Correction. It’s been decided that “trigger” is triggering for people with trauma histories. We must now use the term “content warning.” Apparently, just the thought of a potential trigger is triggering, so now it’s content warning. That is, until “content” becomes triggering. TAKE YOUR MOOD STABILIZER WARNING?
Do you know who becomes unhinged when faced with uncomfortable emotions, criticism, conflicting ideas (i.e., cognitive dissonance) and difficult truths about themselves, others and life?
Emotionally unstable people.
It’s not that emotionally stable people (this includes emotionally stable people who have an actual PTSD diagnosis) don’t have emotional responses to reading or viewing materials about abuse, racism, rape, genocide or feeling marginalized or unheard. It’s just that we don’t make our feelings the responsibility of the world and all its inhabitants. My feelings, my responsibility. Her feelings, her responsibility. His feelings, his responsibility. Your feelings, your responsibility.
Emotionally unstable people often expect others to accommodate their issues. When their emotional issues aren’t enthusiastically coddled without complaint they can get real nasty — blaming, shaming and name-calling. Expecting the world to accommodate one individual’s emotional hypersensitivities is bonkers and usually completely one-sided. Anyone who’s been in a relationship with a narcissist, borderline, histrionic, psychopath, paranoiac or other abusive personality will recognize these attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
Stop Start Walking on Eggshells
Trigger warnings, which have become obligatory in media and college campuses, really, really bother me — in case you couldn’t tell. Just reading or hearing the term trigger warning induces an extreme eye roll with an an ocular wind up. Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of adults needing trigger warnings to discuss sensitive topics, why is it so bothersome?
In classic domestic violence literature, abusers are triggered by some internal or external stimuli, and an abuse episode ensues. The trigger can be anything. You only replied to 73 of the 89 text messages your abuser sent in a 2-hour window during the workday. Or, your abuser is feeling bored and manufactures a conflict for the drama. In turn, victims learn the narcissist or borderline’s known triggers in order to avoid more abuse. This practice is commonly referred to as walking on eggshells. Once upon a time, not walking on eggshells was a healthy goal for the spouses and family members of personality disordered individuals.
There’s even a very popular book called Stop Walking on Eggshells that was written about it. In fact, walking on eggshells was considered a symptom of being in an abusive relationship by most domestic violence groups.
This doesn’t appear to be the case anymore.
Nowadays, many mental health professionals advise abuse victims of the personality disordered to practice radical acceptance, or accommodate the emotionally unstable person. Basically, you accept that the disordered person is disordered and you, therefore, stop taking their abuse personally.
This is backwards thinking.
You can radically accept that abuse will be a recurring part of that relationship, or you can end the relationship, figure out why you were willing to tolerate abuse and make healthier relationship choices moving forward. The onus needs to be on the unstable person to learn how to manage or regulate their emotions, not the other way round. We can’t do the work for someone else.
People who take responsibility for their issues, like PTSD, don’t expect others to take responsibility for their issues. It’s an integral part of healing and recovery. People who don’t take responsibility for their issues, usually have the unreasonable expectation that other people do so for them. That’s called enabling.
Emotionally unstable people can be triggered by differing political ideologies, carnivores, restroom signs and objective reality. Many emotionally unstable adults are triggered by the reasonable expectation that they conduct themselves as mature, responsible adults.
There’s probably someone with borderline personality disorder reading this right now who may be feeling bad. They may feel bad enough and mad enough about feeling bad enough to post a nasty comment to let everyone know they feel triggered. They may even email me directly to let me know they feel triggered. For some reason, diagnosed narcissists and psychopaths never contact me about their feelings.
If you have a personality disorder and don’t behave in the ways described here and elsewhere, that’s wonderful. Your family and friends are most fortunate. However, there’s an incredibly high percentage of personality disordered individuals who do abuse their partners and families. That’s the target audience. It’s not about you. Feel better?
If not, your feelings and how you manage them (or don’t manage them) aren’t my responsibility. They’re your responsibility.
That’s what’s most vexing about trigger warnings. It’s the social mandate that we all walk on eggshells, so the emotionally unstable don’t have to deal with their uncomfortable emotions and anything else that sets them off. And there’s the fly in the ointment.
Anything can set them off.
What was okay on Monday might set them off on Thursday. You practice radical acquiescence (i.e., yessing them to death) to avoid conflict, and eventually they rage at you for being so damned agreeable. Walking on eggshells is no-win for you and win-win for Crazy. Tiptoeing around their triggers is a win, and so is raging at you when you trip one of their triggers. Health and reason mandate that we stop walking on eggshells.
Walking on eggshells is backwards logic and backwards behavior whether it occurs in an intimate relationship or on a larger social scale. It affords lunatics the run of the asylum. It also puts the burden on the emotionally stable, which I can’t emphasize strongly enough, is backwards thinking. If you’re working hard not to trigger your narcissistic or borderline spouse, the wrong person is doing the work. It’s their responsibility to manage their feelings and behavior.
Feeling bad about ourselves doesn’t feel good. Pretty profound, huh? Nevertheless, feeling bad about ourselves is often a necessary catalyst to making healthy changes. Walking on eggshells and trigger warnings cocoon emotionally unstable abusers from reaching a level of discomfort for change to be possible, if it’s even possible. It isn’t in many cases due to the nature of personality disorders.
People who need trigger warnings to get through each day without having a successive series of emotional meltdowns don’t want to dwell in reality and make it difficult for those of us who do. It’s unrealistic and self-absorbed to expect others to tiptoe around their feelings and emotional reasoning lest they experience the tiniest scintilla of personal offense or emotional discomfort.
Someone who goes into emotional tailspin or full-on crisis from reading a blog post doesn’t need a trigger warning. They need professional offline help, so that they don’t go into emotional tailspins when reading blogs.
Indulging in trigger warnings and walking on eggshells only serves to enable more of that insanity and lack of personal responsibility. Refusing to play along may likely end the relationship or enrage some Internet citizens, but that’s a healthy outcome if the emotionally unstable person can’t or won’t grow up.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries.
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