On Trigger Warnings, False Claims of ‘Cut Off Culture’ and Finding Our Boundaries

In this post I speak from my own experiences growing up in an abusive home, and later abusive relationship. I am by no means the lone voice on this subject, or the way to approach it. Because I will also delve into spirituality let me be explicit: religion is not the answer to coping with abuse. Yes it is part of my work, but I do not assume my path is everyone’s. What I want to speak more to is how we must find the ways to affirm our personal choices and respect other’s. Also note, I will be using DoNotLInk for any articles in this post because I do think a lot of this is click-bait.

Last week there was a www.slate.com ‘article’ about the use of Trigger Warnings on Twitter. Actually it was more specific – the article was not addressing some big trend on twitter, interviewing several folks on their use and explaining their decision. The post also didn’t broaden to larger topics such as the choice of academia to begin to use trigger warnings. Instead the post seemed to isolate on one person (the writer Jessica Luther)’s choices of using TW and micromanage their use of twitter. Then, today the writer Meghan Murphy fullcomment.nationalpost.com likened trigger warnings in academia to censorship (thus my assumption that this is all ‘clickbait’).

I follow Ms. Luther (@scATX) and I had noticed she had used the TW before during, and after the series of tweets. Because of the head-space I was in at the time reading those tweets I just skimmed past them. Mentally I might have made a note to consider the use of ‘TW’ in my own posts… but at no time had I thought her posts was anything more than providing a heads up to those of us who found certain things really painful.

For a moment, let me be explicit about that pain. In the late 90s, when I had only a cursory knowledge of feminism, and began realizing I was in a really toxic situation I had my first experience with art that triggered me. I was watching the movie Sling Blade and a scene in that movie (which I can no longer remember, thankfully) had me paralyzed. It was not that I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t just feel ‘sad’ or ‘disturbed.’ It was that I felt trapped, sick, my heart palpitated and I did not know what to do. I felt like a small trapped animal. While I was at the time living in a pretty horrible situation with a partner who was the opposite of compassionate, that scene took me back to some childhood memories that weren’t buried – but did not to be relived. Now I enjoy movies that have a lot of depth, and character development, and gravitas. At the same time I avoid anything that is going to make me feel the way that Sling Blade was, especially on days I am already taxed. It is why I don’t do roller coasters – I have panic attacks already, I’m not going to sign up for that gross drop in the stomach feeling – it isn’t fun for me.

I view ‘Trigger Warnings’ wherever I happen upon them as a bit of a heads up, so that I can then decide ‘do I proceed.’ Last year I took a class on Domestic Violence. The whole coursework was upsetting, but my professors specific trigger warning about some audio of a DV police call helped me prepare for listening to the recording. Today, related to this dismissal of a tool that some victims/survivors use to navigate the world I saw float across twitter a medium.com post from November of last year where a man is claiming that a partner who no longer wanting to converse with him is part of a larger ‘cutoff’ culture. I read more than half of it, and then had to increasingly skim over his words as they too much mimicked the same arguments my abusive ex made. When he and I broke he refused to respect my wishes that we not talk anymore, dragged on the process of us settling bills, and the exchange of items out of each other’s new residences and he refused to stop coming into my work saying it wasn’t fair that our break up meant he couldn’t buy music where he wanted (this is after we had to call the cops on him). At every turn when I would state a boundary, or a need – he would explain to me how that need hurt him because of his feelings, his childhood, his lack of support system. I was apparently not only responsible for my own life, but all of his as well.

I spent a long time having either all of the boundaries, or no boundaries at all. This culture’s gendered assumptions of what is expected of me (or what a friend describes as being the ‘emotional hostess of a room’), my childhood, and early romantic relationships all discounted my need for boundaries. I’ve inhabited a lot of spaces that have helped me recognize this pattern, and reclaim the space I too often give up. The work I have been doing lately has been focused on recognizing my center – taking care of my own emotional well being and connecting that to whatever boundaries I need, and whatever space I am taking up. Recognizing a need for stillness in meditation in the morning, solo-runs, and quiet time after stressful activity like Clinic Defense, has helped me access my needs for boundaries, and be more open and less guarded when I want.

I was just tired today after reading that medium piece. I was tired to the bone – of all of the ways I see others question the very real need for boundaries some of us voice. The lyrics from the most recent Tori Amos album (the title track Unrepentant Geraldines) was echoing about my head today:
I’m going to free myself from your opinion…
I’m going to free myself from your aggression…

So let me plainly state it, as I see it:
There is no fucking cut-off culture. If someone doesn’t want to speak to you anymore, it can hurt – but they are not responsible for your unresolved feelings, no matter how much time you ‘give them.’ Similarly, individuals who provide context that an article, or movie might be triggering to someone because of its theme are not performing an act of censorship. There are those of us, who are using our words, and whatever other means are at our disposal to say ‘stop right there.’ And that – needs to be respected.

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