Speaking Out, triggers

A Trigger is Not a Weapon – a case for trigger warnings

Being triggered is not an excuse to get out of addressing the needs of a loved one; it’s not a way to get out of paying attention to loved ones; it’s not done to shift focus from one person’s very valid needs to the other person’s triggered state. These are all abusive behaviors that are unacceptable and have nothing to do with being triggered.

A trigger is an emotional connection between a relatively benign thing in the present and a traumatic event in the past. In order to cope in the moment that a trigger occurs, a person may need to take drastic self-care measures. This could include abandoning a conversation abruptly. In a circumstance such as that it would be reasonable to discuss the incident later with the triggered person in order to build understanding of why the conversation was abandoned, and revisit any pressing matters from the initial conversation.

A trigger owned by the person who experiences it. It cannot be blamed on other people. e.g. if Bob experiences a trigger because of something Sally said, it’s not Sally’s *fault* that Bob was triggered. (That being said, if Sally *knows* Bob is triggered by a certain thing, and maliciously, purposefully activates his trigger, Sally is an ASSHOLE. But the trigger still belongs to Bob.)

Many of us who have triggers are aware of the types of things that set them off. Sometimes a trigger may or may not fire based on a person’s frame of mind. A trigger warning isn’t a requirement of someone who writes something or teaches a class on something. It’s the way an author can empower her readers to exercise pro-active self care. For example, I’m aware that veterans may have triggers around fireworks. So if I’m having a 4th of July party, and I care about my friends and don’t want them to be triggered, I’m going to include in the invite that there will be fireworks set off. This allows invitees with triggers to fireworks to decided if they are willing to be in that environment or not, and to plan any tools that might help them cope.

A trigger doesn’t automatically “excuse” someone from engaging. It lets us get our head in gear for the topic that’s about to follow so it doesn’t lead to a damaging state where we not only cannot accept the information, but we’re possibly also being retraumatized.

Since it’s impossible to know what someone’s triggers could be, I’ve also heard them called “content warnings” or “content note” (abbreviated CW and CN, respectively). I’m a part of a group that habitually posts a TW/CW/CN note at the top of each post with a brief list of topics included in the post, followed by a string of periods and returns so that the actual post is hidden below the “see more” link. This is not something I choose to do on my posts outside of that group, though I enjoy the format within that group.

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