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.
Short version: 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.
if youre comfortable, telling the person those things upset you (w/o guilting them for having emotions) could make it easier for you to work around it, maybe w/ their help
Yes, there are situations in which talking to them could be helpful; sometimes it is possible to work out things everyone involved can do to make things work.
It’s definitely important to acknowledge that the solution can’t be for that person to just stop being angry or depressed. It doesn’t work that way.
That said – I think that telling someone you’re being triggered by something they do is inherently likely to result in them feeling guilty. In particular if it’s something that they don’t much like about themselves.
There isn’t any way of bringing up this kind of problem that can reliably avoid the other person feeling guilty or ashamed. So, if they feel really guilty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong in bringing it up.
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 someone is using your triggers to disorient and confuse you, it’s confusing. It can take a long time to figure out what’s going on.
Here are some things I think are red flags:
If someone seems to like you more when you’re triggered than when you’re in control, something is seriously wrong
- For instance, if a therapist only listens to you when you’re sobbing and otherwise acts as though you couldn’t possibly understand anything about yourself
- Or when a friend suddenly finds you fascinating when you’re triggered and they’re supporting you through it, but they half-ignore you most of the rest of the time
If someone feels entitled to discuss triggering subjects with you (absent an immediate practical reason to), something is seriously wrong:
- For instance, if you say that you’d rather not discuss dogs right now because it’s triggering and you’re close to the edge already, and they say “but I thought we were friends! How can you shut me out like that?”
- Or if a therapist tells you that you’ll never get better unless you are willing to discuss once again, in graphic terms, the ways people abused you – and they refuse to say, help you figure out whether the medication you are taking is working, or whether the side effects are dangerous, unless you do this over and over
If you end up triggered every time you try to reject personal advice, something is seriously wrong:
- For instance, if someone regularly wants to tell you how to dress, and every time you try to wear something different, they push you until you end up sobbing and apologizing, something is wrong
- This is particularly the case if they’re always bringing triggering things into a conversation that didn’t need to have anything to do with them
- Your desire to wear a red hat rather than the blue on they want you to wear is probably because you want to wear a red hat
- It’s very unlikely that it’s because you have no perspective on clothes because your abusers damaged you
- And even if that was the reason, it would still be ok for you to prefer a red hat, and wrong for someone to try to force you to wear a blue one by triggering you