Traumatic experiences change a person. How much I can bear is personal – as it is for everyone. I’m not a terribly resilient person. One of the consequences of having trauma history is that if new people come along and dig their fingers into existing bruises, I will react more dramatically than a not-bruised person would. Of course that makes it easy for anyone who was already amused by giving me a hard time to take issue with how easily I over-react, how melodramatic I am, how much of a fuss I make, etc etc. This has happened, although not recently.
Most people of course are well meaning and don’t go round deliberately triggering other people by deliberately poking their bruises. It will inevitably be confusing then when someone like me reacts in a way that doesn’t make obvious sense. From the outside, a triggered person can look insane and their responses can seem wildly disproportionate. People who have already been harmed are more likely to jump at the suggestion of a threat and to respond with extreme distress to things that other people may consider minor.
Faced with this, it can be all too easy to assume you’re seeing a drama llama seeking attention and determined to be centre stage. I expect that if someone has already told you that I’m someone who likes to suck up all of the availble time and energy, and then you see what happens to me when I’m triggered and you don’t know I’m triggered… it’s not hard for me to imagine how that would play out.
You can’t see by looking whether a person has wounds or bruises under their clothes. Touch someone who is injured, and they may respond in unexpected ways. It’s easier to think about this kind of literal, physical wounding. Emotional wounding works in much the same way. It can be disturbing to have someone howl over something you thought was a non-issue, but perhaps framing it as having accidentally pressed against a wound makes it easier to think about.
There’s a lot of trauma out there. There are a lot of people carrying wounds from childhood abuse and from domestic abuse. There are a lot of neurodivergent people traumatised by how they’ve been treated. For pretty much every system that we have in place, there are people who have been traumatised by mistakes made in that system. Racism, sexism, ableism and other kinds of bigotry leave countless bruises on so many people. In amongst all of that there are also people who get a kick out of hurting people. It’s not the case that all abused people become abusers, but some do. None of this is straight forward.
When you’ve already been traumatised, you may have very little resilience for some things in ways that make no sense to anyone else. If you’re going through this, I encourage you to cut yourself some slack. Being prodded where you are already bruised is hard to take and feeling distress is valid regardless of what sense it makes to anyone else.
If you are surprised by someone else’s distress response, consider there may be a bruise you can’t see. You aren’t responsible for the effects of a bruise you didn’t know was there, but how your relationship with that person goes – or if it continues at all – may depend on whether you’re prepared to find out.