She’s a Trigger Warning

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At one mid-day I was scrolling aimlessly through X or formerly known as Twitter and found—every two scrolls, tweets with intro of TW abbreviation. Eventually I noticed that it stands for Trigger Warning, a note before a thread begins. It has been used as a label for certain distressing content or images. The term trigger warning have been viral since the pandemic for several controversial posts, news, caption etcetera in social media. 

Originally before, trigger warnings  were applied during the internet millenial decade. Between late 90’s and 2000-ish, it was written at feminist websites. The term is a notification for horrific things like sexual assault, child abuse, brutal violence or suicide. The note purposely written to inform the risk of unwanted mental stimulation, panic attacks or provoking symptoms of Post Traumatic Syndrom Disorder (P.T.S.D) for people who had been a victim in their past. 

So did we misused them ? Or did we expand it into a new horizon of meaning? 

People Trigger

Apparently, we did expand the perspective of it over the course of the years. We made significant progress to a point where we are able to say ; “I can’t bear to be at that place any longer, something is just too triggering”. 

Well, in this experience it’s not an object, or a situation. Rather, it’s a living thing. A human that triggers anxiety everytime we go into a simultaneous conversation. I’m going to name her Bonnie. 

How triggers sprout

I’ve met Bonnie a couple of years ago in my daughter’s school. Let’s just say Bonnie is an active parent, more than that, one of the PTA representatives. 

The first time I met Bonnie, it was during the parent-teacher conference. She was a friendly, high-spirited and attentive person. Day to day, she was actively engaged in phone group chat communication, ready to tackle every agenda in school. She was able to put every parent in class to join gatherings, collect fundraising for gifts and make sure that all were informed on class events. 

Then, months passed by. Then, a year. As I get to know her more on frequent and serious discussions about school assignments and other matters, things are starting to heat up. At this point we’re quite close. So close that she was comfortable enough to exposed her naked opinions, rather than just courtesies or small talks. 

And there it was, the triggerring moments. The timing during texting of which she didn’t let any gap for anyone at the end of the line to fill in. The competitive talk about “Annie got the highest score in math..” and subjective assumptions on how a student was raised by a single mom which she thinks definitely explains a student’s attitude.  

I keep questioning the shallowness of her thoughts despite of how sharp her knowledge and memory are. She was surely an intelligent woman. Her clackety click clack defensive mode on text, everytime I slipped in a criticism. But that, and her one-sided conversation, topped with shallowness every now and then, had gotten me very anxious. The level of sudden anxiety had grown so exponentially and so triggerring that I had to shut my phone and toss it.

What was it from her that can induce such unwelcome feeling in me? 

Trigger bears the warning of trauma

Was it trust issue? Or was it personal trauma ?  Both of it were included. But even more than that, people who triggered us, recalled a certain position of someone we held high in the past. Particularly, in years of growing up as a child. It can be the caregiver, teacher, an adult that plays a significant role in our family, or even a childhood friend. 

We’re summoning back past incidents that are seem trivial but as matter of fact takes deep effect. Incidents that are potentially wounding and left an emotional scar. The characters that scratches you in the past had features matched to the ones that triggers you in the present moment.

Maybe Bonnie resembles someone I held accountable in the past. I put her on a pedestal, unknowingly and unaware of the danger seeps through the window of my subconscious mind. The image of the past portrayed by the exchange between Bonnie and me in another form. The communication, or how she viewed me were expected to always be equal and accepting. That in any level, should never reach any disapointment.And when it happened, as it normally would on any given moment of any relationship, it crashes the instilled idealism. Triggered the trauma, anxiety, feelings of unworthy arise. 

How to manage the triggers

The easiest way I could possibly think of is of course stay away from that person. But in some social or work settings, it will be difficult. To manage, made rules of your own on how to deal.

  1. Taking a break

Take a deep breath, calm yourself, and pause. Even if you need a long hiatus from this person, do it. For the sake of first rescue it is completely okay. In the long run, a further theraphy like journaling your thoughts on how it usually happens and why, is important. Writing down what actually leads the triggers, and precise situation at that moment will resolve a clear answer and understand ourselves better. 

2. Don’t stare at them for too long

Believe it or not, eye is the window to your soul. It is an affirmation of someone’s existence. A reassurance that the person still lingers around. By reducing the volume of their image, you reduced them through physic that conjured to mind.

3. Stop investing time more than necessary

    It’s time to know when we can’t fight these triggering incidents, avoid spending too much time with them. One example is by limiting your encounter or the need to answer to them immediately from the beginning of conversation. Find ways to just be assertive when answering to their cues of arguments. 

    Author: Fraya

    A writer and entrepreneur with profound interest in humankind research and insights. An avid coffee drinker and book hoarder. Hours and days spent in Jakarta.

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