Safe spaces. Trigger Warnings. Trauma.
These words have been thrown around a lot. Many have denounced safe spaces, the use of trigger warnings, and even dismissed the occurrence of trauma. I disagree with those people. I think such a move is hasty and ought to, at the very least, be qualified. To throw those out would be to hurt those we should be trying to help. But at the same time, we need to denounce the snowflakes.
Let me explain the tension and the problem.
I wholeheartedly agree that many millennials have become so snowflakey, emotionally sensitive, and entitled to the point that even an ounce of disagreeing with their position will cause them to have a “traumatic” breakdown. The unfortunate and deeply saddening result of that is that the words like ‘trauma’, ’emotional health’, and ‘mental health’ have been negatively affected and hijacked by this hypersensitivity. The referents of these words are now associated with persons that do not properly fit the definition and essence of what the word, in its intended meaning, actually denotes.
To be clearer, let’s take the word ‘trauma.’ That word is used to refer rigidly to a specific experience. And this experience has been baptized with the word ‘trauma’. What has happened is the left, and these childish millennials, have taken words that appropriately describe a range of experiences and stages of a persons emotional development, and they have begun misusing and misapplying it so that the word ‘trauma’—or what have you—is lost in translation and its referent is lost: They have used it to describe how upset they are that a presidential nominee they don’t like became the president of the united states. They have used it to describe the “hurt” they have experienced by being told they are wrong and ought to rethink their positions. They have used it to throw a tantrum and describe their feelings of anger when things didn’t go their way.
The word ‘trauma’ has been slapped onto these referents as well, when in reality ‘trauma’ already has its referent picked out, and the new referents of the current use of the term do not satisfy the conditions to be considered the same kind of thing as the referent that has been originally rigidly designated.
They have applied it to these absurd situations and unjustified experiences so many times that it has acquired a bad connotation, and thus has gained that meaning. Therefore, the word, whenever heard, brings to mind these absurd consequences, leaving behind the voices of persons whose experience it actually does describe. So when those people try to share their true triggers and trauma, they aren’t taken seriously.
For instance, I have family and friends that have been victims of abuse and sexual assault. They actually have PTSD; they actually have triggers. They will see something, or hear something, that reminds them of their particular episode or the person involved in their experience, and they’ll break down in anxiety and fear. They do not choose to respond that way. It’s a very subconscious psychological response. Yet, the words ‘triggers’ and ‘trauma’ are being mocked because the snowflakes have, sadly, hijacked the word and attached ridiculous connotations to them because of their nonsensical actions.
The nonsensical actions of the snowflakes have, rightly, pissed off a lot of my conservative friends and myself. My friends, in response, have wanted to get rid of safe spaces. It has pissed them off because of the kind of culture these snowflakes are creating (and it’s much more than that, but I won’t spend my time going through all the effects), and it has pissed me off for those same reasons, and the additional reason that people with genuine trauma and psychological/mental deficiencies are having their resources, and language to describe their experience, taken away and mocked because some entitled little shits decided that their being under a president they don’t want has caused them to experience PTSD akin to that of a noble WWII veteran that stormed the beaches of Normandy during D-Day.
Safe spaces, originally conceived, are to protect people who legitimately have traumas and other types of emotional, psychological, and mental needs, especially people who are highly sensitive persons, a category that I fall into.
Walking the Tight Rope
We need to denounce the overtly sensitive, immature, and entitled children of America. But we also need to reach out and love those who need true emotional, psychological, and mental healing. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. By taking away safe spaces entirely, we are taking away real centers that assist those with real trauma and emotional/psychological needs, e.g., rape victims, victims of abuse, war veterans, etc. We are devaluing the help that real victims need to become fully flourishing. And sure, I admit, given the current culture, we need to rethink safe spaces and how they ought to work. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. But throwing it all out and mocking it, without qualifying what you are mocking, is hasty and uncharitable.
With that said, I will be the first to admit that the right has failed. First, we have given bad advice to people who have real needs, e.g., “toughen up,” “stop being a baby,” etc. That advice is not always sound. Someone with a real trauma should not “toughen up” and harden themselves. Nor are they being babies for feeling what they do. They need help and care from their community, church, and therapists. (With that said, this sort of criticism does meet the mark for those who are unable to maturely handle criticism and disagreement. But even then, there are better ways to communicate that idea to those people that need to “toughen up.”).
Second, and I think this is more a cultural problem as opposed to a problem of the right, the issue of mental, emotional, and psychological needs are not addressed as much nor taken seriously, and, consequently, we have not reached out enough to help.
While the left has faired better in terms of at least addressing the reality of those needs, they fall flat on their face by cutting off the very branch they are sitting on. What good is their addressing trauma when a twenty-four year old millennial gets a pass for thinking his “trauma” is on par with experiencing the holocaust? That person needs to be corrected, not pampered. The left, while addressing the issue, has ignored those they are attempting to help by assisting the snowflake that got upset she didn’t get an A on the exam she didn’t study for. To allow the snowflake to continue is to demean all those—war veterans, rape victims, holocaust survivors, etc—who have experienced trauma.
Here are some suggestions we can try to make as we try to address the snowflakes yet care for those who have real trauma.
First, clearly qualify and limit the scope of the dialog. Note that when we denounce triggers or traumas, we are pointing out that the snowflakes that are being “triggered” are not really experiencing a genuine trauma. Thus, we have a distinction between genuine and apparent trauma.
For instance, to be diagnosed with PTSD you have to have witnessed or experienced a life threatening experience or sexual assault. The DSM IV-TR definition says that it is a direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury; threat to ones physical integrity, witnessing an event that involves the above experience, learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death, or injury experienced by family memory or close associates. Memories associated with trauma are often implicit, pre-verbal, and cannot be recalled but can be triggered by stimuli from a similar environment. The person’s response to aversive details of traumatic events involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Now, here is the key: “while the causes and symptoms of trauma are various, there are some basic signs of trauma that you can look out for. People who have endured traumatic events will often appear shaken and disoriented. They may not respond to conversation as they normally would and will often appear withdrawn or not present even when speaking. Trauma often manifests physically as well as emotionally. Some common physical signs of trauma include paleness, lethargy, fatigue, poor concentration, and a racing heartbeat. The victim may have anxiety or panic attacks and be unable to cope in certain circumstances.”
The fact is that most of these people claiming trauma don’t show the symptoms associated with trauma. Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements: (i) it was unexpected, (ii) the person was unprepared, and (iii) there was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening. These “victims” don’t meet those elements at all. Thus, we can say that an apparent trauma is one in which the “victims” lack any of the elements associated with genuine trauma.
(See here. Also, here’s a little freebie just for fun: “Race-related stress is less likely to lead to PTSD symptoms for young adults that are strongly connected to or accepting of their ethnic culture.” What that means is that if I identify strongly with my ethnicity, and its associated culture and community, then I would be less susceptible to experiencing race-related stress and PTSD symptoms and traumas. Hmm…)
When dialoguing and denouncing, we need to be clear about what we are denouncing and why. To ignore making those dialectical moves is to give the impression that we don’t actually care about those with genuine trauma.
Second, we need to be behind those with genuine trauma. We need to support mental, psychological, and emotional health of persons as that contributes to the flourishing of human beings, something Aristotle and Aquinas are all for. All these, need to be rightly considered. We need to use discernment and treat people as needed.
Third, we need to embody virtue, charity, and understanding. Of course, this requires discernment in how we embody those virtues and what degree is required in what circumstances.
Fourth, we need to stand in truth and defend it.
In essence, we need a Christian response. We need the Jesus who, in outrage, flipped the tables in the temple. But we also need the Jesus who dined with sinners, and extended his hand to the adulterer. We need the Jesus who said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We need to seek holiness and goodness. And we need to love our Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves.
And this is not meant to be exhaustive. There is a lot more that needs to be done, and I don’t have the space or the brainpower at the moment to list it all and draft it. But getting rid of safe spaces and trigger warnings wholesale isn’t the wisest move. At minimum, those institutions should be changed and improved.
The Left Is Not Your Friend
The left has created this culture. This culture of thought is what led to the hijacking of these concepts and words. The hijacking of these concepts and words is what is drowning out the voices of real victims and real people with mental, emotional, and psychological needs. The left has drowned out their voices. As such, the left isn’t your friend. They don’t care about the voices of trauma victims. They don’t care about truth. They don’t care about the flourishing and healing of human beings. Instead, they’ve actually drowned those out with their bullshit.
 See pages 614-615 of Lillian Polanco-Roman, Ashley Danies, and Deidre M. Anglin, “Racial Discrimination as Race-Based Trauma, Coping Strategies, and Dissociative Symptoms Among Emerging Adults” in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 2016 American Psychological Association 2016, Vol. 8, No. 5, 609–617.