Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings (Sort of Rant)

The current use and, ultimately, abuse of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”makes little sense in today’s social environment. While colleges are adopting standards that cater to this mentality as well as certain portions of the interwebs, those advocating it are mocking mental illness and the mentally ill. I haven’t figured out if this is deliberate or not (or simply stupidity). Unfortunately this crap is starting to bleed into normal interactions between each other and society at large.

In therapy, a “safe space” is created by your therapist so that you can openly talk about whatever is on your mind without risk of judgement. The therapist is not guaranteeing one’s safety from a meteorite hitting your head, having a stroke, or any other imagined horror. The point of the safe space is that you can go into the bizarre shit that is in one’s head and sort out what is or isn’t relevant to one’s situation.

The notion that one is free from any danger or criticism is not a safe space. This has more in common with heaven or a utopia. This definition of a safe space can not exist in real life. Evidence seems to suggest that this isn’t even something we should even try to actualize.  The more one tries avoidance strategies the more powerful one’s trigger becomes. In other words, you empower the very thing you are trying to avoid. This is the basis of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP is used to treat OCD. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) along with Exposure is used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Phobias are treated with Exposure.

The key ingredient in all of the treatments related to many anxiety disorders is the exposure element. Having studied quite a few anxiety disorders apart from my own, I don’t know of any treatment for anxiety disorders that doesn’t have an element of exposure at some point in the treatment. While on the surface this may appear cruel, the point of the therapy is to achieve extinction. The triggering event is either no longer feared or our tolerance to the stimulus has been increased and no longer gets in the way of living life. It doesn’t mean one is zonked and has achieved Nirvana. One may still feel some anxiety in certain cases, but the response will be measured and controlled by comparison to previous behavior.

Exposure therapy and its variants are part of a branch of therapies known as Behavioral Therapy and is usually coupled with Cognitive Therapy (CT) to make Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). One of the latest iterations of CBT is known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

What I am seeing, lately, is hysteria masquerading as compassion.

If something triggers you, do it till it doesn’t (obviously if something is illegal, endangers yourself or others or is ethically ambiguous don’t. You still have to use your noodle). When someone complains of PTSD from online harassment and/or twitter trolls, then you clearly and grossly misunderstood the nature of the internet.While it may be conceivable that “anything” can be traumatic (as that is in the eye of the beholder/experiencer), it is very unlikely twitter causes PTSD as millions use twitter without developing that condition.

If being confronted with ideas that are different from your own causes you anxiety, you should expose yourself to such ideas until you learn that said ideas will not hurt you. Going to college is a choice which many do not have. Going to Yale is especially prestigious, but with that video I feel that a Yale education is much ado about nothing at this point.

People can and will be assholes. People threaten and do bad things (online and in person). The way this person went about reporting their condition mocked those with PTSD whether she, in fact, had it or not. The way that student went about reporting their grievance was reminiscent of an infant’s temper tantrum. Whether the student has a mental illness or not, she mocked the mentally ill by invoking ideas of triggers and safe spaces with the intent of misusing these terms. The use of the term “trigger” is not to make the other person shut-up and a “safe-space” is not an ultimate danger free zone. But both of these individuals used these terms, co-opted if you will, to take advantage of society’s goodwill. It is one thing if one can’t help themselves and quite another when one won’t help themselves. We are responsible for our choices, our treatments and how we choose to be a member of society in whatever capacity we have. While I disapprove of mocking mental illness, in general, don’t be a hypocrite about it. Don’t say you are triggered when you really mean “shut-up” or this is a safe space if you really mean “don’t disagree with me.” It just sounds Orwellian to me, but then again, I’m just some fuckin’ crazy guy with OCD…amiright. Triggered…triggered…triggered.

One response to “Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings (Sort of Rant)”

  1. Ubi Dubium says :

    I’m going to have to say, I appreciate the idea of trigger warnings, although I prefer to see it presented more as a content advisory. Someone who is trying to desensitize themselves needs to be in control of how much of what upsets them they are exposed to, and the timing. Letting people know what’s coming puts them in control of their own exposure. If someone has, for instance, just spent a whole morning working on their issues, and has reached their limit for what they can stand for a day, we should give them the ability to avoid that subject until they are ready for their next session.

    I think it’s just common courtesy to give a heads up about possible upsetting content, so that people can make their own decisions. It’s way better than censoring your content.

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