“The worst, most detrimental thing a friend or family can do with a triggered person is to feed the runaway train, i.e., re-enforce the delusion that they are being violated when the triggeredness is by definition an over-reaction. The goal is for the triggered person to learn how to be aware of their own over-reaction. The goal is to learn how to say “I feel out of control” instead of acting out to destroy someone who doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.”
there is more to this, though.
I have an overt policy of no censorship of any kind in my writing classes. Students are free to write whatever they must, and others are free to respond however they need to. If a student wants to respond by walking out of the room, so be it. But I encourage everyone to listen, think and understand their own reactions so that they can express them articulately.
Being “triggered” means being reminded of a past violation or unresolved trauma in a way that provokes a reaction to the past, in the present. The responsibility of each person is to learn how to differentiate between the past and the present so that they are not blaming, scapegoating or attacking people today for pain that they have not caused but was inflicted by others long gone. The community around the reactive, triggered person must intervene, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them, to help them be aware.
many of us, students and teachers, want the classroom to be a safe space, and many of know that it is not. schulman (who i admire, but who also seems from some distance to be the harshest of persons) gives what seems to me a pretty good definition of being triggered, although “reminded” doesn’t seem like a strong enough word. and the delineation of the past from the present seems to clean and easy, because a trigger, i think, makes the differences dissolve. one relives. or replays. and responds to trauma in a context that is not the same as that trauma. and perhaps in just as well as out of the classroom, other people can get hurt (too) by someone who has been triggered.
there is a distributed view of responsibility articulated here. is a triggered reaction a healthy, safe reaction? is it self destructive? harmful or violent? is it stressful, corrosive to relationships, or does it undermine the triggered person’s physical or emotional health and resilience? i don’t know for sure, but my tentative answer is yes. by definition. using trigger warnings in the classroom may certainly be one way of reducing such harm. teachers, because of their institutional position of authority, should assume more responsibility rather than less in reducing such harm.
but it doesn’t seem to me that exposure to a trigger is the site of ultimate responsibility for how a triggered person feels. the trauma that left the trigger behind is that site. doesn’t healing have to involve both the decision to not expose oneself to triggers that trigger warnings aim to afford, and also the development, at one’s own speed, of resilience to continued or unexpected exposure?
I have been trying for a few days to figure out how to respond, s-a, so sorry for my delay. here’s a list, and it might not all make sense since my brain isn’t working very well right now.
- i really don’t buy schulman’s understanding of being triggered; i was struck by her description of a triggered person “blaming, scapegoating or attacking” people who trigger them. i feel like there is no single response to being triggered; for me the response has ranged from stunned silence, feeling set in jelly, uncontrollable crying for hours, depending on the context. but in classroom spaces triggering seems to almost always end with a student leaving a space either physically or mentally.
- i’m unhappy that this interview did not actually talk about the context of the classroom space very much (at least by the respondents who were anti-trigger warning) and instead made weak gestures to “community” and “poetics.”
- the whole of schulman’s initial response follows a prescriptive solution to trauma: defining being triggered, describing what a triggered person does, detailing how others should treat a triggered person, prescribing an action for those who are triggered in order to heal, and finally defining recovery goals for a triggered person. rhetorically, this is not an attempt at designing accessibility; it is an medical diagnosis.
- the turn towards medical rhetoric for talking about mental illness by people in queer studies is just flabbergasting to me. it feels like researchers in queer studies want to talk and think about trauma until someone experiences trauma in a way that is unruly, “reactive,” and out of their control; at that point the subject is mentally ill, detrimental to the “community” around them.
- there is no sense of recovering “at one’s own speed” in schulman’s answer. in her view, triggered people do not get to decide when and where they are exposed to triggers; instead, the “community” around them will inform them when they are Behaving Badly.
- it’s not a secret that we hurt each other with our mental illness. when perceiving the world through the lens of anxiety and paranoia (when at my worst) i hate that i hurt other people by hurting or by being unable to talk and think rationally or lose out on opportunities to connect with others. but in this model, the onus is put on the “triggered” person to change the way that they act for the sake of a “community” rather than truly distributing accountability for the real traumas in the world that exacerbate or create mental illness.
thanks for these responses, for bringing us back to the question of the classroom, which seems at once both really to be the site in question and also basically forgotten by lots of respondents; me, too.
nos. 3 and 4 are what i’m trying to listen to the hardest. a thing that feels strange for me about joining the trigger warning conversation is that i want to think about trauma through levinas and ronell and diane davis as a pre-originary depropriation of subjectivity, one that escapes cognition and affects “me,” and in this affection, gives me to be, that is, assigns me responsibility, gives me an “I”. this is also not an accessibility-oriented view of trauma. it’s an account of the conditions of possibility for ethics, as such. here’s ddd:
This inappropriable excess, which puts me into relation with what I can neither assimilate nor abdicate, is the creaturely saying that issues the rhetorical imperative. Ego’s relation to the Other is a relation to the trace, which is not a relation that I have but one that gives me to be. (Levinas: “The great ‘experiences’ of our life have properly speaking never been lived” [“Phenomenon” 68].) The encounter with the face, each time (each “recurrence”), is a trauma, a “blow of affection” that contests me without submitting to cognitive scrutiny. To encounter l’visage d’Autrui is to be torn up from myself, “returned” to a native land (terre natale) that owes nothing to birth—not to another mode of being but to the autrement qu’etre. (Inessential Solidarity, 106)
so, that’s a kind of trauma that you simply can’t be shielded from, nor can you really be exposed to it in any special way because you are always, already exposed to the possibility of it. of being reached by it. pierced by it. undone by it. elsewhere (74) ddd argues (still with levinas) that learning is a trauma, that (by contrast) understanding simply appropriates experience to what is already known. learning would exceed that pre-existing structure of understanding; shatter it. is that a view of trauma that can be taken into the classroom?
does it have anything to teach us about mental illness, or the depropriative experience (non-experience?) of being triggered? does it give us any resources for making sense of the ordinary and prolonged violence of everyday trauma (“the real traumas in the world”)? i don’t know, but i’m grateful for a chance to raise these questions.
Uh oh, Donald Rumsfeld and I agree on something. Each year, with his tax return, Rumsfeld sends a letter to the IRS explaining that neither he or his wife are sure of how accurate their taxes are because the forms and tax code are too complex. Here is this year’s letter:
If only he had been less certain of his accuracy in an even more complex situation, like, say the whole WMD/Iraq War thing.