(CW: brief mentions of various kinds of violence and abuse, including rape, child exual abuse and war)
Some trauma triggers are easy to write warnings for, like graphic descriptions of rape, child sexual abuse, war or verbal degradation. You put “CW: war” on your post and that’s it. Anyone who doesn’t want to read about that kind of violence can avoid post. But you can’t do that with arbitrary triggers that aren’t harmful in themselves, but you associate them with abusers or traumatic situations.
For example, let’s say that an abuser of ours played Taylor Swift all the time. (This is hypothetical—we have zero traumatic response to Taylor Swift, though I don’t like her music very much.) Taylor Swift’s music is clearly not threatening anyone, and as far as we know, she doesn’t have a history of being an abuser herself (though she has a terrifying fandom), so she isn’t like Michael Jackson, Drake or R. Kelly. But because we have a Pavlovian response to Taylor Swift, we can’t listen to her music. We have to run out of a building when she’s being played. We may not even be able to see her name written down without thinking of the abuser. How can you content warn for Taylor Swift when she’s omnipresent?
Or we could be set off by strawberry candles, or pine-scented air freshener. How can you say “Content Warning: Pine Air Freshener”? You can’t. Or seeing something written in a way that you associate with an abuser, like someone using “luv” for “love” all the time. How are you going to get somebody to stop doing that?
None of these things are objectively harmful—at least not to most people. But they can still be associated with harrowing trauma. Primitive associative learning, the Pavlovian response, can build connections between abuse and innocuous things like candles, random celebrities and air fresheners.
We have a lot of arbitrary triggers, ones that we’re not going to share because we don’t give that stuff away to anyone. But we often get set off by those more than the obvious descriptions of abuse or violence because those usually come with warnings. And even if it’s a standard news site that doesn’t use content warnings, you can still tell from headline that it’s probably going to discuss violence: “Ukraine to mobilise more troops”, “Sex abuse scandal heightens in Catholic Church”, “Roman Polanski accused of raping teenager”, “Gaza conflict heightens”, “British paedophile ring caught in sting operation”, the list goes on. But “Taylor Swift releases new album”? Walking into a hotel whose room smells like pine cones? Smelling strawberry candles at a spa? It’s lonely and isolating, and if you talk to people about it, they look at you as though you’ve grown two heads. Or they make fun of it. Or they’re completely out of their depth, or they tell you that you should snap out of it and get over it. They don’t understand how irrational PTSD can be.
I’m tired of feeling so lonely with this.