trauma

Chronic trauma and a clarification about my Israel/Palestine post

“Israel is about as well-governed as you’d expect from a country run by people with PTSD in one of the most volatile regions in the world.” This sentence in your recent post feels uncomfortably close to perpetuating a poor stereotype of both abuse survivors and people with PTSD, or like a joke in poor taste at their expense. I think I get what you meant it’s just, in my opinion, very poorly phrased.

realsocialskills replied:

Agreed. I should have phrased that differently. I haven’t really tried to discuss anything related to Israel on this blog before. I was assuming certain context that I didn’t actually explain. I don’t talk about Israel very much, and when I do, it’s usually in a context in which people know that I’m a rabbi and a disabled disability advocate. (People often also know that I have significantly disabling trauma.) That context matters more than I realized. I’m sorry I wrote it that way, I see what it looked like I meant now that people have pointed it out to me.

One thing that I want to be clear about now: I did not mean that as an insult. Part of what I meant is that trauma makes everything harder, and that it’s a factor in why the situation is so intractable. I absolutely was *not* saying that people with PTSD shouldn’t be in leadership roles. And in any case, in Israel/Palestine, there is no alternative. If you couldn’t have traumatized people in leadership roles, it would be difficult to find anyone to govern. That doesn’t mean that the situation can’t get better — it means that it’s *hard*. 

(This is one of the many reasons why I believe that people who want to help should support efforts that are led by Israelis and/or Palestinians and located primarily in Israel/Palestine.)

Some of the things I’ve most appreciated about spending time in Israel are directly related to how normal trauma is there. PTSD is really a misnomer — the situation in Israel/Palestine is chronically traumatic. In Israel, there’s much more serious conversation about resilience in the face of chronic trauma than I’ve ever found in the US. (I’m saying Israel specifically because I’m directly familiar with Israeli culture and I am not directly familiar with Palestinian culture.)

In the US, the conversation about trauma tends to be “You need to get past what happened and let go of it so you can get on with your life.” In Israel, it’s more like “Whether or not things ever get better, we have to live our lives.” (Pronoun choice deliberate; Israel is much more collectivized than the US, which is a cultural can of worms I’m not going to get into in more detail in this post.)

A lot of populations in the US face chronic traumatization, and there’s very little discussion here about how to deal with that. There’s a tendency to inappropriately apply a *post*-traumatic recovery model along the lines of “You went through something terrible, but you’re safe now. Let’s help you to feel safe.” That model is really inappropriate for people who aren’t safe and aren’t likely to be safe any time soon. We need more things that help people in unsafe situations cope psychologically and build as many good things in their life as they can. 

For example, group homes are not safe places. More generally, disability service provision systems are not safe. They’re safer than they used to be, but the rate of abuse is still very high. It is irresponsible to say “you’re safe now” to someone who is statistically likely to be harmed again in the future. It’s irresponsible to say “People can’t heal until they are safe”, and leave it at that. There are a lot of people who aren’t likely to be safe any time soon, and their lives matter *now*.

Safety is not a prerequisite for growth, and it’s not a prerequisite for having good things in your life. We need to do better for people in unsafe situations. We need more space to say “Being hurt matters, and it’s not the only thing that matters,” and more competence to say “Here are some things that often help.” Safety is important, and we should work for it — and we can’t let that be the only thing we do. (Related: “It gets better” is often worth saying, but it can’t be the end all and be all of how we express “Your life is worth living”.)

This matters in service provision and it also matters in activist community. I think that we need a much broader conversation about resilience. We’re fighting for survival and for critically important rights. We can’t abandon these fights and we also can’t afford to treat victory as a prerequisite for valuing our lives. We have to live. I think a significant part of that is finding ways to strengthen each other, and seeking out every form of growth and resilience available to us. 

I have more to say on all of this, but I haven’t found the words to say it yet. 

On trauma aftermaths that don't advance the plot

The way TV shows trauma can lead people to expect every reference to trauma to be a plot point. This can be isolating to people coping with the aftermaths of trauma. Sometimes people treat us as stories rather than as people. Sometimes, instead of listening to us, they put a lot of pressure on us to advance the plot they’re expecting.

On TV, triggers tend to be full audiovisual flashbacks that add something to the story. You see a vivid window into the character’s past, and something changes. On TV, trauma aftermaths are usually fascinating. Real life trauma aftermaths are sometimes interesting, but also tend to be very boring to live with.

On TV, triggers tend to create insight. In real life, they’re often boring intrusions interfering with the things you’d rather be thinking about. Sometimes knowing darn well where they come from doesn’t make them go away. Sometimes it’s more like: Seriously? This again?

On TV, when trauma is mentioned, it’s usually a dramatic plot point that happens in a moment. In real life, trauma aftermaths are a mundane day-to-day reality that people live with. They’re a fact of life — and not necessarily the most important one at all times. People who have experienced trauma do other things too. They’re important, but not the one and only defining characteristic of who someone is. And things that happened stay important even when you’re ok. Recovery is not a reset. Mentioning the past doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in crisis.

On TV, when a character mentions trauma, or gets triggered in front of someone, it’s usually a dramatic moment. It changes their life, or their relationship with another character, or explains their backstory, or something. In real life, being triggered isn’t always a story, and telling isn’t always a turning point. Sometimes it’s just mentioning something that happened to be relevant. Sometimes it’s just a mundane instance of something that happens from time to time.

Most people can’t have a dramatic transformative experience every time it turns out that their trauma matters. Transformative experiences and moments of revelation exist, but they’re not the end all and be all of trauma aftermaths. Life goes on, and other things matter too. And understanding what a reaction means and where it came from doesn’t always make it go away. Sometimes, it takes longer and has more to do with skill-building than introspection. Sometimes it doesn’t go away.

On a day to day level, it’s often better to be matter-of-fact about aftermaths. It can be exhausting when people see you as a story and expect you to advance the plot whenever they notice some effect of trauma. Pressure to perform narratives about healing doesn’t often help people to make their lives better. Effect support involves respecting someone as a complex human, including the boring parts.

The aftermath of trauma is a day-to-day reality. It affects a lot of things, large and small. It can be things like being too tired to focus well in class because nightmares kept waking you up every night this week. TV wants that to be a dramatic moment where the character faces their past and gets better. In real life, it’s often a day where you just do your best to try and learn algebra anyway. Because survivors do things besides be traumatized and think about trauma. Sometimes it’s not a story. Sometimes it’s just getting through another day as well as possible.

A lot of triggers are things like being unable to concentrate on anything interesting because some kinds of background noises make you feel too unsafe to pay attention to anything else. For the zillionth time.  Even though you know rationally that they’re not dangerous. Even though you know where they come from, and have processed it over and over. Even if you’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with them, even if they’re no longer bothersome all the time. For most people, recovery involves a lot more than insight. The backstory might be interesting, but being tired and unable to concentrate is boring.

Triggers can also mean having to leave an event and walk home by yourself while other people are having fun, because it turns out that it hurts too much to be around pies and cakes. Or having trouble finding anything interesting to read that isn’t intolerably triggering. Or having trouble interacting with new people because you’re too scared or there are too many minefields. Or being so hypervigilant that it’s hard to focus on anything. No matter how interesting the backstory is, feeling disconnected and missing out on things you wanted to enjoy is usually boring.

When others want to see your trauma as a story, their expectations sometimes expand to fill all available space. Sometimes they seem to want everything to be therapy, or want everything to be about trauma and recovery.

When others want every reference to trauma to be the opening to a transformative experience, it can be really hard to talk about accommodations. For instance, it gets hard to say things like:

  • “I’m really tired because of nightmares” or 
  • “I would love to go to that event, but I might need to leave because of the ways in which that kind of thing can be triggering” or 
  • “I’m glad I came, but I can’t handle this right now” or
  • “I’m freaking out now, but I’ll be ok in a few minutes” or 
  • “I need to step out — can you text me when they stop playing this movie?”

It can also be hard to mention relevant experiences. There are a lot of reasons to mention experiences other than wanting to process, eg:

  • “Actually, I have experience dealing with that agency”
  • “That’s not what happens when people go to the police, in my experience, what happens when you need to make a police report is…”
  • “Please keep in mind that this isn’t hypothetical for me, and may not be for others in the room as well.”

Or any number of other things.

When people are expecting a certain kind of story, they sometimes look past the actual person. And when everyone is looking past you in search of a story, it can be very hard to make connections.

It helps to realize that no matter what others think, your story belongs to you. You don’t have to play out other people’s narrative expectations. It’s ok if your story isn’t what others want it to be. It’s ok not to be interesting. It’s ok to have trauma reactions that don’t advance the plot. And there are people who understand that, and even more people who can learn to understand that.

It’s possible to live a good life in the aftermath of trauma. It’s possible to relearn how to be interested in things. It’s possible to build space you can function in, and to build up your ability to function in more spaces. It’s often possible to get over triggers. All of this can take a lot of time and work, and can be a slow process. It doesn’t always make for a good story, and it doesn’t always play out the way others would like it to. And, it’s your own personal private business. Other people’s concern or curiosity does not obligate you to share details.

Survivors and victims have the right to be boring. We have the right to deal with trauma aftermaths in a matter-of-fact way, without indulging other people’s desires for plot twists. We have the right to own our own stories, and to keep things private. We have the right to have things in our lives that are not therapy; we have the right to needed accommodations without detailing what happened and what recovery looks like. Neither traumatic experiences nor trauma aftermaths erase our humanity.

We are not stories, and we have no obligation to advance an expected plot. We are people, and we have the right to be treated as people. Our lives, and our stories, are our own.

On trauma aftermaths that don’t advance the plot

The way TV shows trauma can lead people to expect every reference to trauma to be a plot point. This can be isolating to people coping with the aftermaths of trauma. Sometimes people treat us as stories rather than as people. Sometimes, instead of listening to us, they put a lot of pressure on us to advance the plot they’re expecting. 

On TV, triggers tend to be full audiovisual flashbacks that add something to the story. You see a vivid window into the character’s past, and something changes. On TV, trauma aftermaths are usually fascinating. Real life trauma aftermaths are sometimes interesting, but also tend to be very boring to live with. 

On TV, triggers tend to create insight. In real life, they’re often boring intrusions interfering with the things you’d rather be thinking about. Sometimes knowing darn well where they come from doesn’t make them go away. Sometimes it’s more like: Seriously? This again? 

On TV, when trauma is mentioned, it’s usually a dramatic plot point that happens in a moment. In real life, trauma aftermaths are a mundane day-to-day reality that people live with. They’re a fact of life — and not necessarily the most important one at all times. People who have experienced trauma do other things too. They’re important, but not the one and only defining characteristic of who someone is. And things that happened stay important even when you’re ok. Recovery is not a reset. Mentioning the past doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in crisis.

On TV, when a character mentions trauma, or gets triggered in front of someone, it’s usually a dramatic moment. It changes their life, or their relationship with another character, or explains their backstory, or something. In real life, being triggered isn’t always a story, and telling isn’t always a turning point. Sometimes it’s just mentioning something that happened to be relevant. Sometimes it’s just a mundane instance of something that happens from time to time.

Most people can’t have a dramatic transformative experience every time it turns out that their trauma matters. Transformative experiences and moments of revelation exist, but they’re not the end all and be all of trauma aftermaths. Life goes on, and other things matter too. And understanding what a reaction means and where it came from doesn’t always make it go away. Sometimes, it takes longer and has more to do with skill-building than introspection. Sometimes it doesn’t go away.

On a day to day level, it’s often better to be matter-of-fact about aftermaths. It can be exhausting when people see you as a story and expect you to advance the plot whenever they notice some effect of trauma. Pressure to perform narratives about healing doesn’t often help people to make their lives better. Effect support involves respecting someone as a complex human, including the boring parts.

The aftermath of trauma is a day-to-day reality. It affects a lot of things, large and small. It can be things like being too tired to focus well in class because nightmares kept waking you up every night this week. TV wants that to be a dramatic moment where the character faces their past and gets better. In real life, it’s often a day where you just do your best to try and learn algebra anyway. Because survivors do things besides be traumatized and think about trauma. Sometimes it’s not a story. Sometimes it’s just getting through another day as well as possible.

A lot of triggers are things like being unable to concentrate on anything interesting because some kinds of background noises make you feel too unsafe to pay attention to anything else. For the zillionth time.  Even though you know rationally that they’re not dangerous. Even though you know where they come from, and have processed it over and over. Even if you’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with them, even if they’re no longer bothersome all the time. For most people, recovery involves a lot more than insight. The backstory might be interesting, but being tired and unable to concentrate is boring.

Triggers can also mean having to leave an event and walk home by yourself while other people are having fun, because it turns out that it hurts too much to be around pies and cakes. Or having trouble finding anything interesting to read that isn’t intolerably triggering. Or having trouble interacting with new people because you’re too scared or there are too many minefields. Or being so hypervigilant that it’s hard to focus on anything. No matter how interesting the backstory is, feeling disconnected and missing out on things you wanted to enjoy is usually boring. 

When others want to see your trauma as a story, their expectations sometimes expand to fill all available space. Sometimes they seem to want everything to be therapy, or want everything to be about trauma and recovery. 

When others want every reference to trauma to be the opening to a transformative experience, it can be really hard to talk about accommodations. For instance, it gets hard to say things like:

  • “I’m really tired because of nightmares” or 
  • “I would love to go to that event, but I might need to leave because of the ways in which that kind of thing can be triggering” or 
  • “I’m glad I came, but I can’t handle this right now” or
  • “I’m freaking out now, but I’ll be ok in a few minutes” or 
  • “I need to step out — can you text me when they stop playing this movie?”

It can also be hard to mention relevant experiences. There are a lot of reasons to mention experiences other than wanting to process, eg:

  • “Actually, I have experience dealing with that agency”
  • “That’s not what happens when people go to the police, in my experience, what happens when you need to make a police report is…”
  • “Please keep in mind that this isn’t hypothetical for me, and may not be for others in the room as well.”

Or any number of other things.

When people are expecting a certain kind of story, they sometimes look past the actual person. And when everyone is looking past you in search of a story, it can be very hard to make connections. 

It helps to realize that no matter what others think, your story belongs to you. You don’t have to play out other people’s narrative expectations. It’s ok if your story isn’t what others want it to be. It’s ok not to be interesting. It’s ok to have trauma reactions that don’t advance the plot. And there are people who understand that, and even more people who can learn to understand that. 

It’s possible to live a good life in the aftermath of trauma. It’s possible to relearn how to be interested in things. It’s possible to build space you can function in, and to build up your ability to function in more spaces. It’s often possible to get over triggers. All of this can take a lot of time and work, and can be a slow process. It doesn’t always make for a good story, and it doesn’t always play out the way others would like it to. And, it’s your own personal private business. Other people’s concern or curiosity does not obligate you to share details.

Survivors and victims have the right to be boring. We have the right to deal with trauma aftermaths in a matter-of-fact way, without indulging other people’s desires for plot twists. We have the right to own our own stories, and to keep things private. We have the right to have things in our lives that are not therapy; we have the right to needed accommodations without detailing what happened and what recovery looks like. Neither traumatic experiences nor trauma aftermaths erase our humanity.

We are not stories, and we have no obligation to advance an expected plot. We are people, and we have the right to be treated as people. Our lives, and our stories, are our own.

Triggers aren't always rational concepts

Sometimes people talk about triggers as though as though being triggered means having an extreme reaction to something that it’s perfectly normal for most people to find upsetting.

Some triggers are like that. A lot of them are not.

Triggers can be things that make no apparent sense at all from the outside. They can be anything. For instance, someone might find teddy bears triggering. Or being spoken to in a reassuring tone of voice. Or a certain song. Or wearing a t-shirt.

They are not necessarily about concepts.

Having trauma-related triggers does not necessarily mean that someone will have an unusual amount of difficulty discussing upsetting topics.

Discussing the concept of abuse or the particular kind of trauma they experienced *might* be triggering, but it might not be.

For instance, someone might be triggered by the smell of popcorn, but comfortable discussing abuse and abuse prevention policy. Or any number of other combinations.

Knowing that someone has experienced trauma doesn’t mean that you know anything else about them. Not everyone who has experienced trauma gets triggered. People who do get triggered, get triggered by a range of different things. You generally are not going to be in a position to know this kind of thing about someone else unless they tell you.

tl;dr Trauma-related triggers can be just about anything. They’re not necessarily conceptually related to difficult or politically charged topics. Some people who have triggers aren’t triggered by discussing the relevant concepts, but are triggered by otherwise-innocuous things they associate with their experiences. Trauma can be complicated and doesn’t always fit with the prevailing cultural narrative.

Being wary of women isn't always misogyny

It’s completely normal for people who have had traumatic experiences with women to be wary of women. Or to have triggers related to women.

For instance, some people can’t tolerate being touched by women. Or don’t feel safe with female therapists. Or feel safer around men than women in general. Or need activities they participate in to be co-ed rather than single-gender. Or any number of other things.

Sometimes people with those kinds of trauma responses are told that they’re being misogynistic, or that they have internalized misogyny. And that’s wrong. Having a completely normal trauma response is *not* sexism, and it’s not a moral failing of any kind.

(It would be sexist to think that women are inferior, or inherently incapable of treating people well, or something like that. Being wary of women as a trauma response is *not* the same as thinking that kind of thing.)

tl;dr Trauma is not a moral failing, even when your trauma responses are politically inconvenient. If you have been hurt by women and have trauma responses to women, it’s not your fault and it’s ok to take care of yourself.

Trauma doesn't make you any less of a person

Some people are really creepy about survivors. (Or people who they perceive as survivors, often inaccurately.)

They treat trauma like permission. Like it gives them the right to boundless authority over you.

They see you as broken, and they think that means they’re entitled to fix you.

They act like you don’t know yourself, can’t know yourself, and shouldn’t think for yourself.

(And they may repeatedly trigger you on purpose in an effort to make you feel disoriented enough to believe them.)

They think that every opinion they have about you is the insight that will heal you. They think that you are somehow obligated to accept uncritically any purported wisdom they decide to bestow upon you.

They think that their love can heal you. They act like their desire to heal you with love means you’re somehow obligated to gratefully accept whatever expression of love they want to bestow upon you.

They act like their perspective should replace yours. They act like their desire to help you somehow obligates you to agree with everything they think.

They act like you’ll be better if you let them take over emotionally. Like you somehow can’t be trusted with feelings. Like you shouldn’t have feeling of your own anymore. Like you should have theirs instead.

People shouldn’t do this to you. It’s wrong, it’s creepy, and you don’t have to cooperate with it.

You are a person. You are allowed to have your own feelings. You are allowed to think for yourself.

You are allowed to decide who, if anyone, you want to be emotionally intimate with. You are allowed to decide whose advice you want. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to disagree with people, even if they mean well and want to help. You are allowed to make choices about what help, if any, you want to accept, and who, if anyone, you want to accept it from.

You are you. You are allowed to be you. And nothing that happened to you gives others the right to try to turn you into someone else.

you don't have to earn support with a diagnosis

If you were hurt and you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath, that matters. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to need support.

You don’t have to earn support with a diagnosis of something trauma related. You don’t even have to fit diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition to be worthy of support.

Getting hurt matters whether or not it results in PTSD or other diagnosable mental health conditions. There are a lot of different ways that people respond to trauma. In particular, not everyone who experiences abuse or other trauma develops PTSD. It’s ok to want support and to talk to other people whose struggles are similar to yours, whether or not your experience involves PTSD.

It’s also ok if the thing that hurt you wasn’t abuse, or if you aren’t sure whether you think it was abuse or not. It’s ok to need help and support even if it *wasn’t* abuse, or even if things are ambiguous, or even if what happened to you wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not all trauma is the result of abuse. Not all trauma is anyone’s fault. You don’t have to earn support by fitting a particular narrative. You don’t have to earn support by being ideologically or politically useful, either. You matter, it matters that you got hurt, and it’s ok to want help sorting things out.

It’s also ok to relate to and benefit from things that match your experiences partly, but not entirely. (Eg: it’s ok if something written about homophobic bullying helps you to deal with the medical care you experienced in the aftermath of a car crash; it’s ok if something written for people with intellectual disabilities helps you to cope with being the target of transphobic bullying. It’s also ok to use a type of therapy that was initially developed or is usually used to address a different problem than the one you have.)

All of this stuff can be hard to sort out. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to seek help and support where you can find it. You matter, and your experiences matter.

Not being believed

Content note: This is a post about ABA, and not being believed about the harm ABA does.

Anonymous said to :

People don’t believe me when I say I was a victim to ABA abuse, not even my parents.

I was misgendered routinely, I could not drink water even though this was harmless and was often asked to write my name even though this was effectively pointless.

How should I convince people I was really abused?

Am I just whining and should I “get over it” because that’s not “real abuse” and I’m not autistic?

realsocialskills said:

It’s not your fault that therapists hurt you. It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. What people did to you matters, even if no one believes you.

ABA is degrading on a level that it can be very hard to recover from or even describe. The basic methodology of ABA is finding out what you care about most and using it to get compliance with arbitrary demands.

I’ve written some here and here and here about the kind of damage that does, and that’s only scratching the surface.

Increasingly, one of the things behavior therapists demand is that you pretend that they’re not controlling you. They often go so far as to demand that you act like you like what’s happening and believe that it’s both necessary and enjoyable. And they do that even as they make you do obviously pointless things (like writing your name over and over), and even as they do obviously awful things to you (like denying you water and misgendering you).

That kind of thing can mess with your mind really badly, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe you.

It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. They can refuse to acknowledge what people did to you; you can’t make it go away. It matters even if no one around you cares.

You will probably always have to deal with people who don’t believe you. Most people are reluctant to believe that therapists ever hurt people in ways that matter, and ABA has a particularly effective publicity machine. Some people will say that you’re whining, that you’re lying, and that the things you’ve described don’t happen. They’re wrong. It matters that people hurt you in the name of helping you. It’s horrible that people who you should be able to trust don’t believe you.

Some of them may eventually come to understand. Sometimes people come around, in the long term. But you don’t have to wait for that in order to be ok, you don’t have to explain it to them if you don’t want to, and what happened to you matters whether or not people believe you.

Also… You are not alone. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is a community of people who know that it’s wrong to treat people that way. Making connections with people who believe you might help a lot.

It’s much easier to hold on to your perspective if you’re not doing it alone. This is hard. It’s also possible. You’re ok.

tl;dr Abuse matters even if no one believes you. That said, making connections with people who believe you can help a lot. You are not alone, even if really important people in your life don’t believe you.

Is it still considered abuse if the person doesn’t mean for it to be, or doesn’t think it is? My parents have always been really harmful for me (manipulative, intimidating, not taking my health concerns/disabilities seriously, screaming at me, etc.), but they won’t even say that the stuff they said/did caused harm.
Or they will say they didn’t know/couldn’t hve known. And now that I’m an “adult” they’re a lot better, but it just makes them deny them ever being harmful to me.  like, some of it I can kinda get.
They didn’t know I had fibro, so me sleeping too much they thought was just me being lazy. And like they didn’t know how them yelling made me shut down because Id just sit quietly.
They didn’t know I was queer and that the shit they’d say was hurtful to me.
But at the same time I’m just like, it all messed me up so bad. But was it “bad enough” to be considered abuse? Does it even matter now?
realsocialskills said:
It sounds like, whether or not it was their fault, you’ve been hurt very badly by people who had the responsibility for caring for you. 
It also sounds like they haven’t acknowledged that.
I think that “is this bad enough to be considered abuse?” is probably a counterproductive question (because no matter how bad something was, you can *always* find a way to convince yourself that it was Not Real Abuse if you try hard enough). I think a better way of framing it is:
  • Was I hurt?
  • Were the people who hurt me culpable?
  • Are they still hurting me?
  • Where do I stand with them?

It seems like getting clear in your own head that you were hurt will help you. And that, regardless of the conclusions you come to about the extent to which your parents were at fault, your suffering is real and your hurt is real and things happened to you that shouldn’t have.

Even if all their mistakes were innocent, even if they had no culpability, that doesn’t erase your trauma. What happened to you matters. Finding a way to erase their culpability would not erase your hurt.

Further, denying that they hurt you in the past is something they’re doing to you *now*, in the present. Keep that in mind, too. It might have a lot of bearing on how you relate to them.

I don’t know them or you, and I don’t know how you should relate to them now. That’s a very personal choice.

Some people find that it’s better to drop the subject (either by not bringing it up or by refusing to discuss it). It might be that you can’t get them to understand, but that you can avoid the subject in the way that makes a relationship possible. If you go that route, it doesn’t mean that you have to forgive them or concede that anything that happened was ok. It just means that you’re not discussing it with them. 

There are other approaches, but I’m not quite sure how to describe them.

Any of y'all want to weigh in?

avoiding triggers in movies

Anonymous asked:

Commonsensemedia.org has a movie review section that I use to find out more about movies if I’m worried about being triggered. I guess it could stand to say that some of the reviews may be triggering depending on the person. For ex, you may find out why the movie is considered violent/bloody (in a very concise manner as far as I’ve seen) if you read on in the description. It is really nice if you are not a parent/guardian and has a discussion part along with the review.

realsocialskills said:

Thank you, that sounds like a really useful resource.

What it means when kids aren’t allowed to know about bad things

There are a lot of things kids are often considered too young to know about. For instance:

  • Rape
  • Violence
  • Racism
  • Sexism

The problem is, almost every bad thing kids are considered too young to know about happens to some kids.

The rule that kids should be shielded from these things has some really negative effects on the kids who are most vulnerable.

It hurts kids who have been abused, because they’re considered dangerous to other kids if they ever talk about it. Their peers aren’t supposed to know about it, so they’re supposed to just never talk about it ever. That creates a lot of shame, and living with that kind of shame hurts people.

It also hurts kids who are currently being abused. They get the overwhelming message from everyone that kids are not allowed to talk about these things. That makes it hard to tell adults what’s going on, especially if they don’t quite know the right words. If they try to tell indirectly, they might even be hushed and told that they’re too young to be thinking about that kind of thing.

It hurts kids of color, because they’re often required to put up with racist things rather than have the white kids find out about racism. Because they’re old enough to have to deal with racism, but their white peers aren’t considered old enough to be told about it.

There’s also parents who don’t want their kids to play with disabled kids, because they think their kids are too young to know about disability or serious illness or injury. Or even, to the point that a kids’ show hosted by an amputee actor got a lot of complaints that her missing arm was upsetting to children. This kind of attitude is all over the place.

Preventing kids from thinking about bad things hurts all kinds of kids, all kinds of particularly vulnerable kids. And I don’t see how it does much to protect the safer kids, either.

I’m not sure what the solution is. But I think it is a problem.

A school project not to assign

If you are a teacher, do not ask your students to make a family tree as a school assignment. *Especially* do not do this as a class art project to be posted on the wall.

A lot of kids have very complicated families, and complicated feelings about which words to use for which people.

For instance: Some kids call multiple people “mom”. Sometimes this is because they’re being raised by a lesbian couple. Sometimes this is because they are adopted and also maintaining a relationship with their mother who gave birth to them. Sometimes this is because their parents divorced and remarried and they also see their stepparents as parents. None of these relationships map easily onto a family tree project.

Some kids don’t have any parents at all. This isn’t something that they should have to tell their peers if they don’t want to. 

Some kids aren’t sure who their parents are. Is it the people who adopted them when they were a baby and disrupted when they were six? The person who gave birth to them? The people they’re living with now? The one nice staff in their group home? The person they’re in foster care with who they’re hoping will eventually adopt them? It’s complicated and not ok to ask kids to declare this in writing in front of everyone.

There are any number of emotionally fraught and complicated situations that go along with describing families. It’s not good to have kids do that as part of an assignment, unless you’re working in a context in which getting people to do emotionally fraught things is appropriate.

rosewhite6280 said: some people with anger problems do so because they themselves are being triggered, help them deal with their past problem, compassion helps

That’s good advice in some situations, but I don’t think it’s applicable in the situation they asked about. I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense in situations in which you’re responsible for another person’s physical and emotional wellbeing. For instance, if you’re raising a kid, or working with a kid who has been through traumatic things, the first thing to keep in mind is that they’re doing things for reasons and that compassion goes a long way.

But you can’t have that relationship with every traumatized person you encounter. It’s not appropriate with a roommate.

And that person was asking specially about what to do about the fact that they are triggered by their roommate’s depression and anger. It was a question about how to make a living situation work, not a question about how to make a support relationship work.

Getting involved enough to help someone deal with their past problem is a completely different kind of relationship than they were asking about. And there’s no indication that either they or their roommate wants that.

And, when you are triggered by someone even at a relatively distant relationship, it’s generally not a good idea to establish an even closer relationship with that person.

Their roommate’s past is not their problem, and helping their roommate get over their past is not their responsibility.

When you have mixed feelings about an abusive relationship

Content warning: this post probably uses language that gets used against abuse victims. I’m trying to avoid that, but I don’t think I’ve entirely succeeded, and some of these words might be triggering. Proceed with caution.

So, here’s the thing.

People are complicated, and relationships are even more complicated. Abuse victims are often pressured to pretend that things are simple. They’re pressured to believe that if there was any positive aspect whatsoever to an abusive relationship, then it wasn’t really as abusive as they think it was.

But it doesn’t work that way. People aren’t averaged. People can do some really good things, and some abusive things. They don’t cancel each other out. They coexist. Whatever else happened, the abuse was real, and you’re right not to tolerate it.

Sometimes… sometimes your abuser is also the person who taught you your favorite recipe.

Or something fundamental about how you understand the world.

Or a major skill you now use professionally.

Or maybe they gave you a lot of valuable criticism that made your art better.

Or maybe they supported you materially when you were in real trouble.

Or any number of other things.

And…

…none of that makes the abuse ok. None of that is mitigating in any way. It doesn’t cancel anything out. Sometimes people talk like the abusive interactions and the good ones get put in a blender or something, and like some sort of theoretical blended average is what really counts. That’s not how it works. It’s the actual interactions that count, not some theoretical average. The abuse is real, and significant, no matter what else happened.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. If some things about an abusive relationship were positive, it’s ok to acknowledge and value them.

And you can still refuse to ever have anything to do with your abuser ever again. You can still be angry. You can still hate them. You can still decide never to forgive them. You can still warn people against them. None of these things are mutually exclusive.

And, most importantly, valuing some aspects of the relationship or having some positive memories does not in *any way* mean the abuse was your fault.

A short additional point about forgiveness

You can get distance without forgiving the person who hurt you.

In in particular, you can get past a point of being consumed by anger without forgiving the person who hurt you.

Because your recovery is not about that person. It’s about you. And you don’t have to forgive them to get them out of the center of your emotional life.