rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Feb. 14th, 2012 10:42 am)
I have four papers due on Monday, and my brain is stuck in psychology-mode. My apologies for the repeated delays, but book posts will probably not go up till after.
rachelmanija: (Gundam Wing: Sane against the odds)
( Feb. 14th, 2012 11:27 am)
This is about triggers in the technical sense, of the "cues" mentioned by the DSM-IV in its criteria for PTSD: "intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event."

I have a much more detailed explanation of triggers here. (Warning: uh, triggery in that it contains descriptions of PTSD and abuse.)

In LJ/DW culture, people often use "trigger" in a much more colloquial sense, to mean "a thing which is upsetting/disturbing/unpleasant." But in the technical, trauma-related sense, this is what a trigger is:

Triggers are not merely upsetting in general. They are things which bring back memories or feelings associated with trauma.

Triggers are highly, highly idiosyncratic. (There are exceptions to this, which I'll get into in a moment.) They don't have to directly relate to the general nature of the trauma. In fact, they are at least as likely to relate to some random thing associated with the trauma, not with the nature of the trauma itself.

For instance, a person who was raped in a car would be at least as likely to be triggered by hearing the song which happened to be playing on the radio during the rape, or by the feel of a vinyl car seat, as she would be by fictional depictions of rape, discussions of rape, or the word "rape." (Some people, of course, do end up triggered by all fictional depictions of rape, etc. I'm just saying, not all people, not always.)

I suspect that the reason for this is that "rape" is a very general thing. But a specific trauma is specific. A fictional rape may bear very little resemblance to one's real rape, and so not touch off any specific memories. But the song, the vinyl seats, the smell of the man's cologne, and so forth, are real things which get burned into the very cells of one's brain, and the fibers of one's nervous system. They may bring up reactions which happen before you even know why you're reacting.

ETA: Forgot about the exceptions to the "idiosyncratic" thing. There's two big categories of those:

1. Most people whose traumatic reactions reach the level of diagnosable PTSD will be physically triggered by sudden loud noises and unexpected touch. It has to do with how our nervous systems are wired. Those things are inherently startling, and if your startle reflex is cranked up past a certain point, inherently startling things will provoke the same level of physiological/emotional reaction people normally have when, say, someone suddenly leaps out of a dark alley and sticks a gun in their face.

2. When similar sorts of traumatic things happened at the same time, in the same space, to large groups of people, you can take a pretty good guess at what triggers will affect many or most of them simply by looking at notable features of the trauma or the area in which it took place. For instance, some insensitive landscape designer stuck a bamboo grove on the grounds of the Veteran's Administration. Unsurprisingly, you can tell who the Vietnam vets are by which ones are taking a very wide path around the bamboo. In the unlikely event that burning papers start fluttering down from the sky, the people who have very strong reactions are probably the ones who were present in New York during 9/11.

End ETA.

People often warn me about fictional depictions of child abuse. I am not triggered by that, or by fictional anything. I was tied up and abused. I'm not bothered by rope bondage in fiction. (Feel free to rec me rope bondage in fiction!) But I did have something trigger me yesterday, and I'm writing it up because it was such a great example of how triggers actually work - and can be dealt with.

Cut for length; also, kind of navel-gazey. )

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