Discussion: Trigger Warnings for books

Please be aware I am mentioning self-harm, eating disorders, suicide and rape in this discussion.

Before I start, I’d like to cite a basic definition of triggers copied from psychcentral:

A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

But a trigger can not only bring someone back in time and make them, for example relive their rape again. It can also trigger a person to engage in a current or former self-harming behaviour. Reading about how relieving it is to put a knife to your arm? So not good on a day on which you’re already struggling with cutting.

A character laments how worthless their life is and how there is absolutely no hope of it ever changing, so it would be best to commit suicide and be done with it. That could be the reason a reader does the same.

One could say: “Then stop reading triggering shit!” That’s easier said then done. I don’t want to know how many m/f romance books I have read, in which the main character was or even is raped. That’s like a trope in m/f romance, somehow? Maybe even one of the tropes…

I’m not saying no mentally ill characters are allowed. I want mentally ill characters (as well as characters with physical illnesses, disabilities etc.) and I don’t want them to be romanticized either (that’s another discussion altogether, so I’ll stop here).

I just don’t understand why there aren’t trigger warnings on books. Just put it under the description for example. It won’t prevent people from buying said book (maybe a few, but they wouldn’t enjoy it, I’d say). They just know if it will be good for their mental health or not. No bad surprises anymore. And by the way, a lot of readers are especially looking for books with mentally ill characters – sometimes with their illness as a main story line and sometimes as a character trait.

I have read quite a lot of fanfiction in my life and trigger warnings are a given. On some days I’ve got no problem with Tony Stark having an Eating Disorder, maybe it’ll even help because I can see myself in him and experience his happy end with him (if there is a happy end of course). On others? Worst thing I could do.Thanks to a trigger warning I can consent to reading about these things.

Let’s say warnings are established. What should one warn their readers of? The ‘big ones’. Even though different people are triggered by different things, because we’re all individuals. Technically everything can be a trigger. But I don’t think that would be doable. Putting a trigger for every thing happening is spoilering as well.

I do think we can agree that at least mental illnesses and their possible consequences, sexual assault and queerphobia/LGBTQIA+phobia should get a trigger warning. But until then I am happy to answer questions about possible triggers in books I have reviewed. Even if you’re worried about an uncommon trigger. I can do a Kindle search if I am unsure (probably only with at least 3.5 ratings, because I don’t keep books I didn’t enjoy…) .

Do you think trigger warnings are needed?

Which triggers warnings would you use if you were an author? Or use, if you are an author.

What do you think about trigger warnings?


2 replies

  1. I am totally all for triggers warnings on books. It’s such a basic thing that would help a lot of people enjoy reading safely. I agree that it’s impossible to warn for everything, so I’d also go with the more obvious warnings and maybe establish some kind of system to help readers with uncommon triggers so they can feel safe as well. Warning of uncommon triggers may have to be more of an reader-to-reader dialogue, though, depending on how much time a given author has and the number of requests about specific triggers.

    In any case, basic trigger warnings are very much doable and typing a few extra words is a small price to pay for someone’s mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! There are so called warnings on some m/m books like “contains hot man on man action” (which is an advertisement to be honest and not a warning). So why not “contains a suicide attempt”? You aren’t spoilering anything with it, but each reader can consent to reading something like this. Plus it only takes a few seconds to type and you have helped A LOT of readers.

      Liked by 1 person

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