tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (work)
[personal profile] tim
I used to think that arguing on the Internet was a way of procrastinating, and that if I got into an argument it would distract me for the rest of the afternoon because hey, I'm a lazy procrastinator. Now I'm not so sure. I don't want to appropriate the language of triggers, because I'd rather leave that for the people who actually have PTSD (and I'm not one of them, as far as I know). But I am tempted to appropriate it because I'm not sure how else I can talk about the physical effect on me that it has when someone makes a boundary-crossing remark (usually not personally directed at me, but at a group I'm part of, for example); I engage because it's my reflex to; and they respond by shitting all over boundaries even more so. It's a heart-racing, dreading-opening-up-the-next-reply but doing it anyway and then it just gets worse kind of thing. And then I either stay in the argument, or do other equally non-productive things because my ability to focus on anything else is ruined for the next few minutes, the next few hours, or the whole day, depending.

Knowing what I know now, I'm less inclined to explain it in terms of conscious mechanisms (I don't want to do work -- or I don't want to go to bed -- so I procrastinate by seeking out wrong people on the Internet so I can tell them they're wrong) and more inclined to explain it in terms of subconscious mechanisms. Except I don't know how the latter work, or how to talk about it, or whether that even applies to me because my mental health is "not that bad". This doesn't tend to happen to me when arguing about anything work-related, and it doesn't even always happen when arguing about politics. That, I think, has less to do with the content, and more to do with how invalidating the other person is being (which is why the Mozilla code of conduct discussions ruined my ability to do much work for a few weeks -- but that's another post I'm still writing); while there are some technical communities where emotional invalidation is common in technical discussions, I'm fortunate to be in one that's not like that. (It's happened a few times in work-related discussions at places where I used to work; essentially hasn't happened in those discussions in the past year, though.)

I don't recall being actively invalidated or dismissed as being a big part of my early life (although being ignored sure was). I'm almost tempted to posit some sort of collective memory shared by abuse survivors that would explain why it's so upsetting to me to feel like I'm actively not being listened to or not being heard (when someone replies to what they think I said, or to what I represent in their mind, rather than what I said), when I don't have clear memories of having experienced that early on in life. Then again, there's a lot I can't remember.

Does anyone have ways of explaining / thinking about this kind of thing that doesn't step on anyone else's feet? I'm not sure any of this is even understandable; hi.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-14 02:31 am (UTC)
gramina: Photo of a stalk of grass; Gramina references the graminae, the grasses (Default)
From: [personal profile] gramina
I'm not entirely sure I understand what you're looking for, but I wanted to say that feeling invalidated and having your boundaries (especially your expressed boundaries!) violated is in and of itself distressing. I don't believe you need to have a history of injury to object to people kicking you in the shins, basically, and if you've pointed out that those are your shins and they keep kicking, you're particularly reasonably distressed.

I don't know if that addresses what you're talking about here, but I know I sometimes feel like I need some kind of justification for objecting to shin-kicking directed toward me, and I've learned that I don't. It's wrong in the first place.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-14 06:00 am (UTC)
juli: hill, guardrail, bright blue sky (Default)
From: [personal profile] juli
Well, I'd say that trigger is a mechanical descriptor that's useful everywhere it's useful, which is certainly not limited to PTSD. Experiences like the ones you're describing are nearly-universal; everyone does things like send off a nasty E-Mail or reply to a nasty E-Mail or get into a confrontation where they're on the one hand amped up to reply to the next thing, and on the other hand terrified and debilitated, and on some other hands some other things.

As for why some of those experiences are more intense than others, the subconscious side of things might be explored by looking at where in the past you've felt that same feeling in a situation that was different, or when you've felt differently in situations that were similar. What's going on in you and in your environment and in the situations that you respond to? That doesn't require getting into any kind of breakdown into syndromes and pathology and whatever, but still can help isolate (as you're doing here) what the operant factors might be.

For me it's worst when I feel like it really matters in an immediate way. When I had more abuse-type crap floating around in my head that I wasn't dealing with, I felt very much like something bad was going to happen to me, by way of the other person, like they had some tremendous power over me. And they did, so long as I was stuck in that way of engaging the situation. Now, it's interactions with authority figures who seem to be acting arbitrarily, adversarially, etc., such that it seems like I really do have to fight or fly, because there really can be consequences.

Not everyone sees those consequences, because not everyone has the experiences from which to know how those situations can play out. Not everyone has a visceral sense of what might happen next, or how much it might matter. Or, they might, but only in other areas. I find that to be the worst shit, when people implore me to not get "bent out of shape" who don't know how wrong it can be. And where my sense of wrongness is not just my shit, but a real quick-read of the situation. And then they're continually blindsided when dicks continue to cause trouble in their lives and sort of wonder where it came from, but still dismiss my intensity in the instants where I feel like I can actually interrupt the cycle of shitlordery, or at least get the other side to show their cards in a way other people can make sense of.

I don't know if that's helpful.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-14 12:05 pm (UTC)
skud: (Default)
From: [personal profile] skud
No real answers, but a big "me too" to most of this. I, too, have wondered whether "triggering" is the right term to use, but have come to the conclusion that anything that can send me into an anxiety spiral that disrupts the rest of my day (or longer) counts.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-18 07:53 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
As someone who has PTSD, it's annoying when people say that they're "triggered" when they're pissed off. I think people don't realise that anger is a normal human emotion and it's unpleasant to experience and that there's nothing actually wrong with you if you get angry enough to have an unpleasant afternoon or evening, but that maybe it's not quite right to appropriate the language of PTSD to describe the fact that you read a piece of fanfiction in which someone cheated, and having been cheated on in the past, it brought up a lot of bad memories, but you were still able to function. I may have even told some person who seemed rather privileged to me at the time that it wasn't quite right for her to use that language for that particular situation.

The thing about triggers is that you don't actually always get conscious memories when they're tripped. There was an exchange on a TV show that was so exactly like an exchange my mother had several times, and after I watched it I became hyperactive and anxious and wound up and unable to think clearly, but the exchange actually seemed really normal to me and I remember being surprised that other people thought it was abusive, which it certainly was, and later when I realised that I felt weirdly gratefully vindicated. But in the moment I was angry that people didn't think relationships happened like that all the time, and I couldn't figure out why I was so very upset, and why I wanted to hide and to snap at people and was afraid to go to bed. My best friend had to tell me that I was exhibiting all the signs of having been triggered, and she was right. I was freaking out because just observing two other people have that same exchange on a TV screen in a program I knew had been filmed months earlier and hundreds of miles away had sent all the right signals to my subconscious mind that I was in danger and flooded my entire body with adrenaline, so that when my mother (whom I haven't seen since 1991) turned on me I'd be ready for whatever she did. I wasn't angry; I wasn't even conscious of how scared I was. I was just...ready for combat.



PTSD doesn't always or even usually come from a single definable incident. It can--people can develop it after being raped, or mugged, or having a single intensely traumatic experience--and I'm certainly not denying that their PTSD is real PTSD. But often people have PTSD because they were in a combat situation that went on for a while, a really long while, like a war, or a sexually abusive relationship, or in my case, an emotionally abusive and sometimes physically abusive family of origin coupled with horrific bullying in school.

For people who are multiply oppressed under the kyriarchy, I think that ordinary life must be kind of like a combat situation. The constant microaggressions, the knowledge that you can't just directly ask for what you need and expect to get it, that you can't trust people, that even people who seem likable and trustworthy and friendly may turn on you when they discover "it" (whatever your "it" is) or stop acting like "a credit" to the group they think you're an exception to, that you are more likely to get mugged or raped or murdered...how different is that from being in a war zone, really?

So. I think that low-level PTSD is probably really common in people who have to live in a world that tries to erase their existence and destroy them. And if any trans person ever told me that they thought they might have PTSD simply as a result of having to live in a world where trans people are treated like shit all the time as a matter of course, I would absolutely believe that person.

I don't know if you were triggered or not. But what I do know is that while a lot of people misuse the word to mean "something really pissed me off" or "something brought up bad memories that I was consciously able to process but it upset me for a long time and that's got to be the same, right?" there are also a fucktonne of people who have PTSD and don't know that they have it. I still remember the first time a psychiatrist sat me down and explained to me that even though I hadn't had some of the experiences I thought at that time that you had to have had to "really" be an abused child, he still thought that all of the stress and trauma I had experienced growing up had affected my brain chemistry and neurology possibly permanently, and that there was nothing wrong with it if I needed to take medication for that because processing it all was just making me a very insightful and well educated anxious person who was not able to work or take proper care of herself.

Before this we had talked a lot about paranoid ideation but the thing is that my childhood was an environment in which believing that most people did not have my best interest at heart was a good strategic and survival adaptation. Or in other words, "you're not paranoid if they're really out to get you", and one of the things that makes PTSD hard is trying to learn how to live in a world that is NOT out to get you (if you leave an abusive situation or come back from the war or whatever).

But I think it's even harder if you never get to leave, because the whole world is your war.


Sorry, a depressing comment is hardly an introduction. I came over here to see who you were because I'm a friend of [personal profile] vaurora and I read that you weren't meeting interesting people in SF so I decided to come take a look at what you had going on. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-24 07:14 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I don't think PTSD is ever "minor" but I do think there are degrees of impairment when it comes to functionality; for instance, there are people who can't work because of their PTSD, and you and I both hold down jobs. That's what I meant by "low-level"; not that it isn't a completely serious mental illness, but rather that there are people who can function in the working world and manage their lives despite the impairments, and there are also people who can't.

'Suffice it to say, it's an "It wasn't that bad... but I know you're not supposed to compare and contrast your experience with that of more-traumatized friends... but no really, it wasn't that bad... but why do I feel like I have to minimize it?" sort of thing. Which I gather is fairly common.'

That's more or less exactly how I feel about mine. It doesn't seem nearly as terrible as things that have happened to other people I care about (even though some of those folks are more functional and less obviously damaged than I am, in some cases), and I want to minimise it, but when I see things on TV that look normal to me, other people are pretty horrified sometimes, and I have at least one friend who can't read some of the fiction I write because the family dynamics I write between people who like each other much better than my family does upset her too much!

I've done a lot of thinking about why I want to minimise things and not admit that I am still suffering from injuries that were done me by people who certainly don't think about me very much any more, and I've come to the conclusion that for me, at least, it's a way my mind has of protecting me from feeling how terrifyingly powerless I've been and could be again, so that I don't sit there wibbling about it but rather take the actions I need to take to prevent it, even if I do reload Dreamwidth 18 times when I feel freaked out by choices I have to make or things people said to me.

That may or may not be helpful for you but it's something to think about?

And thanks for your reply--I know it can take a while to formulate a reply to something like this from a near stranger, but at the same time, I was a little worried that I'd offended you!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-26 05:27 am (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
It is STILL a shock and a surprise to me sometimes that people like their parents. (Well, I do like my father. But he changed and apologised.)

Also I have found that I can be manipulated by people who have actually been real shits to their families if I am not careful; I had an ex who played the abusive parents card for all it was worth only to find out after we broke up that he had abused his sister and that was why his parents had a problem with him.

And so with you on internalised self-sabotage.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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