I shared on Facebook yesterday a post from a woman who had PTSD who is against the use of trigger warnings. This has been a topic at the forefront of my mind so I wanted to write about why I think she is right. I did write a small comment that disappeared in a Facebook hiccup and planned to re-write it this morning, however, coincidentally or perhaps not so coincidentally, I was sent this morning a Reddit post highlighting the news that the University of Chicago is banning "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces". This news made me want to stand up and cheer but the comments made me nearly apoplectic.
Most of the comments were things like, "Trigger warnings are to help those with PTSD know when to bow out of a conversation. It only takes a moment, so what's the big deal if you are helping someone out?" and "Avoidance is part of PTSD treatment." The latter made me nearly beside myself. I had to pace the room over that one.
The first reason it makes me absolutely livid is that it is the exact opposite of the truth. People with PTSD exhibit avoidance as a symptom of the trauma and an effort to avoid facing it. It is one of the problems caused by PTSD. According to the National Institute for Mental Health and pretty much any qualified PTSD therapist, treatment includes exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Those with PTSD AVOID because they don't know how else to cope but avoidance makes the problem WORSE. The second reason is that the phrasing of the comment makes it sound like this person has some knowledge of the subject and those who don't know any better likely would then believe them.
This is why I have wanted to write about trigger warnings. I truly believe they are one of the most misguided attempts at helping people in recent history. As that first comment showed, people advocating for them are ignorant of what they really mean and support them only because they sound like they could be helpful. You don't like trigger warnings? You must be an insensitive prick.
I am quite the opposite AND I have dealt with my own PTSD so I am speaking from logic, compassion, and personal experience. Trigger warnings are horrifyingly damaging. The most obvious reason is because they indulge a traumatized person's desire to run from the problem. The only people who seem as adamant to have trigger warnings as the ignorantly well-intentioned are those in the thick of their trauma who have not received proper professional help, are still too afraid to face their trauma (To those: don't worry! You can do it and it DOES get better!), or have the "I've been confronted with a differing opinion and don't like it" fakers. In reality, trigger warnings enable a person to avoid treatment not just the topic. They also create a cultural concept that once you endure something horrifying, you are nothing beyond what happened to you. You are defined as a victim and the physical manifestation of what happened to you. You have nothing else going for you. You are not a survivor. You are not strong. You are simply a victim and only a victim. How is THAT message good for anyone?
Trigger warnings also encourage silencing the uncomfortable conversations that need to be had to solve many PTSD-inducing problems like domestic dysfunction, abuse, rape, and war atrocities. If we cannot speak openly about these issues in an academic setting, then where can we? If we must send sufferers of PTSD into the hall while those without trauma discuss the problem, how does that help? Conversely, if we listen only to those in the thick of their trauma and not also to logic, how can we come up with a real solution to these problems?
The effort to increase awareness of PTSD is not only to make others aware that PTSD exists and that sometimes people are struggling but also how exactly it manifests and what exactly must be done. Sometimes what must be done is more than a simple hug. It is not up to the world to protect those with PTSD. It is up to those with PTSD to rediscover who they really are and how strong they can be. The world needs to do more to help but sending messages over and over that sufferers are fragile and need to be protected is damaging.
Overcoming PTSD is absolutely terrifying. Facing my trauma was not something I would ever want to go through again but facing it was necessary to move on and it wasn't until I faced the causes that I began to reclaim my strength or rather remember my strength. Yes, those things happened. Yes, they were horrible but they are not who I am. I am not my trauma. I am not weak because bad shit happens. I am strong because, despite it, I never gave up. Those who survive trauma and then go on to heal from PTSD are not victims, they are warriors. To deny anyone the ability to learn that truth is true abuse.
If you know someone suffering from PTSD or if you simply want to understand more of why I am so against trigger warnings, here are some resources: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml http://www.ptsdassociation.com/landing http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/#.V8LsevmU34Y
I implore anyone with PTSD to seek out professional help from a PTSD expert and do not believe the lies those who treat you as a fragile thing will tell you. It may feel comforting to feel someone else is protecting you. It may feel better than facing the problem but untreated PTSD has been shown to get worse not better over time. Indulging avoidance will set you up for a worse fall. Please, you can do it. You ARE strong even if you don't believe that right now. It does get better and there are amazing professionals out there who can make it so if you believe it can happen or are at least willing to try.