Dear self, on the occasion of thinking you “copied” fictional characters’ trauma

(I was too proud of that subtitle to put it below the cut)

You have learned a lot more about what specific things bother you since the last time you seriously asked yourself this. So let’s just lay out all the pieces and put this question to rest.

Yes, you have often had reactions to descriptions of things that never happened to you, things that are pretty significantly different from anything that did happen to you. But there is a discernible common thread to the things that bother you, and especially to the things that bother you most. And that thread is not any of the things you feel guilty about reacting to. It’s also not any of the things you saw a lot of in fiction.

The common thread in things that bother you is social coercion, manipulation, “peer pressure”. In conjunction with other issues it is often the aspect that bothers you the most, and it also bothers you by itself in the absence of other issues.

The fiction you read about abuse was mostly not about the specific kinds of social coercion that bother you.

— It mostly was written from an outside character’s point of view and didn’t delve deeply into the survivor’s point of view at all, in fact.

— It mostly involved very obviously power-imbalanced relationships, not more subtle dynamics.

— It mostly didn’t depict feelings of complicity or self-blame, which come to think of it is actually a little strange.

— It mostly did not depict confusion or gullibility as a significant factor, ditto.

— It mostly involved perpetrators who don’t have much in common, personally or motivation- or method-wise, with the kinds of people who scare you.

— It mostly involved people being coerced to do things they understand as wrong and abnormal, not things that they understand as normal expectations.

 


 

And the bottom line is: there’s nothing wrong with being triggered by things that are similar to but not the same as things you’ve experienced. You’re not “stealing” anything, you’re not harming anyone by feeling upset– especially by feeling upset about things 99% of people would agree are upsetting to hear about, like, really.

— Your reactions are not necessarily less bad or less important because they happen in response to something that “shouldn’t” trigger you. Your feelings are whatever they are; if they’re causing problems for you, you deserve to take them seriously and do something about them. It doesn’t matter whether you are the textbook intended user of whatever methods of dealing with them you use. It doesn’t matter if the causes of your feelings look like what people expect Real Serious Problems to be caused by.

— Trigger warnings do not get used up if too many people pay attention to them. The opposite, in fact– the more people use them and ask for them, the more normal they become and the more widely they’ll be used, which is good for everyone who needs them.

— You don’t, generally speaking, have an obligation to anyone to read or watch or talk about anything in particular. You have the right to leave a discussion whenever you, personally, decide that you should. It doesn’t matter what other people think you should feel comfortable doing.

— Let’s be honest, sometimes knowing that you are upset will make other people upset, for a wide variety of reasons. But this does not mean you’ve done anything wrong. You can avoid those people, or take steps to manage how you talk to them about your feelings, if you want to. None of it means you are wrong to feel upset or that you need to stop feeling upset.

Your reactions are your reactions. Figuring out why they happen, and finding ways to deal with them, is a good idea. Feeling guilty about them is counterproductive and not something anyone can fairly ask you to do.

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