Snowflakes, Triggers, & Content Choices

I am in a Facebook group run by dietitian Glenys Oyston, whose blog, Dare Not to Diet, I’ve been following for a while.

Glenys O.jpg
Say hello to Glenys! And then go visit her blog, which is also where I got this picture.

The other day, the group was discussing trigger warnings. The tough part wasn’t whether or not to have them, but which words are triggers, what a trigger does to person, and whether or not to call them “trigger warnings.” To be honest, I don’t like the term, which is why I don’t use these warnings. “Trigger,” for me, is a loaded word, one associated with immediacy and consequences. You pull a trigger and a bullet immediately comes out, right? So, I can see how many insensitive people argue that triggers immediately affect an individual, and the consequences leave the triggered person in a sob-puddle on the floor. Then, that word is used as a noun: “I am triggered.” And here come the bullies: “Ooooh! Snowflake is so triggered! Waaaah!” Ugh, you’ve seen it online, right?

videogame warning
Some group members knew that specific content was NOT for them based on warnings, and they did not want to be exposed to that content — and that’s okay!

That’s not how triggers works, according to the Facebook group. For many, a word like “obese” gets into their brain and sits for a while. Maybe hours, maybe days. Then, it starts poking at the person: “Hey. Hey, fatty. You’re so obese and worthless and no one loves you. It would be easier just to go throw up. You’ve done it before . . . besides, your significant other is ashamed to be seen with you.” And a lot of the folks in the group have struggled with eating disorders for years — and they’re not entirely into a space where the E.D. has been beaten down like the villain it is. Sometimes villains are sexy, and they get you to come back.

sticker warning
Some group members explained that sometimes they just needed to readjust their head space before forging ahead into territory they knew would make them uncomfortable, but felt that it was worth it.

I’ve been in the spiral of self-loathing many times myself, and you know what? That eats into the time I do amazing things! Reading! Blogging! Watching movies! Playing board games with friends! Practicing my violin! Writing more fiction! Walking around the library and crying because I don’t have enough years to read all these books!

The point is, if I can save someone from have a crappy relapse that can lead to self-destructive behavior or a negative, hurtful attitude toward themselves and others, then it’s my job as a responsible blogger to help my readers get to the content they want and avoid that which they do not want to read. Thus, I am adding content warnings. I’ll do my best, and if you can think of any I should add to a future review, please let me know!

*Quick update (7/3/2017): my content warning labels are truly meant to help consumers get the products they want. If consumers find certain qualities in a book objectionable, they should be able to use my content warnings to research the product more on Google and come to a final decision. I’m also happy to discuss and/or spoil parts of the book over DM on Twitter if a consumer has any questions about a certain content warning I’ve posted.



  1. Ohhh this is a good idea! It will be interesting to see how people react to your warnings. Also, how great that you play the violin? I used to play the piano (for ten years, as a kid) but I just don’t have the dang time these days…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve touched on such an important topic, GtL! On the one hand, it does stretch a person to go out of the comfort zone on occasion. I work though that with my students a lot. On the other hand, just as you’d prepare for anything challenging, it’s a good idea to be prepared if a book is going to challenge you (because of its themes, sex/violence content, premise, etc..).

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. Content warnings are especially tough in college, and I have no answers for that, yet. What I’ve learned from my Facebook group is that people who read certain content aren’t “sensitive” to it, it’s that it’s more likely to cause them to harm themselves mentally or physically after a time. I’m hesitant to call that leaving a comfort zone. However, people who actually ARE sensitive to certain content — perhaps they’ve just never liked horror, for example — may chose to leave their comfort zone. IN the end, I’ve decided I’m not the one who picks what is a comfort zone and what is a mental demon.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The explanation about it sitting in your head is so accurate (I don’t have this particular trigger, but I have many other points to self-loathe about). I wish I knew of ways to just let go though. It’ll sit for WEEKS, and then when you’re just having a bad day – THAT’S when it’ll get you. And somehow when you’re kind of down, you won’t remember that it’s a waste of energy, cause you feel to lame to do so.
    Also, you play violin? Totally awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting! Funnily enough I was just thinking about this in relation to a book I just read which had a fairly horrific scene in it which I felt could be very upsetting for certain people who may have gone through something similar. But to mention it in my review would be a major spoiler for the book. I still haven’t quite decided how to tackle it. I do usually try to mention things that I think might be upsetting, but this is the first time I’ve really come across a scene that is the whole crux of the story, where even to give a general warning would effectively reduce the impact of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting idea to have a “Content Warning”. I like the idea (and much prefer that term to the term “trigger warning”), but I also go back and forth between what should warrant a warning. Like FictionFan mentioned in her comment, sometimes books have a big scene that could be extremely disturbing to some, but how as reviewers do we mention that without spoiling something? Plus, we can’t possibly warn on all possible “triggers” (for lack of a better word).
    I go back and forth on this issue, and haven’t come up with a good way to address this on my blog. I really don’t like spoilers, but sometimes if you omit something that has major content issues, then the review can seem false. Or people then say “why didn’t you warn me?” Maybe some blog graphics/icons at the bottom or top of the review mentioning various content would help without being too specific as to venture into spoiler territory.
    I’m not sure what the solution is. I do like your phrasing of “Content Warning”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for writing, Ami. It IS really hard to know what upsets people, or what would be an actual “trigger” (which, to me, means a serious and immediate reaction) vs. content a person wants to avoid. People don’t tend to know this about me, but I have a trigger that causes me to literally flee to avoid do something dramatic, like flipping furniture: gulping. It typically happens with straws and soup. It’s very immediate and physically hurts. However, movies don’t have “content warning: someone will gulp their food and send you into a demon rage.” So, I know I can’t win ’em all. But if there are some of the “obvious”–physical violence, domestic abuse, rape, child abuse, hard to animals–I’ve got a better start than writing nothing at all. I asked FictionFan if she could write “content warning: violence,” but she didn’t think so. Her comment is on this page.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow – see that’s a trigger that I never would’ve guessed! I have an issue with spiders, which cause night terrors for me. Sometimes a mention of them isn’t an issue, other times it is, but most people wouldn’t think a mention of that would be a problem. But for me it is. I think your “obvious” content warnings sound like good ones. I like the warning for animals you have listed here. That’s a big one for me, it isn’t a trigger, but I prefer not to read books that have cruelty to animals in them. I wish that there was a standard within the publishing industry where they would put content warnings on the back of books. Sometimes you can tell from the genre or synopsis that you want to stay away from a book, but other times content seems to come out of nowhere, so the warnings would be useful.
        I usually will mention in my reviews if there is a fair amount of swearing in a book – sometimes that just really bugs me, but that’s just personal preference. I’ll be interested to see how you handle your “content warnings” in future reviews!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for writing! Someone commented on this post via Google+ and (I think) was arguing that content warnings are worthless because people see them and make snap decisions. I was telling him that when it comes to movies, for example, I see why the film is rated as it is (maybe something like “extreme violence and gore”) and I Google more about the film to see if that is how I want to spend my money. In the end, I want to help readers feel like prepared consumers. Truly, I can’t prevent the harm a person may feel due to mental health issues because the triggers are so varied.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so glad you’ve decided to add content warnings! You’re so right about how triggers work–not immediately, but as a slow and steady downward spiral.
    It is super difficult to add trigger/content warnings sometimes especially when it’s something spoilery. It’s a tricky but necessary space to navigate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A few readers have mentioned content warnings spoiling a book, but I figure if I write “Content Warning: violence” it could be anywhere at any time. Perhaps I’m nothing thinking of any good examples. If writing “rape” would be a spoiler, then perhaps “extreme violence” or “sexual assault” would work and not spoil the story?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A good and well-considered idea. In my book reviews, I mention within the review if there’s a sad animal scene or violence (I don’t read many books containing violence) and also if there’s an eating disorder theme. I can see FF’s point above: if that was the case in a book I was reviewing, I would say there was a violent scene which was pivotal to the book and that readers were welcome to contact me privately to check its nature if they needed to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Liz, I have noticed that you point out violence to animals in books. Sadly, we often can’t figure that out from a synopsis and it surprises us. I like that you give readers the option to contact the reviewer privately. In fact, this is something I do a lot on Goodreads. I’ll write to people who have made comments about a book and ask if the leading character was fat or if the book was upsetting due to violence, or things like that. I wonder why I don’t do it as much on blogs…possibly because I go looking for a certain book on Goodreads, but get surprised by what readers review on blogs.


  8. Tricky one this because there are so many things that could be upsetting or disturbing for one individual but not for another. Is there a risk you end up with so many content warnings that they become meaningless. ?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think content warnings are really helpful and I know there’s been an argument between putting warnings on books or not. I think adding these warnings to the author’s website or the publisher’s is a good compromise. I think it’s really important to be mindful of those readers with anxiety issues and to remember that just because I myself may not be “triggered” by certain content, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t and it costs me nothing for them to be warned of it beforehand.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. WordPress just suggested this post to me, which I’m pleased about, because I missed it when you wrote it. It’s a really interesting and important subject. If a book has any “major” content issues that are possibly upsetting (sexual violence, child abuse, graphic violence, lots of slurs etc), I normally mention it in my review. I am trying to remember to mention it at the top of the review, so if the discussion will be distressing to someone they can just skip the review altogether.

    I am glad you mentioned that, sometimes, content warnings just allow you to prepare yourself, because I think that’s something that people often misunderstand. I was at a seminar on safeguarding vulnerable adults recently (workplace training), and, without no warning, the woman running it started playing a TEDtalk by a woman who’d been in a violent relationship. In all my years of going to mandatory safeguarding seminars, I’d *never* previously been at one where there was no warning about the content, and it showed me how useful that warning is. I normally leave the room if there will be discussion of domestic violence, but sometimes I stay but switch on my “coping brain” ahead of time. As it is, hearing it without any warning made me feel completely panicked and trapped, and then I was unable to focus properly on the rest of the training day. That’s a bad use of both my time and my employer’s. And sometimes I pick up a book knowing it might have difficult content but psychologically prepared for it, so that a) I don’t pick it up when I am in the wrong space mentally to deal with it, and b) I can cope with it when it comes without it derailing my thoughts for hours (or sometimes days).

    All this is a long-winded way of saying–thanks for adding content warnings to your reviews! It will help me to avoid stuff that I don’t want to read, or to be prepared if there is going to be something difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Lou, great to hear from you! If WordPress recommended this post to you, that might mean you somehow accidentally unfollowed Grab the Lapels. Or maybe WordPress recommends things that you may like even if you’ve already possibly seen them? I’m not sure! I definitely know I need to be in a certain head space to read a book. It doesn’t mean I won’t read it, but it might mean I won’t read it today. And like I said in some of the other comments, I’ve decided that I can’t “save” people by adding trigger warnings, but I can try to help them be better prepared consumers by adding content warnings. I’ve even added warnings like “mother who manipulates her daughter and belittles her.” Some people aren’t up for that and don’t want to read a book about it. I read a novel that sounded quite funny called Not A Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Woo, and I was really surprised to find that Marty’s mother was so mean to her, calling her names and screaming at her. I was not in the right head space for that because I thought the book would be funny and like Bridget Jones, so I had a different frame going. As a result, I really took Not A Self-Help book in a dark way that perhaps the author did not intend.


  11. Yes, my “issue” (not sure that’s the right word) with trigger/content warnings is that “what is a trigger” is such an open question. Some things are “obvious,” like a rape scene, but for some people just certain words are a trigger; the thing doesn’t actually need to be represented in the book. So while I don’t have a problem with such warnings, I feel pretty unqualified to issue them, at least in any manner that’s consistent. I’d hate for people to think a book is “safe” because I didn’t put a warning.


    • I have a lot of complex feelings about the topic now that I’m thinking about it from an academic setting. I’m not callous–last spring I had a student who brought a blanket to class–but I’m all kinds of hesitant, too. The line between coddling and being an enabler is unclear to me because I’m not a therapist.


  12. I’ve found it a bit odd that trigger warnings have become controversial as it seems they’ve been around for quite awhile–they just weren’t called trigger warnings. I know I’ve had classes where we were simply informed that we might be viewing graphic violence or disturbing images or whatnot and it wasn’t a big deal. Just a little heads-up to prepare everyone, or to let them know they might want to put their heads down or that they were able to leave the room if they felt they needed to. I never felt like anyone was being coddled. It’s just, well, most people like to know what’s coming, no? Sort of like how you might start on the first day with something like, “We’re going to be reading Lolita” or “We’re going to discuss difficult subjects like ___.” Students can choose if they want to do that or not.

    I don’t really see why students who don’t want to do something like read Lolita are so mercilessly criticized. I don’t want to read Lolita! There are plenty of other courses students can take and still engage with complex ideas. Reading something like Lolita isn’t the only way they’re ever going to learn about travel narratives or how to think critically or how to write a literary analysis–whatever goals the instructor had in mind. I know people who make it their goal to “educate” new students with sexually graphic courses and I just don’t get it. Forcing people to talk about a potentially sensitive subject in a classroom setting isn’t necessarily the best way to have them become more comfortable with these things. And that’s not the point of college or why they signed up for an English class, presumably. I see a student switching from a course like this into another one as being somewhat similar to a student switching from a class about Harry Potter to one on Virginia Woolf. They have preferences and they found a course they think they’ll enjoy. No big deal.

    Of course, the difficulty is that now some people want trigger warnings for everything, but it’s not really possible to predict what’s going to trigger every individual person. It seems like, in the past, trigger warnings were viewed as a courtesy or a consideration–it was an added thoughtful gesture. But now if you don’t do them correctly 100% of the time, you’re viewed as a monster. It’s a game no one can win.

    And I do understand that there are concerns now that some students simply don’t want to engage with certain content. I’ve read of cases where students basically said they were attacked and personally wounded by learning about perspectives that differed from theirs. Well…that is sort of the point of college, isn’t it? To understand and evaluate different perspectives? Where do you draw the line between being sensitive to someone and saying, “Well, this is a good opportunity for you to learn how to handle different viewpoints since you’ll likely see a lot of them throughout your life?”

    These cases might have to be made on an individual basis. I think the majority of instructors would grant accommodations or alternative assignments when they can, if a student asked for one. (I understand sometimes department policies make this more difficult to accomplish.) And, in the end, it’s probably not a big deal like the media wants to make out. I think most students are pretty resilient and eager to learn, so they’ll probably engage with the content and then make a case afterwards about why they don’t think it should be on the syllabus. Which sounds like every instructor’s dream to me. A student who cares enough and has courage enough to take an opposing stance? Teaching success!


    • I used the word coddle because I know each generation raises it’s children with different values, and this generation (people 18-22) seen afraid of everything and happy to use the same soothing techniques as babies and toddlers. This is a general observation I’ve made during my 10 years as a professor. Students weren’t like that 10 years ago. They weren’t like that 5 years ago. It feels like SOMETHING is happening. Anecdotal evidence does not a truth make, though.


Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s