In case anyone wants some perspective on how utterly random triggers can be. I haven’t lived in a house with a garage door in four-ish years. Right now at this moment, I honestly can’t recall what they sound like, except something metallic moving and rather clanky.
There was one on tv. I wasn’t even paying attention to it, I had my headphones on and was actively trying to tune the show out. My ears picked up on the sound of the garage door, and a jolt of adrenaline shot through my body as I grabbed my laptop and moved to get out of my seat and run to my room.
I realized what happened after about two seconds.
The sound is gone from my ears, but my heart is still racing and I’m waiting for the door to the house to open, to hear the jingling of my mother’s keys and her footsteps moving through the house. My muscles are still tense and I’m fighting the urge to run to my room and stick a board in front of the door.
For years, the sound of a garage door was my warning to pack up what I was doing quickly and retreat to my room if I was out of it.
I can’t remember the sound of the garage door right now, but I can’t tell my brain to stop trying to react to it.
This can be reblogged, if anyone was wondering. I wrote up this post with the intention that hopefully people who read it and didn’t really get triggers would understand a bit.
So, a thing that’s particularly important here: The trigger here is not the bad experience itself.
after my super funtime medical adventure, i had to change all my bath products, because my brain had associated the scent of them with being terrified and in extreme pain.
these were products i had chosen myself because i liked the smell. and they got connected to the medical phobia because i was using them to wash off the hospital reek and the fear sweat and so forth. i don’t know why they became a trigger. maybe because washing off the hospital smell didn’t make me not in pain. maybe because their ‘fresh pine ocean breeze bluegreen spicy stuff’ smell didn’t really replace the hospital stench, just mingled with it.
but for whatever reason, smelling these objectively nice soaps made me do flashbacks and get all hopeless and wobbly. so they had to go.
triggers are random. they’re often something that was simply present during a trauma, and you can’t guess what they’ll be. no one who hasn’t heard me explain this would ever associate suave naturals ocean breeze body wash with unbearable abdominal pain. so i guess the takeaways here are twofold:
- if you have triggers, remember other people can’t predict them, and don’t expect to be protected from them all the time. that’s up to you.
- if you don’t have triggers, don’t assume you can judge what a ‘real’ trigger is, and if someone asks you to accomodate them, don’t be a dick about it. even if you don’t want to make that accomodation, decline politely and apologize, don’t disparage their request.
If you’re going to deny someone’s request to respect their triggers, don’t bother being around them. You’re not a safe person for them to be around, whether you like it or not, the simple action of declining any kind of safety (physical, emotional, mental, psychological, verbal, etc) is not something a real friend would do.
Respecting triggers is the bare minimum of decency, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not respecting triggers (even through “polite decline”) is ableism.
See, I knew this take would be here in the notes, and it is unfortunately an incorrect take. There are situations in which it is reasonable to say “I’m sorry, but I cannot accommodate your triggers, and it’s important that you know I can’t do this for you so that you can decide what’s best for you accordingly”.
Example: a follower of your blog asks you to tag something for them specifically. Maybe you don’t like using tags. Maybe it’s a tag for something really common, and it would be a huge hassle you’re expected to go through in order to make your blog trigger-safe for someone you barely know. Maybe you have a terrible memory and you know you’re not going to remember to tag this thing, so even if you wanted to make your blog safe for this one person you can’t promise strict compliance. Maybe this person wants you to tag something as a trigger that’s very personally meaningful to you/a very prevalent theme on your blog, so you’re not even sure why they want you to accommodate them because you’re not sure why they’re even here because your blog is never going to be tailored toward people like them and you are not about to even start to try making it so. (See: if someone asks me to tag “the q-slur”, not only am I going to say no, I’m going to tell them I don’t even want them following my blog because they’re straight up insulting a major facet of my identity.)
Another example: a friend is triggered by the smell of coffee, so they ask you - an avid coffee-drinker - to stop drinking coffee. Full stop. Not “don’t drink it around me”, which would be a more reasonable request, but not to drink it ever. This is an example of someone wanting their triggers respected, but who is demanding accommodation in a way that infringes on someone else’s right to live their life the way they like. In those cases, it’s reasonable to say no, because the request itself is unreasonable.
But what if it was a more reasonable request? Say, a significant other asking their partner, who they live with, not to drink coffee, because it’s kind of impossible to escape the smell of coffee when someone is brewing it in the place where you live? This is more reasonable to ask, since it’s understandably harder for the person with the trigger to avoid the trigger in such an instance…but it’s also something that could be a dealbreaker. Some people really need coffee to function. (There are even some people who need to self-medicate to some degree with coffee.) Compromise could happen - such as, maybe the partner gets their coffee from Starbucks so they don’t have to brew it in the house - but it could also be super disruptive for them, or perhaps unaffordable on tight incomes. So how do you handle that? In cases of conflicting needs, the person with the trigger needs to either try to reach a reasonable compromise with the person they’re asking to accommodate them, or accept that they need more accommodation than can reasonably be given by the other person and withdraw for their own safety. It sucks when conflicting needs like that can’t be resolved(which can sometimes happen), but it doesn’t mean the person putting their foot down is wrong to do so. It doesn’t mean it’s anyone’s fault. But it’s not only people with triggers that have a right to live comfortable lives with reasonable freedoms to do what they want.
It’s nice to accommodate someone’s triggers, obviously, but a reminder: it is not okay to make demands or expect complete compliance from strangers to make something that is not ultimately for you, specifically - such as someone else’s personal blog - safe for you. Likewise, even with close friends, making unfair demands or expecting someone to change major aspects of their life for you, without respecting their right to say “this is too much to ask of me”, is a great way to make Bad Guys out of completely reasonable people. There are limits to what it is reasonable to ask someone else to do for you, which are also tied into how well you know them and how onerous it would be for them. Asking a stranger to make very minor accommodations is not unreasonable; asking a close friend to make significant accommodations is not unreasonable. Asking a stranger to make significant accommodations, or a close friend to make unreasonable and/or actively life-altering concessions, really starts to enter “it’s great if they’re willing to, but they are not obligated to and you don’t get to call them a terrible person for saying no” territory.
Saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this for you” not only is a reasonable statement - after all, it gives the power of deciding what to do next, for their own safety, back to the person with the trigger(s), and it doesn’t chastise them for having their trigger(s) so much as it is warning them that a certain space cannot reasonably be made safe for them - but it absolutely needs to exist. Acting as though anyone who declines to tailor their lives to any and all trigger requests, for any reason, is ableist - without even the slightest consideration to conflicting needs, or certain spaces being inherently unsafe for certain people(if people being tied up is a trigger for you, perhaps you should not be demanding the shibari blog to make itself a safe space for you), or even whether the accommodation request was remotely reasonable to begin with…you’re basically saying “having a trigger means you have a right to make demands that only Bad People would ever refuse”. There’s no room for nuance. There’s not even room for other people to have the simplest of rights, like “having the content I want on my own blog, and the freedom to tag or not tag what I feel like in a space that is literally mine and no one else’s when tags are already a user-optional thing”.
And it opens the doors wide to people who will either make unreasonable demands because of their triggers(because people with triggers can be and sometimes are extremely unreasonable about how other people should keep them safe), or to people who will actually fake having triggers in order to force other people to do what they want. Which is utterly reprehensible, and obviously it’d never be safe to assume someone is faking a trigger, but if you’re saying people with triggers get to make demands that only evil ableists can say no to, can’t you see how tempting that arrangement would be to people acting in bad faith??? It invites people (whether they have genuine triggers or not) to strong-arm others into doing what they want, and if their demands are refused for any reason then they have an excuse to villainize and attack those people.
I’m sorry, but nuance, compromise between both parties, the possibility of conflicting needs, and the right to say “no” to accommodating triggers are deeply necessary aspects of any conversation about triggers. In a perfect world, everyone’s triggers could be accommodated by everyone else with no issue, but that is not the reality of the world we live in. You obviously have a very narrow view of who might refuse to accommodate triggers and for what reasons, but there is a lot more to consider that you haven’t taken into account. Your stance on triggers and accommodating them could do far more harm than any polite refusal.
#another one for the #‘when we are not allowed boundaries we will resent others for having needs’ wall