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PTSD and the Responsibility for Trigger Management

demands to avoid "triggers" lead to injustice

Forum: QueerDisability
Date: 09/01/2007

On Sep 1, 2007, at 12:01 AM, BEARfromTN wrote:

The original poll did not include anything that would legitimately trigger a PTSD patient, not even one who had PTSD related to an experience related to BDSM.

How can you state this? Or rather: how can you distinguish between "legitimate" trigger from illegitimate ones?

Individuals may have read the questions/statements and mentally ran away with them, and that triggered something. However, the poll contents did not do it, they did it themselves.

Triggers are always just cues and symbols for the traumatic experience, and therefore they don't "cause" posttraumatic reactions by themselves. An experience of triggering is always a mental process, i.e. individuals mentally running away with the cues and symbols. If that's not "legitimate," then no triggers are.

Just so you know where I'm coming from: I actually agree with you (I think) about the poll, which is that it should not be expected to avoid all or any element that might trigger someone. In general, trigger management is primarily a responsibility of the individual who experiences it, as we cannot possibly take responsibility for avoiding everyone else's triggers.

My problem is that deeply you seem to agree with critics' unstated assumption, which is that "legitimate" triggers should be avoided by all: you only disagree what "legitimate" triggers are.

In personal exchange, if I know that certain things tend to trigger the other person, then I do my best to avoid bringing it up. It's just plain courtesy. And I suppose that there are certain group settings where some topics should be avoided, especially if it's a support group for some traumatic event or experiences.

But this is a public forum, and I don't think that we can demand others to avoid certain words or topics just because it triggers us. Such impossible burden would stifle free exchange of ideas, and invites abuse or unjust silencing/ exclusion (which is what I think you are worried about-- people who dislike BDSM claiming to be triggered by the topic and silencing it).

The danger of abuse is inherent in the assumption that we somehow have the obligation to avoid others' triggers in a public forum. Arguing if a particular trigger is "legitimate" is not particularly productive, as it would only anger those accused of claiming an "illegitimate" trigger.

Think about a trans woman who is excluded from women's shelter because her appearance "triggers" other women: even if the "triggers" are genuine--that is, even if her presence in fact cause some other women to experience flashbacks and other posttraumatic responses--and not just an excuse to remove a trans woman out of transphobia, it's still wrong to kick her out. The problem with removing her isn't that the triggers are "illegitimate"; it is that it displaces the responsibility of trigger management--usually to the detriment to the group with less institutional power.

- ek