Archive for November 28th, 2008

For those of you who are new to the online world of adult survivors of child abuse, you might wonder what a trigger is. A trigger is anything that can cause a child abuse survivor to have a flashback, whether it is visual flashback, emotional flashback, body memory, or other form of reaction. Whenever someone writes something that could be triggering on a message board for child abuse survivors, it is courteous to add a trigger warning, which looks something like this:

***** sexual abuse triggers *****

Of course, you cannot always anticipate what might trigger another person. For example, I get triggered by Russian nesting dolls, but I have never met another person who does. I inadvertently triggered another person one time by using the words “I know” too many times in a message. Another time, I triggered someone by advising her to “show compassion” to herself. While the word “compassion” is very healing for me, the word was misused by her abusers, and so it was very triggering for her to read.

However, there are some things that are obvious triggers, so you should include a trigger warning whenever you talk about them online. For example, whenever you share explicit details about the abuse you suffered, you should always include a trigger warning at the top. That way, if another child abuse survivor is in a bad place, then he or she can make the decision about whether to continue reading or not.

Some child abuse survivors are triggered by anything of a religious nature. For this reason, even if your post is extremely positive, you should always include a religious trigger warning if you include religious content so that those who might be triggered can choose not to read your post.

It helps to be specific about the type of triggers to come. For example, I am not triggered by religious content. So, if I am in a bad place, I might miss out on something very helpful if someone posts a generic trigger warning without identifying that it is religious in nature.

Some people are triggered by profanity or sexual content but not other forms of child abuse. So, being specific helps the reader to make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed.

What’s really nice about trigger warnings is that, once you have posted one, you can feel comfortable in spilling out whatever it is you need to get off your chest. When I was in the early stages of healing, it was really important for me to share every little detail. It helped make it real, and it helped me to know that others who responded really “got it.” If they did not reject me after knowing all of the details, I knew that I would be okay. If I held back, then I might have the insecurity of not knowing whether more information would change the advice.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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