my novel, The Broken Half, deals with issues surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault, while, As One Door Closes, focuses on the legacy of incest and abuse. While I took extra care not to unnecessarily sensationalize, there are semi-graphic scenes. Survivors or victims suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], anxiety or depression, especially if it was as a direct result of sexual assault, might find these stories too emotionally devastating. Reminding them of a traumatic event and triggering a tidal wave of harmful memories or nightmares.

It is my belief that no one should ever underestimate or patronizingly ignore the impact these severe and relentless challenges generate. Nor should the symptoms experienced be confused with a momentary feeling of discomfort. Panic attacks, for example, can be terrifying, filled with intense dread, and an overwhelming sense of not being in control, leaving a person emotionally and physically debilitated.

While no two individuals have identical responses to specific triggers, the opposite reaction can also occur. Many readers who are also survivors have generously shared with me that the content and narrative in my novels felt engagingly cathartic and empowering. The content warning was still there, visible for anyone to see, but the ability to make the choice to read and engage remained solely the reader's. This is an important distinction. Therefore, for me, the act of providing a simple content warning seems like an obvious and empathetic way to show support in addition to helping minimize and counteract the onset of an attack for those already battling.

I think it should be noted that I do not mandate the use of trigger warnings for all authors. I also, in no way, shape, or form use content warnings to sway people from reading the books I write, which would be counterproductive. Their use is simply to provide adequate forewarning to those who may find certain passages too hard to digest.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t times when engaging with strong -possibly triggering content, can still be beneficial because it most certainly can. But it is my contention that only the reader themselves can effectively make this decision. Each person knows their mindset, where they currently are in their healing process, and whether or not they are in a safe place emotionally to make that call. The content warnings are just one more practical coping tool to add to the arsenal of strategies most individuals who are living with easily concealed mood challenges already exercise.

Those struggling with clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, as well as other mood disorders know all too well how potential triggers can elicit many severe reactions, such as panic, fear, or anger. Therefore, as an author, I feel it is not my place to supersede or denigrate a person’s right to make the necessary decisions concerning their psychological wellbeing. As an advocate for respect and compassion for my fellow human beings, I clearly understand that the power and opportunity to make a proactive decision to maintain self-care is both healing and healthy.

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