These are often at the beginning of an article or social media post, either labelled as; trigger warning “TW’, or content warning ‘CW’. Triggers have many different definitions. The discussion regarding their use is not straightforward or easy.
I’m keen to start a discussion about how we perceive them, use them or alternatives that we could implement.
This is a heavily nuanced subject and I do not claim to have all of the answers, in fact my experience and knowledge is finite.
Before I get into my own views, lets discuss the origins of where “trigger warnings” for content originated.
Trigger warnings originate from trauma, PTSD content. They were specifically attached to protect people with a history of PTSD/ trauma from experiencing the negative effects of reliving the traumatic exposure and secondary response. “Being triggered” in any other setting is different to this. People with PTSD often cannot regulate their response to the trigger.
I do not have experience with PTSD and so I’m not equipped to be able to talk about all of the nuances associated with this. I can however talk about the use of “TW” outside of trauma & PTSD and the potential harm they cause.
Multiple studies have demonstrated TW used in any other context at best do not work and at worst can cause harm. Yet almost every post I come across in the eating disorder community comes with a “TW”. It’s almost as if a trigger warning absolves a person from any responsibility of what they are posting.
If you are consuming, participating and engaging with particular content on social media you have a level of personal responsibility.
What do I mean by this?
It is your choice to visit certain pages, hashtags and communities. You have the same choice to avoid or unfollow content that does not help you.
Additionally you have a degree of responsibility regarding content you share. If you feel it may be harmful, caveating it with a TW is not solving a problem. Before I share anything, I consider a few things; does this post have the possibility to harm, does it serve the community I want to be an ally to and how would I have perceived this when I was unwell?
There is also a big difference between being “triggered” and discomfort.
Unlike people with PTSD, most of us with eating disorders whether you like it or not can choose to be triggered by something.
People with PTSD find it difficult to self regulate/soothe when they come across a trigger and reminder of the traumatic event. It can have many physical, somatic effects such as dissociation, soiling, hyperventilation and these are not in their immediate control. Therefore trigger warnings applied to topics/scenes depicting graphic violence/ sexual assault may help. There’s also debate that avoidance of such can do harm to some people’s recovery but again I am not equipped to go into the nuances regarding these.
I know when I was deep in anorexia, I would seek content with “TW’s, my eating disorder wanted me to be triggered.A trigger warning did not deter my unwell brain. If anything they helped keep me stuck in the cycle. I chose to be triggered by them. Why?
Eating disorders by nature a incredibly competitive. When the eating disorder voice is the dominant voice it will go looking for anything that validates it and makes it “more successful”. I could have controlled my response to them, I could have avoided them all together, but I chose not too.
Trigger warnings do not prevent this. They are the problem.
Now I’m solid in recovery, if I see an post with ‘TW” I can view content without allowing myself to become “activated”. I will often choose not to open such posts depending on how I am feeling in myself. I take responsibility in what I engage with. This is self regulation. But let me lay this out there…the “TW’s” on content I used to seek when I was ill with anorexia would reinforce intrusive thoughts. Labelling content with a “TW” would often lead me to engage in things I wouldn’t other wise. It’s like when someone says “don’t think about the colour red” all you can think about is the colour red. TW’s don’t tell you to avoid the content but they may increase the intrusive thoughts too. There’s increasing literature to show that “TW’s” do not work and can result in increased anxiety (I’ll share some links below).
As I have referred to already there is a difference between “being triggered” and feeling uncomfortable (feeling our feelings). I can feel uncomfortable about something but still remain within my parasympathetic nervous system and not enter the fight or flight mode invoked by the sympathetic nervous system. Commonly posts will elicit feelings of grief because I resonate with them to a time when I was unwell. These feelings are healthy and transitory- they do not keep me stuck in a state of “activation or triggered into a trauma state”.
Again I’m not knowledgeable in all of the nuances regarding this. I wanted to start the discussion about how blanketly these warnings are being used and whether they are causing more harm than intended.
I’m not saying there is no role for TW’s, I am encouraging you to reflect on why you use them, is it truly to prepare an individual or to remove responsibility from what you share or engage with?
Do trigger warnings help you are they as useful as we think? Do they cause you more intrusive thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions, either via the comments or email me.
Diet pills/ appetite suppressants… another side of eating disorders we don’t readily talk about. We should.
Over the years I have used many forms of products that were labeled as either “diet pills”, appetite suppressants, detoxing or laxatives .
I probably started using them well before I developed a full blown eating disorder. Raising the question for me, are they a gate way drugs to eating disorders?
Taking diet pills is disordered in itself. I trialed all sorts , I bought them without really knowing what the active ingredients were. Which for me, is completely against my personal values. I’m a scientist and to be so driven to take something purely for the goal of weight loss is baffling. I’m the kinda gal that has to know the how, why and the risk/ benefit of anything. However diet pills were different.
I remember buying my first diet pills in secondary school. I thought it would be a “quick fix”. They are addictive.
Soon diet pills became a part of my ever expanding routine and rituals.
I would hide this behaviour from others, which means I knew what I was doing wasn’t normal. I was incredibly secretive about this behaviour. It eventually expanded to other drugs including laxative abuse.
Neither diet pills or laxatives result in weight loss. The weight loss associated with laxatives is water weight. It’s purging and extremely dangerous.
I felt cleanest when I was emptiest and high from ignoring hunger pangs, and even more euphoric if the hunger was suppressed. Sometimes I felt superhuman. But I wasn’t. Looking back now, I only felt happy if I was empty. I wasn’t happy outside of this. I was numb.
I’m fortunate I don’t have lasting effects from the laxative abuse. Many are not so lucky. Laxative abuse is not something to be scoffed at or ignored people can be rendered incontinent or dependent on laxatives for life in order to be able to poop.
Diet pills are also dangerous. Not only do I believe they encourage disordered eating and other behaviors they can be harmful in themselves. Many of the diet pills or appetite suppressants are widely available without prescription or worse over the internet without any safety regulation. That means many of the products have not been approved for use in humans let alone approved as safe. You do not know what is in many of them. The drugs that are rigorously tested and checked require approval from the Food and Drug Agency (FDA). Anything without out this approval stepping into completely uncharted waters and potentially very dangerous. I had signs of liver inflammation when I started recovery and signs my liver was struggling. When we don’t know what we are putting into our body we really are playing with fire. Thankfully my liver recovered.
Social media is rife with adverts selling these hazardous products. Companies that sell them are also cunning and as soon as a drug is labeled as dangerous, they rebrand the same product. I bet you have seen celebrity’s used as promotions for such pills, claiming celeb X had a miraculous result to their product without any ill affects. When in reality I am willing to bet, the celebrity NEVER takes them. But people who engage in disordered eating or want to fit into the societal norms are easy targets. I was. You name it I tried it. I have intentionally omitted the product names of anything I took, as I do not wish to trigger or promote disordered actions. Frankly I know that when I was in the depths of my eating disorder if I heard about a new product, I was onto it as soon as I read about it, and so I know what goes through some of our eating disorder brains.
I want you to see that it’s something we don’t talk about enough in the eating disorder community. However, I am confident it’s a hell of a lot more common than we think.
I’m not going to pretend stopping this behavior wasn’t difficult. It was but it is completely possible. I can’t imagine putting something I had no idea the content or safety of into my mouth now (unless it is food).
I went cold turkey- I flushed my pills and binned all the detox teas. It was one of the first behaviors I tackled in recovery ( that and the Fitbit, which is a post enough in itself) Fitbit aka handcuff.
Now when the adverts appear on my social media I either report them or remove them.
Diet pills are an odd one, but if you want to recover they have to go. They don’t work and who know’s what damage they’ll do.
Let’s make this discussion part of eating disorder recovery and bring it out in the open.
Giving less f*cks has been very important in my recovery. I feel giving less f*cks is liberating.
I do not mean, I don’t care about anything. Far from. I have learned that giving too many f*cks is part of my problem. So learning what to get rid of in my giving a f*ck bucket has been energy freeing. Freeing up the genuine give a “f*cks” like my family, friends, career, running, sketching, my cat, helping others.
I care a lot about my job, my career and everything it represents. However my profession is a breeding ground for perfectionism and comparison. Both things I have had to work very hard at challenging for my eating disorder recovery. Right now recovering from my eating disorder is priority so that my future self can be my best version in all areas of my life including my career. That has meant some things I have given too many f*cks about previously I simply cannot afford to anymore.
As part of my core values and self worth it is important to me to work hard, be good at what I do. But how that’s defined does not have to rely on single peer comments or being aware of every statistic from every journal ever. It comes from so much more holistically.
Another thing I have found to help me in recovery is to “let go of comparison”
There is a popular phrase, “compare and despair” which I believe is very relatable.
I believe it is innate in us all to compare ourselves to our peers. But what we compare is what I believe causes us harm and dis-regulation. It can come at a huge detriment in recovery.
Body comparison is common and meaningless. For instance, I recall early on in my recovery my therapist at the time challenging this very process. I used to compare my body to other people’s bodies all the time. She explained, that we carry biases. We tend to only see what our brain filters and we have a very selective attention. Therefore I remember one of my challenges was to walk through a crowded street, take notice of the diversity. Sure enough we all come in many shapes and sizes and our appearance is irrelevant.
This exercise made this particular comparison easier to stop. Knowing the bias I harboured meant I could be accountable and when I found myself comparing, I could call myself out on it. Additionally challenging why I was trying to compare. Realising that what you see externally does not translate to what’s beneath the surface and so we are comparing to a false ideal we have created. How do we know the richer, slimmer person is any happier than ourselves.
Your eating disorder will never tell you you are as good as the person you are comparing to. Importantly, why would we want to be anyone other than ourselves?
Getting out of other people’s business..
I had a massive problem with comparing what I was eating to what everyone else was eating. I was in everyone’s business. But just as what I am eating is no body else’s business, it is of no relevance to me what anyone else is eating. I no longer could tell you what every single person at a social gathering did or didn’t eat because it doesn’t matter!!!
Comparing your eating disorder to someone else’s, completely futile and not comparable even within the same diagnostic label. Comparing others’ recovery and feeling you’re doing it wrong or not as deserving or vice versa. Just stop it, this is the eating disorder. Your recovery is your own. Your body is your own with it’s own requirements. Letting go of this has made recovery much more free.
There are many situations we can find ourselves drawing comparisons, status, aesthetics, character traits, possessions, families, sporting prowess, holidays, weddings, education, careers the list is endless when you think about it. It’s problematic when it’s black and white and impacts upon our thinking style. I’m not saying you will never compare yourself to someone again, I believe it’s ingrained in us all from an evolutional perspective, where historically it would have been a survival advantage. However there are ways I have learnt to lessen the unhelpful comparisons.
We live in a competitive society
We are told on a daily basis on many platforms to be the “healthiest’, richest, most successful. Women are made to compare themselves to other women constantly. It’s all external measures and rewards. Competition can be healthy, but recognising when it’s a problem is important.
For me, as long as I know am performing at my best, whether it’s at work or any other aspect of my life, I do not need to compare myself to my peers.
I know when I’m doing ok in this, because I don’t feel like I’m constantly striving and never achieving, I can feel grateful in little wins. This is not the case when perfectionism is in the foreground and unhealthy competition, then I never feel satisfied or recognise achievements big or small.
Practising daily gratitude has really helped with this mindset shift. Seeing celebrations in the small things, there is something to be grateful every day, even on days where it’s hard to feel gratitude. This helps me filter my ‘Give a f*ck bucket”.
In my profession, I am yet to meet someone who in their final moments, talks about how much money they made, or how gorgeous they were in their youth. No they always talk about what matters, family, friendships and experiences.
Stop basing how you see yourself by comparing yourself to others. One thing is guaranteed is there will ALWAYS be someone who appears to be ranking better than you on some standard. You are good enough just as you.
For some people their work relies upon social media. It has so many roles and uses in today’s society.
Social media can be helpful to us in our recovery, but it can be a minefield. I actually removed myself from most social media accounts early in my recovery. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong solution to this, but I believe an awareness of the impact social media has on you personally and whether it is helpful or detrimental in your recovery is the most important question. Your motives for following particular accounts, whether they serve you, or your eating disorder.
If you look for it, there are tons of recovery orientated social media platforms. But, it’s not always easy early on to identify motives of some and whether they are 100% pro-recovery.
Some platforms, target our vulnerability. Ads, pop ups etc all follow your history and if you are trying to move away from certain paridigms it can be really hard being constantly reminded about the latest fad-diet or exercise programmes etc! You get my point. Equally you can’t control what people post/ talk about. Your friends, family and colleagues may post things that are particularly sensitive for you. So sometimes taking some time away from this can help at least until you are in a stronger place.
Social media can be anxiety provoking, for those in lockdowns, isolation the conflicting and unhelpful messages can impact upon mental health. It’s not surprising around the world the new diagnoses or relapses of eating disorders that have occurred during the pandemic. Social media I believe plays a large part in this. Adding to pressure around health, diet and exercise. As well as the change to routine and access to normal resources. Knowing that not everything on social media is real, or as it appears on there I think can help.
I am glad I didn’t grow up in the ‘Tik-Tok’ era, and facebook/ instagram was only really around when I was late teens. I feel for teens and young people now with the pressures of social media. This really worries me for future of their health.
It’s the time of year where the diet and fitness industry try their hardest to sell their products. So social media is swamped with diet culture and all the shit that goes with it. I am now in a place where I can mostly see this for what it is, selling a product. This industry generally targets a vulnerable population too, people like myself. However I am aware of it, and I’m aware of the impact it can have on me. I will not be deleting my social media accounts this year. Last year I needed to, to escape this onslaught. Instead I am using my social media to promote the ‘fuck it diet attitude’, following positive influences that are pro-recovery. If an ad pops up, I will simply reject it. Friends, family and colleagues dieting that’s up to them, I can choose to ignore this. But if you are in a place where this is going to be damaging to your recovery, a social media holiday can help. I found it quite liberating and realised how reliant upon social media we are. Returning to social media has been a big test in my recovery.