We're Doing Trigger Warnings All Wrong

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woman refusing to listen to college professor

Dr. Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, was recently a guest on the YourTango podcast “Open Relationships,” and when Andrea Miller asked him for his “unpopular opinion,” he shared a sentiment I suspect may actually be gaining popularity.

“Trigger warnings are supposed to prepare you to deal with something, not to alert you to not deal with it.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the term “trigger warning” was in 2005. 

They define a trigger warning as “​​a statement cautioning that content (as in a text, video, or class) may be disturbing or upsetting.”



RELATED: Trigger Warnings Are Just Gilded Censorship That Help Nobody

It’s a fairly new term and concept that seemed to reach mainstream conversations by the 2016 election. Many of these were centered around whether or not college campuses should adopt trigger warning protocols, or if they should be expected to be bothered with trigger warnings at all. 

Miller brought up this point, asking Winch, “It’s been a raging debate on college campuses — should people be allowed to leave a class if they believe something will upset them?

Winch responded, “Let me just say about trigger warnings — trigger warnings are not understood correctly. 

The point of a trigger warning should be, in my mind, to gird your loins because there’s going to be something uncomfortable coming your way. Prepare yourself to deal with the discomfort, don’t be surprised, be a little shielded, get your defenses up, and come in ready to deal with a topic that is difficult. 

That’s what the trigger warning is for — not to help you avoid, but to help you prepare.”

What if instead of seeing trigger warnings as a reason to run from something, we viewed them as an opportunity to become more resilient? 

Yes, there are going to be things we are exposed to and topics discussed that make us uncomfortable and increase stress. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing or something we should make efforts to avoid.

The Center On The Developing Child at Harvard University says, “Learning to cope with manageable threats is critical for the development of resilience. Not all stress is harmful.”

RELATED: 15 Simple Ways To Build Resilience (So You'll Never Lose Your Cool Ever Again)

“I think there’s a misunderstanding today about how we grow resilience and how we become stronger and more flexible. Flexibility is where it’s at; adaptation is where it’s at and always has been in terms of our evolution and psychology,” said Winch.

Ways we can become more adaptable and resilient:

  • Putting ourselves in discomfort
  • Putting ourselves into unfamiliar situations
  • Hearing out opinions that we don’t agree with
  • Having hard discussions

“I think there’s way too much comfort enabling emotionally that’s going on, and that’s really not useful… Because the more you shelter, the more sensitive you will be to that thing. The less you shelter, the more resilient you’ll be to that thing,” said Winch.

We’re doing trigger warnings all wrong if we’re using them as excuses to avoid discomfort, aside from true PTSD responses. 

If the point of using trigger warnings is to accommodate our mental health, then it’s worth understanding what is ultimately better for us in the long run – not the comfort of avoidance, but the strength of resilience.

RELATED: People With These 7 Personality Traits Have No Idea What Resilience Means

Jill Krause, the YourTango Thought Leader Editor, is a writer and content creator with a focus on maternal mental health and midlife reinvention. She’s a published author and has been recognized for her work by Time, Vogue, Washington Post, Us Weekly, Today, and more.