26 August 2013

How to be an Ally for People with PTSD

Trigger Warning: Discussion of PTSD, abuse, violence, triggers, ableism, references to rape and the r-word

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I've posted this on behalf of an awesome friend of mine at their request. Ideas derive from direct and indirect input from various survivors and folks with PTSD. (For the record, it's the same awesome friend who gave permission to share "A Guide to Sighted Allyhood" and "How to be an Ally to Sick People.")

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How to be an Ally for People with PTSD

This is long, and deep. I recommend coming to this when you have a chance to really soak it in and reflect. This piece is also centered more on C-PTSD from ongoing trauma. I welcome perspectives from people with acute PTSD or one-time traumatic experiences.


BACKGROUND

All of us experience anxiety in some situations. Whether it's having to present in front of a huge audience, perform in front of a panel of judges, undergo surgery, or whatever, we all have moments in our life where we face (sometimes extreme) anxiety. However, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is what happens when someone's lived trauma (including but not limited to: combat exposure, natural disasters, abuse, rape, violence, medical treatments, torture, a near-death experience or other life-threatening event) leads to a chronic level of high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, being in a constant survival mode, and re-experiencing the traumatic event or emotions surrounding it (often called "triggers" and "flashbacks").

Complex PTSD or C-PTSD is frequent in people who have survived ongoing trauma where they could not escape, especially during childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse survivors, survivors of abusive cult rituals, or ongoing painful medical treatments. It includes a sense of broken trust, a loss of self, dissociation, and attachment issues. Many people with PTSD also have other anxiety disorders, depression, and chronic illnesses, because trauma tends to throw off the entire mind-body system. Since many people do not disclose having PTSD, and many people living with PTSD don't have an official diagnosis, you can't always rely on people telling you they have PTSD. Some ways to tell if someone MIGHT have PTSD is if they are often easily startled, jumpy, or on edge. If reading this seems to describe someone you know, it may be good to give them the benefit of the doubt and follow this advice, even if they don't have PTSD/ don't know if they have PTSD.

First & Foremost

PTSD is not a choice.

It is not a matter of will.

It is not a matter of being weak-minded.

PTSD is what happens when you've had to be strong in a time of intense suffering.

PTSD can happen to anyone who has lived through trauma. Life-threatening or soul-crushing trauma. Not small traumas where you fall, get up, and return to your sense of safety--Big Trauma, the kind of Trauma where you fall, and when you try to get up, there is no ground beneath you to even sit on. The kind of Trauma that shatters your entire perception of the world and the people in it.

Some research shows a genetic disposition, anatomical and physiological changes in the brain and brain chemistry, and points to other predicting factors that a trauma survivor will develop PTSD. If you are a Trauma survivor but don't have PTSD, consider other factors. You may have had a support system whereas another survivor didn't. You might have lucked out genetically. The point is, some people get PTSD and some don't. It's a common (but not universal) human response. It's not about seeking attention, being a drama queen, being hypersensitive, being stuck in the past. Something awful, or something in addition to what you've already survived could happen to you tonight and you could develop PTSD as a result.

First I will outline some practical tips, and then I will launch into explanations that give background context to why these tips are useful. It might be helpful to come back to these tips to understand them in their full context.



PRACTICAL TIPS

Trigger warnings

You can include a trigger warning for topics that are likely to cause distress. This is useful on Facebook, Tumblr, in a book or e-book, in an article, or any other text format. Here's what it looks like:

Trigger warning: rape culture
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[start talking about rape culture here]

The spacing and punctuation is intentional and is meant to off-set the triggering content from the warning. It gives survivors a chance to decide whether they want to face distressing content. If the content of a post seems to be borderline between potentially distressing and neutral, you can use "Content note" instead of "Trigger warning" so that you don't have to judge the level of potential distress. For example:

Content note: food and dieting

In in-person events, you can preface any stories or comments by saying "this might be triggering for some people" or "I plan on discussing torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center. If anyone wants to step out now feel free."

A specification of detail can be helpful too. For example:

Trigger warning: brief mention of rape
Trigger warning: discussion of rape culture
Trigger warning: detailed account of rape

Are all the same content, but to varying degrees.

Touch & Personal Space

Always ask for consent before touching someone or getting in their personal space. Establish which parts of someone's body they are okay to have touched, and what kind of touch is okay, and what amount of personal distance is okay. Ask every time. For example:

"Do you want a hug?"
"Is it okay if I lay down next to you?"
"May I touch your hand?"
"Can I play with your hair?"

If the person says no, or is very hesitant or unconvincing with their "yes", let it go.

Needless to say, all of this translates to the bedroom. In sexual intimacy, it is important to be VERY explicit about consent. Consent should be established for every new kind of sexual activity every time. This is especially crucial for sexual abuse survivors.

In long-lasting relationships you can establish norms.

Discussing Trauma

Leave it up to the survivor to reveal their story, how much, and in what way. For example, if you are sitting at a table with friends and the topic of Hurricane Katrina or Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy comes up, don't say "Oh yeah, Dave, didn't you go through ABA?" or "Oh yeah my friend here is a Katrina survivor." Respect a survivor's choice to tell their story on their own terms.

If someone asks for a topic change, respect that request. No questions.

As an Ally if you suspect someone is triggered, you can use these moments to check in in a discreet way. For example you can use a non-verbal cue or send a text message. If they indicate they are not okay, you can try to change the subject naturally: "Did anyone see that movie that just came out?" Making it into a big deal--"Let's not talk about Katrina; some people at this table have been through it"--can be embarrassing and awkward for the survivor. Try to keep it subtle.

Sometimes a survivor is triggered but wants to face it in the moment and use coping skills. Respect that choice too.

CONTEXT

Triggers & Flashbacks

You might have noticed a trigger warning at the top of this article. Triggers are sights, sounds, smells, feelings, words, ideas, thoughts, and situations that remind someone strongly of their trauma. Triggers are named so because they often trigger flashbacks, which is an intense re-experiencing of trauma or feelings around it. A flashback can range in intensity. A person having a flashback can experience anything from a tinge of fear to being fully convinced they are back in the traumatic situation. So, for example, reading the word "rape" in an online article might remind a rape survivor of when they were raped. The smell of beer might trigger flashbacks for a survivor if their attacker had beer breath during the attack. A loud sound or vibration might remind a combat or earthquake survivor of their trauma. Being belittled or dismissed in a conversation might trigger a survivor whose abusers belittled and dismissed them for years.

If someone's level of anger or fear seems disproportionate to the situation at hand, there is a good chance they are being triggered. As an Ally, you can remind yourself that this person is not only processing their present feelings, but also past feelings that they were never given the chance to acknowledge. When we are surviving trauma, we do not have the safe and nurturing environment to confront our feelings. Therefore, a survivor may have years of buried anger, fear, shame, and other intense emotions. Present-day situations may bring up these emotions. For example, if someone calls your friend a retard and your friend reacts by flying on the handle, it may be because they were called a retard for years growing up by the people who abused and hurt them.

If you suspect someone is triggered, telling them "oh you're just triggered" will not necessarily be received well. Sometimes when people trigger, they don't realize they are triggered. Some people recognize they are in the moment; some recognize it in retrospect; some never do. Each survivor is in a different place of healing and self-awareness.

Meet the person where they are in terms of their healing. If they acknowledge being triggered, you can too. If they deny it, recognize that they have not gotten to the point in their own healing yet to recognize it. It's easy to recognize from the outside looking in, but as the survivor, it requires stepping outside oneself, which is a pretty advanced stage in the healing process. Respect where they are at and do not place a value judgement on their healing process.

As an Ally you can validate this person's feelings. Recognize that it is the part of themselves that was hurt and traumatized speaking. Realize that it is about more than just Here and Now. It's not just about this small incident that happened--it's about much more. Recognize that even displaced anger can still be valid anger. Comfort the hurt part of that person. Do not belittle the person, argue technicalities, or try to push along their healing process. They will heal on their own timeframe, on their own terms. Support them at their pace, on their terms.

Note: This does not mean allowing or excusing abusive behavior. If a triggered person is being abusive, you are allowed to hold them accountable for their behavior. You should take measures to establish your own emotional boundaries and seek safety from abuse. That said, if you acknowledge the survivor inside them and comfort that survivor, oftentimes that dismantles the abusive behavior. It is their Inner Survivor begging to be heard and once heard, the need for self-defense often subsides.

Boundaries & Consent

When someone is in distress, our immediate reaction is to give that person a hug, or some kind of physical affection. So a lot of non-PTSD folks may be inclined to be physically affectionate when someone is triggered or having a flashback.

Establish consent before carrying out any sort of physical or emotional intimacy.

Many Survivors have had their personal boundaries, both physical and emotional, violated. Therefore, it is common for someone having a flashback or being triggered to NOT want physical contact.

It is also a common reaction for people with PTSD either to have non-existent boundaries or to set down concrete-wall boundaries. Many people with PTSD are still learning how to establish healthy boundaries and may set boundaries at both extremes before the pendulum swings towards the center.

Physical Boundaries--it is really important to ask a survivor if they want a hug or want to be touched. If they say "no", respect that request.

How much, where and the kind of touch can make a difference. Some people are triggered by forceful touch but not light touch, some people are just the reverse. Some people can handle touch in a quiet area, but in a busy or noisy area may not want to be touched. The presence of other triggers in the environment may affect someone's level of touch-aversion. It's also a good idea to be more explicit about respecting personal space in general. For example it might be considered nice but not necessary to excuse yourself if you have to reach over someone, but these small courtesies can have a whole other depth of meaning for people with PTSD.

If the person in question is in such distress they cannot express themselves clearly, check for signs. Does their body tense up when you touch them? Do they try to break physical contact after you've established it? Do they back up or look threatened when you approach them? These are signs they don't want to be touched.

Do they relax and seem calmer when you touch them? Do they reach out to initiate physical contact? Do they look comforted when you reach to hug them? These are signs they want to be touched.

Emotional boundaries--when a person is having a flashback, it is important to ask the person if they want to talk about it first. If they want to be left alone, respect that space. If they want to talk to someone else that is not you, respect that too. Many survivors have had their trust in people or situations severely tampered with and may be working on building up trust again. It's important not to force trust. If that person needs to turn to another person they trust more right now, or if that person feels they cannot trust anyone right now, give them that space. Do not take it personally. If a survivor does not trust you enough to talk to you about it, it has nothing to do with how trustworthy you are and has everything to do with them learning to build up trust again. As they heal, they will start to trust more.

Situational boundaries--it is a good idea to give survivors flexibility with getting out of a situation. For example, if you host a party and it turns out you've invited a survivor's perpetrator, find a way to either get rid of the perpetrator or at least minimize their interaction as much as possible. If a party has drugs and alcohol and your friend is triggered by drugs and alcohol, offer to leave with the survivor. If you want to go see a movie, and you know your friend is a veteran, mention if the movie contains lots of combat scenes. Give them a heads up and offer an out. If they express a strong aversion to something, don't pressure them into doing it. Respect their aversion and move onto something else.

It can be painful to be on the outside of a PTSD survivor who is going back and forth between being overly trusting and overly distrusting, setting no boundaries and then concrete-wall boundaries. This may bring up your own emotional history. In this situation, as an Ally, it is extremely important to take care of yourself too. Reach out to people OUTSIDE your relationship with the survivor to talk to. Seek your own support system as well. Respect your own boundaries and limits as well.

"So, what happened?"

Do not ask a survivor about their trauma. They will come to you about it if and when they are ready. If they never do, don't take it personally. Some survivors find it easier to express their trauma through other channels such as poetry, art, music, dance, etc. Confiding in loved ones is only one channel.

When a survivor comes to you about their trauma, this is an honor and a privilege. It means they trust you enough to be vulnerable. This is not the time to judge whether their trauma really happened, if it was really that bad, if they are exaggerating. This is not the time to fact-check or cross-examine them. Trauma can be hard to remember. Memories are can be confusing, fragmented, and hard to fully understand. Emotion distorts memory and the human mind is not perfect. A survivor might also be mixing up memories from two separate traumatic events or may be missing some pieces of the puzzle. Childhood memories may also be through the lens of a child's mind and therefore may make it hard not only for you, but for the survivor themselves to understand through their adult mind. Often memories are just as confusing for the survivor as they are for you.

This is not the time for unsolicited advice. Do not tell them "well you're the one who enlisted" or "your shirt was low-cut and you were drunk" or whatever other "explanation" you have. The trauma is not the survivor's fault. Do not victim-blame. It is either the result of bad circumstances (such as in the case of natural disaster) or the the fault of the perpetrator (the person who hurt them).

This is not the time to tell them about how you or someone you know lived through something worse. This is not the time to remind them of the starving children. The pain and suffering of other people does not lessen a survivor's pain. Playing Trauma Olympics serves no one and is an undercut way to dismiss or brush off the survivor's trauma.

Instead, take the survivor's story at face value. Trust the process. In listening to their story without judgment and with compassion, you help them in their healing process. You are not obligated to offer some golden nugget of wisdom. Just your presence, a lending ear, eye, or hand can work wonders. It is a privilege to be in this role and have the opportunity to show allyship in this way.

Keep in mind that PTSD is related to the person's own perception of what happened and their survival response during the trauma. In other words, even if, for example, a doctor told a cancer survivor they would die from the cancer, and they ended up surviving, they still need to process the emotions of having believed they were going to die.

This also means that two people could have survived the same traumatic event (maybe even together) but still have responded differently. Different survivors will be affected in different ways and to different degrees. That is because trauma does not exist in isolation--the person's life before the event, how they were able to respond to the event, and their neurology all factor into how their PTSD manifests now. Everyone is different. No two survivors are the same.

This is a live document and open to change. If you have PTSD or are a survivor, feel free to comment! I know I didn't cover everything there is to say on this topic, so please, please feel free to add whatever comes to mind.





20 comments:

  1. "PTSD can happen to anyone who has lived through trauma. Life-threatening or soul-crushing trauma. Not small traumas where you fall, get up, and return to your sense of safety--Big Trauma, the kind of Trauma where you fall, and when you try to get up, there is no ground beneath you to even sit on."
    I completely disagree with this, there are no small traumas, all traumatic experiences can cause PTSD. This kind of thinking is constantly used to invalidate survivors, ask anyone who survived emotional or verbal abuse, racist/ableist/homophobic/etc attacks. Even if we accept that there are small traumas and big traumas both can cause PTSD. This is complex so we should extra careful not to dismiss any survivor.

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    1. Disagreed. The very definition of PTSD includes that the trauma is outside the range of what would normally be experienced and included a real or perceived threat to one's own safety or to another person's. I don't think you're in any position to argue against every medical institution in the world about what IS and ISN'T PTSD.

      Being called a fatty or a fudgepacker can traumatize you, but it can NOT cause PTSD. It can make you feel hurt and depressed and anxious, but feeling traumatized by something and actually experiencing the level of trauma necessary to cause a permanent psychological injury is not the same thing.

      There are small traumas. I was bullied a lot in school for being gay. That hurt. It still hurts. But that's not what caused my PTSD.

      Finally, before you start claiming that people are invalidating "survivors," consider how much you're invalidating the experiences of ACTUAL survivors-- people who have survived, or lived beyond, something life-threatening-- by putting playground bullying and unpleasant experiences in the same category of trauma as witnessing a murder or being raped by a parent. It's incredibly insensitive to those of us who suffer from actual PTSD when someone pipes up with, "Yeah, I have PTSD too, because when I was a kid my mom made me feel bad about my weight."

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    2. Why do so many people with PTSD treat it like some kind of exclusive club? There's ample evidence to suggest that the persistent fear and anxiety resulting from "playground bullying" and racism/homophobia/fatphobia can cause PTSD. Look it up.

      As if it really matters: I was never bullied. I was raped. I would never want to hear that I can't have PTSD because it didn't happen at gunpoint -- so I respect that people can survive "lesser" traumas and still suffer the same awful symptoms.

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    3. The DEFINITION of PTSD from a medical perspective REQUIRES that t include a level of trauma significantly outside what would be considered normal. Bullying can leave lots of emotional scars, but it does not cause PTSD. How about asking a psychiatrist what PTSD is? It's not us saying that it's an "exclusive club." It's us acknowledging that it's a medical condition and not something that happens to every person who has ever had a bad thing happen to them.

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    4. Thanks for ignoring all but the first sentence of my comment. Or thanks for refusing to look up recent research that proves you wrong. Or thanks for being super obstinate. Whatever.

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    5. uh the DSM is far from perfect and creating concrete requirements just prevents people from getting help. It's like how you can't be diagnosed with Anorexia unless you're in a certain weight range, even though you have to be suffering from the illness for a long time before you reach that weight. And that entire time you don't have a diagnosis, so you can't get treatment. This is an unjustifiable requirement of diagnostic criteria. Also, experiencing longterm, constant anxiety is something the human body is not meant to experience and endure. This can wreak havoc on the individual's body AND mind.
      I have PTSD from experiencing longterm verbal abuse and it is very real. I have a formal PTSD diagnosis from a licensed medical professional, a psychiatrist (and a psychologist since that is what he studied as an undergrad and his MA before going to medical school.) ALSO, medical professionals are not exempt from the ability to perpetuate bigotry and ableism.

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    6. Just so you know, the current DSM does not require a certain weight to be DX'd with anorexia. The previous one did, but they changed it.

      PTSD actually requires experiencing or seeing a trauma or traumas that the person perceives as threatening life or threatening the integrity of life. That covers a lot of ground. What people perceive that way varies a lot from person to person, thus what can cause it may not seem like a big deal to one person, but may be huge to another. If the person who experienced it perceived it to be life threatening or to threaten the integrity of his/her life, and that person also has enough other symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, etc, that persist, then that person has PTSD regardless of how someone else might perceive what happened.

      The whole article is about how to be more supportive of people with the DX, and the judging that is occurring here is anything but supportive.

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  2. I just wanted to clarify--I by no means qualify verbal or emotional abuse, or oppressive behaviors of any kind, as a small trauma. (Unless people qualify those as such for themselves.) By small traumas I mean things that in the "eyes of the beholder" were not as traumatic. So you get to define how it affected you, period. If you yourself felt traumatized but not that heavily traumatized by something, then it's a small trauma. I will use myself as an example (since I can only speak to my own experiences and not others')--failing a math class. It was traumatic for me but not on the same level as the events in my life that caused my PTSD. Hope that helps clear things up. And maybe that for someone else would cause PTSD--but that isn't up to me to define--that's up to them. My later paragraph emphasizes that exact point--"Keep in mind that PTSD is related to the person's own perception of what happened and their survival response during the trauma." If emotional abuse or verbal abuse or oppression of some kind like racism or homophobia felt deeply traumatic to someone, then it's a Big Trauma. Period.

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  3. I'd add: Don't appropriate the term trigger, trigger does not mean "the mention of this makes me feel emotional", unless you have PTSD, something like feeling sad when reading something sad does not mean you're triggered, and for goodness sakes don't try to argue that Trigger warnings are unnecessary to people who have PTSD because you're "triggered" but "can cope just fine". I have actually had that argument with someone who did not have PTSD and who didn't get the massive difference between a trigger and an emotional reaction to something, needless to say I was very very pissed at them and even more pissed at the so-called allies who sided with them.

    Also: When people talk about abuse or trauma, then good allies believe them. Even if they're your worse enemy, you should believe them or at least say nothing if you cannot say "I believe you", saying you don't believe them? Not only hurts a survivor, it tells other survivors that they are unsafe in your presence.

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  4. Anon Aug 28 12:57 PM -- I know people who have PTSD from severe bullying from being gay. Playground bullying could cause PTSD...if it was really just abuse under another name.

    Each person's story is different. I totally agree that not every little thing can be considered traumatic and it's important for us not to belittle survivors by lumping everyone in with survivors. That said, I think it's also to remember that just because something didn't give you PTSD/wasn't the cause of your PTSD doesn't necessarily mean that's the case for everyone.

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  5. What do you do about people who claim to have PTSD but are extremely inconsistent and suspect about it. If you know a person who uses their PTSD to milk the government of money by going to school and receiving disability for their PTSD, dropping out at the end of the semester and only paying back a fraction of what they got (repeatedly). If they start claiming new and new things are triggers at their own discretion, when does respect and sensitivity open the door for people to abuse the kindness of others and the laws which are supposed to help people who truly struggle with PTSD?

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    1. Your comment informs me that you are unfamiliar with how difficult it is to get government aid when you have a disability (ESPECIALLY for a mental illness), since you seem to think someone without a disability can get it easily. Getting government aid for a disability requires exhausting levels of official documentation of your disability, and almost everyone is rejected on their first application. People don't apply for things like SSI and SSDI for fun or to "milk thr government." For someone without a disability, applying for a job and keeping it is much easier and faster than (and more lucrative than) applying for disability.

      In the case of dropping out of school, sometimes people with a disability overestimate what they are able to do and end up making mistakes. Sometimes people with a disability are in denial about it, until they're faced with a decision between failing multiple courses or dropping out. People make mistakes. Stop assuming you know what is going through a person's head when they haven't directly told you in detail about it.

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    2. Getting on disability was horrifying, triggering, and took years. I probably wouldn't have survived it without the emotional support that many other people do not have.
      I had to completely expose myself to total strangers, knowing that their job is to assume I'm "milking the system". I know a number of people with medically quantifiable disabilities who are unable to get on disability. I submitted my application knowing I would be denied, because the default is to deny a claim and make you spend years fighting for it.
      Many people end up not getting benefits simply because they could not handle the trauma of dealing with the system. I probably only succeeded because my documentation goes back to childhood and pretty clearly indicates an ongoing problem starting at an age where one is fairly certain I wasn't "milking the system."

      As someone who tried and repeatedly failed college (on my parents' dime, if that makes it ok /sarcasm), it doesn't mean that they are making it up. As Pianycist stated, they probably really think that 'this' time they will get it right. You go on new meds, you get new therapists, and the only way to know if it's working is to risk failure. If you're someone who doesn't wear at the edges until the end of a semester, which is how it worked for me, then you really cannot know until the end of the semester what is going to happen. In my case, there was also a healthy dose of feeling like a failure and feeling pressure (real pressure, not imagined) to finish school on a 'normal' schedule which is why I made so many attempts when, really, someone should have told me it was ok to wait.

      What's more, this article isn't even about SSD/I.
      And it already explains, to the point of tedium (not a criticism of the author, but a criticism of the commenter for missing the exceptionally detailed mark) why it is that benefit of the doubt is so important that this is veryveryclose to trolling on a personal pet peeve.

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    3. Also, people under stress don't always look under stress or talk about those stresses/stressors. Looking for a definitive 'indicator' is impossible.
      As the below Anon says:

      2) I'd much rather find out in retrospect that I was taken advantage of than find out that I didn't accommodate them in a way they truly needed.

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  6. Anon Aug 29 12:26 AM -- there are always going to be a few people who milk it to the max in any group of people. They are usually a tiny minority. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt for two reasons.
    1) I'm not their mental health professional. Not really my place to judge.
    2) I'd much rather find out in retrospect that I was taken advantage of than find out that I didn't accommodate them in a way they truly needed.
    Admittedly, that approach has led to people taking serious advantage of me but that's always been the few cases and not the many. And I'm at peace with the fact some people have taken advantage of me, whereas I still carry guilt from the times I later found out I misjudged someone and denied them access they truly needed.

    trigger warning: direct example of domestic violence
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    Of course, when it gets to a more extreme level, it becomes about self-respect and our own boundaries/needs too. If people do truly obnoxious things with the explanation that it's part of their PTSD, I hold them accountable for the obnoxious things and leave it at that. For example, my abuser used to use her PTSD as an excuse to abuse me. She would say, "But you triggered me! And I was just conditioned to hit in response! You know that about me, so you were asking for it!" I acknowledged that she really was triggered in those moments, but ALSO held her accountable for being physically abusive. I validated her PTSD but did not excuse the violence. I gave her the space to have her strong emotions which were related to her own history of trauma, but placed the responsibility of how she dealt with those emotions squarely on her shoulders. So for example, she could have let me go into the other room or leave the house, but she often locked me in the room with her and beat me. Encaging me to beat me instead of letting us take space, no matter how triggered she was, was all her doing. For that she was 100% accountable.

    I have a very complex perspective on the topic of where compassion and accountability meet. I could go on for much longer, especially when it comes to people having conflicting needs, but I'll stop here.

    Eightdiverging -- totally agree with you on everything you said.

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  7. Lydia, thank you so much for these recent articles on Allyship, they're incredibly informative and insightful. Thanks to your awesome friend!

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  8. Thanks for these! I'm going to print them out and put them in my house's booklet of allyship documents, as some of the people in my house have some trouble with understanding triggers. -Quentin Masten

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  9. I have chronic PTSD from three acute events, one happening in childhood, one as a young teen, and one as an adult. Almost none of the ally advise here would feel useful or appropriate to me. I don't want trigger warnings, I don't want to be asked for consent every time I am touched, I don't want to be constantly monitored by allies to see if I'm okay with conversations or content. I don't want to be judged as to whether or not I am "ready" for something. I appreciate the serious attention being paid here to PTSD and the validation that it exists, and the first paragraph does describe my experience, but the suggestions feel infantilizing, presumptuous, and disempowering to me. Perhaps I am not "ready" to acknowledge my PTSD issues, or perhaps it would be best for allies to start by just asking survivors what kinds of support they want, and not assuming any particular responses are needed or desired.

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    1. I can understand this, but as the article states, everyone is in a different stage in their healing process. I think it's good to play it safe at first before the ally knows what the survivor's boundaries are and whether they are subject to change.

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    2. I understand how there can be resistance to the idea of treating survivors as delicate creatures in need of special treatment. I interpreted the article as saying it's important to practice good consent and sensitivity with all people, regardless of survivor status--the suggestions highlighted in the article are useful in all relationships with all people--but that these things are especially relevant when relating to people who experience PTSD. Whether or not a person has a traumatic history can help us to understand why sensitivity matters and it might explain their behaviour in relation to your advances or your story, but we can't assume that we are aware of a person's survivor status (or lack thereof). We need to start from a place of assuming that all people (and not just survivors) ought to have complete control over their own bodies and we should never assume that we can just touch someone because we want to, or because they wanted us to last week. We have to assume that all people (not just survivors) should be able to decide how much and what kind of trauma they want to read or hear about at any given time. From that perspective, the advice doesn't need to be understood as infantilizing or patronizing or disempowering, but instead as building a broader understanding of what consent and respect really mean.

      Delete

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