Discussion: Triggers – Do you need them? Can they spoil a book? Do they encourage you to read a certain book?

Discussion

We all know them, triggers mentioned in reviews so we are aware of them in case there are things present we might not be able to cope with. Some view these as necessary, others claim them to be spoilers and rather not know them. This had me wondering what makes a subject a trigger and is it always a case of “yup, I’m avoiding this book!” or isn’t it?

First off, I’d like to start by saying that I’m not someone who really looks at the triggers in a book. I won’t look up reviews to see if there are triggers at all, even less so to check if there are things I should be cautious about. Why? Simply because I know I can handle the subjects that might be a bit harder for me to cope with.

I do, however, realize that the mentioning of alcohol consumption in a way that makes it look okay to drink in order to cope with life is something I can get mad about. I’m looking at you, James: Witch-Hunter. But that is a personal thing that others often overlook and even more often don’t even count as a trigger since it doesn’t automatically equal alcoholism.

Since you’ve now concluded alcoholism is one of the subjects I relate to in a personal way, I can tell you this also includes narcissism, fat-shaming, bullying, abuse and rape. I’ve had personal dealings with all these things, but that doesn’t push me to avoid the subjects at all. On the contrary. I even dare say that it makes me more intrigued in novels covering those topics.
Seeing those things mentioned in reviews as triggers tempts me to add the book to my TBR pretty much every single time, unless I can deduce that the representation isn’t well-executed. Then I won’t even bother because it’d only get me mad.

Does that mean I view those triggers as spoilers? Sometimes. If one of the triggers mentioned pretty much answers what happened according to the synopsis, I’ll consider it a spoiler. I don’t want the stating of triggers to immediately reveal the plot of a book.

I can see others wouldn’t agree with me on that point. I realize and understand that having triggers mentioned is simply necessary for a lot of people, but I also wonder whether their reading experience is impacted by this. It doesn’t matter if you relate to a trigger in any way. Even if you don’t, it can still count as spoiler-ish and that makes me curious.

Do they still enjoy the book as much as they would’ve? Do they realize they know up front what’s going to happen at a certain point? Do they get frustrated over it, even though they know they need to take triggers into account?

What are triggers you are wary of? Are there any triggers that make you want to pick up a book even more? Triggers that make you go “NOPE” all the way? Or are you simply not bothered by them at all?

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55 thoughts on “Discussion: Triggers – Do you need them? Can they spoil a book? Do they encourage you to read a certain book?

  1. If I don’t personally relate to it then trigger warnings aren’t a big deal to me. I don’t really consider them spoilers unless, like you said, that it solves the plot of the book. However, if I personally relate to it, then I might be iffy about it because it can either go one of two ways: 1) I get thoughts of relapse or flashbacks or 2) I learn from it and consider trying coping techniques the character uses (it usually depends on where I’m at mentally – am I at a very low point where if I read it I’ll start feeling worse or a high point where I can read it and it won’t phase me?)

    In a few poetry books I’ve read I’ve seen that authors are putting in trigger warnings after the title page and I thought that was great. To me it helped me sort of proceed with caution if it lists a trigger of mine or to avoid that certain section. I know not everyone looks at reviews for possible triggers and I think this should be considered for future books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That definitely makes sense! Being able to handle a certain topic, has a lot to do with whether or not you’re mentally in the right place for it. Depending on that, it could definitely go either way.
      Have you picked up tips / coping techniques that way? By reading books containing triggers you’re careful with?

      I honestly believe every book should have some space dedicated to all possible triggers. It’s something publishers should definitely look into – they’d help a lot of people, that’s for sure..

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I have picked up a few coping techniques and have some written down to try eventually. For example, in It’s Kind of a Funny Story (slight spoiler), the main character Craig finds out that drawing has helped him with his depression and I have tried drawing in the past but always felt discouraged because I wasn’t “good enough.” After reading how it helped Craig I realized you don’t have to be “good” at it just as long as you are able to express yourself and since then I’ve been using drawing/painting as a coping technique.

      And yes publishers should consider adding a page, at least, with possible triggers (if applicable).

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Oh, definitely! It doesn’t matter if you’re not that good or simply bad at it. As long as it helps you, that’s the main thing. I have the same with writing poems. Those poems will never see the light of day for all I care, but they’re there. They’re written whenever I’m in a dark place and need some way to let it all out. Guess art is a pretty “general” way to use as a coping mechanism. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate content notices on reviews because it helps me to make an informed decision about whether I want to read the book or not. In the past, I have picked up books that others have been raving about only to stumble across really dark drug abuse, transphobia, self-harm and suicide that have really affected me and I would rather not have picked the book up if I had known beforehand.

    There are certain things I am happy to deal with but only if I am prepared? I can’t think of a book example, but I remember the first time I played Life is Strange I heard SOOOOO many content notices for sexual abuse but literally nobody thought to mention to me that there is a scene where a side character is potentially going to jump off of a building – your actions as the player determines whether you save her or not. Nobody prepared me for that and I was shaking and sweating when I was playing, and when the scene was done I put the controller down and just burst into tears because it had really affected me and I was not okay for days afterward. I didn’t stop playing the game BUT if I had a CN for that I could have been much, much, much more prepared and more able to look after myself.

    Obviously it’s not always as intense as that when reading a book, but there are certain topics that I just cannot read because they really get into my head and screw with it. I might still be willing to pick up the book but it really depends on the CN’s and context!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you, Avery! I guess that also shows how people who aren’t really affected by certain things, don’t even think to mention them to others because it didn’t bother them all that much, if at all. It’s why I sometimes struggle seeing what triggers I could possibly mention in a review. [And why I’ve taken to looking up other reviews before mine to make sure I mention all triggers necessary, really..]

      Thanks, Avery! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really liked this discussion! I never see trigger warnings as spoilers since usually they’re buzzwords and you can never know who it happens to because it doesn’t always need to necessarily be the main character and you also don’t know to which extent. But, I can definitely see why people need trigger warnings. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t feel like trigger warnings are spoilers, unless they’re really described. If it’s just one word to mention one topic tackled in the book, it does not feel like a spoiler to me. I also feel like they’re really important to mention, because we never know what people might be triggered by and a little heads-up can really be important sometimes.
    I’m not necessarily avoiding a book because of its trigger warnings, but I have to say I’m very grateful that they are mentioned. They really make me analyze a book a bit better before heading into this and, I know that despite not being too “triggered” by some topics, I will be more wary of books with a lot of violence in them, because I know I might not be able to handle them that well.
    Wonderful discussion! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right about that! Although I do think sometimes mentioning mental illness as a spoiler is.. very, very vague. There are so many things it could encompass so people could actually be able to handle it, but they’d still stay clear of it because “mental illness”. [I once read a book with dissociative identity disorder, which is a mental illness but I don’t think that one might be triggering for a lot of people?]
      Hm, true. I think it does help, even if you’re not triggered by the subject, but simply because you can also mentally prepare yourself a bit better so it doesn’t catch you off guard anyway.
      Thank you, Marie! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh you’re so right about that, I didn’t think of it at all. It could be a bit too vague – sometimes being more precise could help lots of readers, for sure! I always try to do my best with trigger warnings, but I’m always scared to forget something. :/
      You’re welcome! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Pretty sure we all struggle with that, really. I even go as far as looking up other reviews to make sure I mention all the triggers others mention as well. :’) And even THEN I’m still scared of forgetting something. :’)

      Liked by 1 person

    4. I do the same thing??! Haha I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I just really hope someone will point it out, if I ever forget a trigger warning, so I can add it to my reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t particularly need triggers because there’s not a lot that I really can’t read about but see how people need to know upfront about certain triggers on topics that could be hard to read about. Also I guess they could be considered a spoiler depending on how you look at it, but also, it could just serve as a warning that the topic is being mentioned in a book. Also, great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great discussion, Kathy! I actually found myself thinking about this recently.
    I’m lucky enough that I don’t have any triggers, and I can relate to what you mean about certain triggers making you more curious to read a book. I agree that there is some element of spoilery (lol let me make up words) in trigger warnings, but like you said, sometimes the synopsis hints at certain sensitive situations. However, it’s great that people include trigger warnings for books where certain triggers aren’t explicitly mentioned in their descriptions. In the end, I’d rather be spoiled than put someone at a risk for something like a panic attack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      Ha, you’re free to make up words! Spoilery should simply be one by the way.
      Honestly, I wish the publishers themselves would put trigger warnings at the start of books. That would help SO many people because not everyone looks up reviews for books and get the chance to protect themselves against certain subjects..

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s a great point! Maybe there should be some type of similar rating system for books like there is for movies (PG, PG13, R) that doesn’t necessarily restrict what people can read, but just warns people as to the content in a book.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Hm. Or a worldwide list of all possible triggers with their abbreviation and a small section at the start of each book with the triggers. That way you simply have to remember “your” triggers and the other ones can’t even spoiler you as long as you simply forget what they stand for. [Go, brain!]

      Like

  7. I have no personal triggers really (and realize as much as possible how lucky that makes me). I also don’t use many trigger warnings in my reviews. However, I really despise reading books about rape, incest, and suicide. If it is clear that these subjects are in a book I will not read it. Also, I hate when the author kills off a character in a manipulative manner. With the first category, I appreciate triggers but typically I can see them coming a mile away. With the death issue, disclosure typically involves a major spoiler. I have friends who will tell me. Also, you can usually tell based on the author or the reviewer (“I loved it SO SO much, you simply HAVE to read it” + arm grabbing and intense crazy eyes = main character died and the reader cried). I would rather someone spoil these books for me so I can save my time and I know that makes me the odd man out. This is a fantastic discussion by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely makes you lucky on that account! I try reminding myself of the same thing as often as I can. [On another note, sometimes it’s harder for us to see things that might be triggering to others and that’s something I sometimes find myself struggling with.]
      Since I have personal experiences with rape, it’s something I’m careful with as well. But more in the sense of “As soon as I notice it going that way, I take some time to mentally prepare myself”. It’s not necessarily triggering; I “like” reading it because I want to be able to tell people whether or not it’s problematic. As for incest; I haven’t come across that subject yet. I’m not sure how I’d handle it either, to be fair. Suicide is definitely a hard one. It can be extremely confronting, that’s for sure.
      I don’t think you’re the odd one out for being like that though. It’s simply a matter of knowing what you want to read and what you definitely don’t want to pick up!

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I read about anything and everything, I don’t mind. Sometimes these things are portrayed in a way i don’t agree with tho.
    Warnings are ok, i think. If i consider it spoiler, i’d hide it behind a spoiler tag. So it’s optional to view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely went “spoiler tag?! what’s that? How can I do it?” and then found out you need plugins for that. Bummer.
      I think I’ll stick with putting them in white so people simply have to mark the sentence to see them.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ha, yes, that’s what i meant. To hide it with white text or something.
      I did write a code that hides text, but no matter what i do, by the time i publish it there’s always a massive gap in text and it looks a bit wonky 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  9. If I come pick up on something in a book that could potentially be a trigger/harmful to someone I like to mention it at the beginning of my review. I’ve read books that have homophobia in them and I put it as a content warning in my review. I feel that in the beginning of your review by putting content/trigger warning words isn’t spoiling anything. I feel like they’re only spoilers if context is included with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hm, that’s definitely a valid point!
      Although I personally wouldn’t put them at the start of my review, since people wanting to avoid triggers that might contain spoilers as well will have no way of ignoring them. [I think, haha.]

      Like

    2. By putting them at the beginning of my review I think it alerts people that those things are in the book, so that way they don’t have to read the whole review to find out that those things are in the book.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Kathy I have some personal triggers or rather things that will make me despise a book. Drugs for example as I lost a friend to drugs when I was a teenager. Or I can’t stand some very graphic abuses made on children. As a mom I really want to throw up. These aside I can read about anything else. I also think they are vital to mention even if “vaguely” as some persons could be deeply impacted!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have to say that this discussion post makes me think of how often I’ve read about certain topics. I don’t think I’ve read a lot of books yet covering drugs, or even mentioning drug use? I could be wrong though; but nothing comes to mind right now.
      Graphic abuses made on children: definitely agree. I do have a harder time with mental abuse but that’s because I’ve been there. It’s not really a trigger for me, but more something that I really need to be executed well whenever I read about it.
      Thank you for reading! 😀

      Like

  11. Very interesting discussion, I think it’s so personal there’s never an easy answer/solution. I’ve seen trigger warnings for certain books and having read it wondered how on earth it needed a trigger warning but equally aware that could just be my privilege i.e. not aware of the trigger because it isn’t my experience. But there are books where I’ve reached a certain incident in the book and gone “nope” and quit the book, specifically one I recall where a dog was tortured then killed, NOPE!! I also hate gratuitous subservience of young women, especially sexually, written by a middle-aged man and other such sexist rubbish like where the female character becomes overly aware of her breasts *yawn* And miscarriages where they are used as a casual plot twist or not handled sensitively because that can be horrific and though I’ve read books where it is a feature and has been written wonderfully in a cathartic way, there have been some that have made me angry by the way it’s dropped in to just add drama or a plot twist, just no! Horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I think people who don’t have any triggers – or barely have any – definitely can consider themselves privileged. [I know I do on that account.] It’s hard to see why something can be a trigger for others when you’re like that, especially when it comes to “smaller” things, or sometimes even a very small event that’s described in a very.. detailed manner. [I shivered when I read a scene where a beast tore up an animal and I now realize that might be something to warn others about, to be honest.]
      Sexist rubbish is hell! I once DNF’d a book because of it. Women aren’t sex objects, for skies’ sake.. And the miscarriages.. I haven’t read a book where that happened – yet. I don’t know how I’d be about it, really. Time will tell, I guess.

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  12. This is a really interesting topic! I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so I usually just provide a broad generalization of potential triggers in books. So if a book has a rape scene, I’ll write that the book contains elements of sexual violence.

    If a book has a scene where a character uses heroin, I’ll say that the book contains drug and/or alcohol use. That way, if any readers are concerned the book could trigger them, they can contact me directly for more detailed info!

    I know that some things people don’t normally think of as triggers can be triggering to certain people, so sometimes it’s tough to know what to include or leave out, but generally I try to use my best judgement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s definitely a good way to handle things! I guess sometimes I’m trying to be a bit too specific too since there’s so many options when you simply say “mental illness” for example.

      I might just have to go with your general way and then add some line that people can always contact me if they want to have more specific information.

      Good thinking!

      Like

  13. Speaking as someone without mental illness, yeah I do use them, bc I also want to avoid certain subjects. BUT it will never have a big impact on me if I stumble upon a rape scene in a book, but I have friends (with mental illness) for whom that would mean panic attacks, terrible flash backs, and perhaps would trigger depressive episodes. Because triggers aren’t just things that make you uncomfortable. Triggers are things that can cause you to have a panic attack, or push you into a depressive spiral or just generally worsen your mental health. The term was originally used for people with PTSD.

    So yeah, probably their reading experience is impacted by knowing potential triggers/avoiding media bc of those triggers. But having a panic attack bc they encounter something they weren’t ready for, does that even more so. So I want to help them by stating there’s a rape scene in that book, and other such triggers.

    I don’t think trigger warnings are spoilers, but honestly, the internet is full of spoilers all the time? If people are that concerned with books being spoiled, they shouldn’t read reviews beforehand. Bc even the most non-spoilery review will be sort of spoilery, bc otherwise you can barely talk about a book. Some people complain that the blurb on the back spoils a plot. People complain trailers spoil movies. Like.. just don’t read/watch them? Problem solved?

    And honestly if the word ‘rape’ (or other vague, general words in the description) spoil the plot, it’s not a great plot to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your giant reply, Lotte!

      I definitely agree – and thank you for the small history lesson on triggers, ha. I never even thought to ask myself where it originated from.

      You’re definitely right about spoilers being everywhere. I also think people reading reviews are mostly people who’ve already read the book to be honest. I often skip reviews of books I have yet to read simply because of the possible spoilers. As for trailers of movies? Don’t really care about those. You can hardly decide whether or not a movie’s up your alley without knowing what it’s about and for that.. seeing the trailer is pretty much one of the only options?
      As for the blurb on books having spoilers: YES. I know some people who don’t even bother with reading them at all because they want to go in without having a clue what’s going to happen. Lately I’ve even found myself doing that with my older TBR books because I genuinely can’t remember what they’re about anymore and I feel like going in blind, ha.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post! I feel there should be triggers in review or blurb. It, at least, prepares readers for the subject that they feel uncomfortable to read if they come across unaware and all of sudden. There isn’t a trigger based on which I decide my reading but I like to be prepared for it.

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  15. I fell like listing the triggers can be spoilers but at the same time I understand why some people need to know about them up front. I’ve never bothered putting trigger warnings in my reviews but I want to try to start at least saying hey this book has potential trigger warning if you want to know what they are message me. That way it works out for both sides of the spectrum. The ones who want/need them will know and those who don’t want to know what know the specifics if that makes sense. I’m not good about mentioning stuff like that though because fortunately I don’t have anything that are triggers for me so I don’t automatically think hey this can be a potential trigger for someone. But like I said I want to get better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel you! I know there are triggers that apply to me, but in the sense of “hey, I’ve been there” and not the “Okay, not reading this” or “I’m sensitive to this” kind of way.
      When you’re not bothered by any triggers, it’s definitely hard to actually see what could be a trigger to others!

      Liked by 1 person

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