I’m weary of people telling me that they can’t possibly think about triggers because it’s all too weird, and difficult and personal. It is true that some kinds of triggers are hard to imagine from the outside. I got into considerable difficulty with all things post related at one point, these things happen. However, there are areas of triggering that are really uncomplicated, and don’t take much thinking about or avoidance and that apply to many people.
Violence, implied violence and the apparent threat of violence. This can include looming, pushing, shouting, breaking things, throwing things… anyone with triggers is very likely to be triggered by this kind of behaviour. It is easy to warn people about violence in content you’re putting in front of them. It is also easy to avoid behaviour that makes people feel threatened and triggers ptsd flashbacks. It’s a totally rational response to be afraid for your own safety and wholly reasonable to ask people to act responsibly.
Power loss, loss of body autonomy. Don’t touch people without their permission. Don’t kiss people who say that they do not want to be kissed. Don’t pinch the bums of strangers. Don’t manipulate people into situations that make it hard for them to say no to you. Respect boundaries, take no for an answer. Don’t make people responsible for things they have no power to fix.
Shame, guilt, humiliation, blame, put-downs, relentless criticism – these are all popular with abusers and bullies. If you think that these are ok things to do because you have to defend your own fragile ego, you are the problem. If you think these are tools to use to help people, please don’t. Fat shaming being an obvious case in point here. Just no. It’s horrible and counterproductive. Be very alert to when you make people responsible for your emotional reactions. And if they make you angry? That still doesn’t entitle you to hit them.
What goes with this, invariably, is an attitude to distress that is really problematic. These activities go alongside being more upset over being called out than over there being a problem. People who do this will make it a bigger deal that you upset them by mentioning it, than that they did something out of order. They won’t apologise – or you get the ‘I’m sorry you took that the wrong way’ responses. They justify what they do, and they may gaslight you by telling you that’s not what they did, or said, or that your reactions are unreasonable and unfair. They will make it all your fault and you may end up feeling like you have to apologise to them for having felt hurt.
I’ve been working these issues through recently, looking at situations that I’ve found triggering. Most people don’t cause me any trouble at all. People who stray accidentally into my weird, personal trigger areas will, when it’s explained to them, try to be more careful.
There’s nothing weird or mysterious about those broader, more obvious areas of triggering. Most people won’t get anywhere near that behaviour. This is because most people are well meaning and decent. The people who say it is too difficult to think about what might be triggering are, I realise in hindsight, people doing really problematic things. Being triggered by this behaviour is a reasonable response because the behaviour is threatening and suggests all kinds of unpleasant things. Your body remembers the warning signs. These aren’t weird things no one could see coming, these are the very behaviours that traumatise people.
From here I will be taking ‘triggers are too complicated for me to think about’ as a massive red flag. And I’ll do myself the favour of recognising this kind of behaviour for what it is, and getting the hell away from it at the first opportunity.