Trigger Warnings: A Mature Discussion

People with traumatic events in their past can often be violently transported back to a harmful time in their life by the mention or depiction of a certain topic which draws too close to home, causing that person severe mental pain and suffering. It is for this reason that trigger warnings, or content warnings, are often implemented before challenging material. For example, stories which may deal with suicide, domestic abuse, or eating disorders may disclose those themes before the story begins to spare those who would suffer from reliving those events.

My question is not whether trigger warnings are valid. They are, and if you don’t think so then this conversation is not for you. My question is: what would be the best way to implement this for comics? The “Mature” label is too broad to be helpful in these cases, and overt specifics may be picked up as “spoilers” for the story within. What would be the most effective, reasonable way to implement trigger warnings in comics?

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Don’t some primetime tv shows use a sort of rating system to say that the program may contatin “sexual themes” or “strong language” so that “viewer discretion is advised”?

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It would take an introduction and awareness phase to get people used to the concept, but I’d list them somewhere on the inside cover. Small and discreet enough that the text wouldn’t catch your eye unless you’re specifically checking for it. Otherwise, it would be nice if publishers were responsible for having that info listed somewhere on their sites. It’s a problem with books, too.

Someday it would be cool if there was something you could click (or scan, for print) that would reveal the warnings.

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Not quite the same thing. There’s a difference between mature content and traumatic content to people with certain triggers. It would have to be a lot more specific.

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Not sure I’m using the right term, but if printing warnings rather than relying on digital stuff, what if they were positioned along the gutter (or whatever you call the crease) between the inside front cover and first page of the book. Assuming ad space would allow it.

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Assuming the vast majority of the time we are talking about sexual violence (broadly defined), a discrete SV on the back cover. Maybe domestic violence gets a DV, and I think you probably are covering the overwhelming majority of concerns without “spoilers”

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For the sake of this discussion, I think we need to clearly define what PTSD is.

PTSD is a condition that occurs when the memories of a traumatic experience (assault) or constant, long-term exposure to a traumatic environment (World War I) are not properly processed by the brain. High level stress hormones can prevent the brain-- more specifically, the hippocampus-- from correctly processing what has happened. This “blown fuse” effect means that flashbacks, nightmares, and general anxiety will continue to put the brain in a metaphorical headlock as it struggles to come to grips with what has happened. Everytime a memory of the experience is triggered, the physical stress reactions will prevent the brain from dealing with the trauma and ultimately healing. It’s an incredibly viscious process.

A few years ago, my sister underwent a traumatic experience. I vividly remember her coming home, staggering through the door, tears streaking her face. I asked her what was wrong, but she shoved past me and went straight to my parents. I figured it was something personal and that I shouldn’t intervene. Only later that night when a police officer showed up at our house would I learn that she had been sexually assaulted.

Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t what I remember most about the whole ordeal. A few months passed, she was going to therapy, more specifically, EMDR treatment. One day, I was riding in the car with her, carrying out a casual, ordinary conversation when she started hyperventilating. She swerved and we almost hit another car. Moments after, she pulled over on the side of the road and started to calm herself. Just a few choice words and the anxiety had taken over.

All this is to say: there’s no warning that could possibly prevent something like this from happening. No words of caution that can stop the panic or the memories. This kind of stuff is unique to each person and their own trauma.

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I’m sorry for what happened to your sister, and it’s very true that there is nothing in this world that can prevent the reoccurrence 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value in trigger warnings. People can and are triggered by media. A few labels contribute little to nothing to production costs but do spare certain survivors the grief of encountering what distresses them while they’re pursuing what’s meant be a form of escapist fantasy.

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That I can agree with. There is indeed no harm in putting a warning. However, the chances of actually preventing anxiety or a flashback are minimal at best.

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I just can’t agree with that. To be slapped with an unexpected r*pe scene, or whatever have you, can absolutely trigger someone. Sure, so can a conversation or a scent or any other million factors, but some of those are beyond our control while warnings on our media - enabling survivors to have the choice to avoid certain programming - are not.

No two survivors are the same, and I think it’s incredibly dangerous to suggest a trigger warning will have minimal to zero benefit.

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I personally have had some stuff happen to me way back when, and I find it helpful to just have a little TW warning followed by a post. Normally TW’s come with a list of what TW would be discussed in the post but I don’t really mind that.

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A small section either underneath the DC logo on the cover. Maybe on the second page. Or a small bar at the bottom of the first page of the actual story. That says “May Contain Upsetting Content for Certain Readers.”

You could put a link to a website after that that gives a brief description of what that may be or the definition of “upsetting content.”

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Might make more sense to have more detailed warnings on the back cover and have the front-cover one say “See back cover for details” so it doesn’t spoil anything or take up too much space but makes it easy to check without having to jump online every time you see that. Not exactly sure how that would interact with digital comics, though.

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As for the earlier discussion about what content would actually warrant a warning: Anything we say here about the effectiveness of warnings is essentially anecdotal. I would hope there’s been some kind of research into the most common triggers, but I don’t know enough about the subject to be personally aware of any such research. But if it did exist or could efficiently be done, it would be most sensible to cull the most frequent ones (something like the top 5 or top 20 depending on how specific they are or whether they can be gathered into larger groups) and place a warning when they crop up.

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@BatJamags Some of the more common ones are trauma related to accidents or abuse, general anxiety, self-harm, stuff like that. If you’d like to talk to me about more triggers, shoot me a message. I’m really into psychology and I have personally experienced some stuff.

One thing that I see before most shows now are general specifics… If that makes any sense haha. Basically it provides the rating and general reasons why it has that rating “mature language, graphic violence, etc.” Maybe something like that could be good. Or, on IMDB they have a section for parents to see specifically what type of content there is to look out for. Maybe having a qr code on the back of comics that links to a website that provides that information for the issue could be good. On top of that, having a qr code means that only people who want to see that info will want to see it will. No risk of spoilers. Just my idea :).

I love that idea. It’s such a broad spectrum idk what could possibly cover it all. Everyone, as u said, has certain triggers. Impossible to know what & who’s. I’m very familiar with the term Triggers as a sufferer of anxiety disorder, panic attacks, severe depression etc. I grew up in a time when they didn’t diagnose these things. So I lived with the ones I’m comfortable mentioning & more until recently. When I finally got the proper meds needed to combat it. If u could turn Trigger warning, into the lexicon as u described so it’s all encompassing might be my best suggestion. Maybe even Trigger warning: then the condition/ conditions listed in that style. Just so someone could have fair warning & decide if their mentally ready to breach that subject yet. Brilliant idea. I’d support it 100%.