“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.”
—On Trigger Warnings, Part I: In the Creative Writing Classroom | ENTROPY
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?