Spend a bit of time in Autism and Âûtistic groups on Facebook and other social media you will hear a lot about trigger warning, content warning and similar terminology. The idea behind this is to allow people some level of choice about whether or not to read the content, or engage in comments or conversation. It is really a courtesy which is aimed at respecting people, ensuring there is dignity given to each other and of course to minimise the possibility that people will be sent into meltdown or shutdown in the process of engaging in interaction online.

Image of a TNT style Plunger Detonator. With the Word Danger written on it.

Image of a TNT style Plunger Detonator. With the Word Danger written on it.

All this is very well and important, however, it does in fact require that we actually know, as autistics, what our triggers are. What in fact is the content that will result in us being triggered. This is really critical or we don’t know which of the content warnings and trigger warnings to take heed of and which to not worry about and to proceed with interaction.

And of course this is an ongoing matter. We are in fact always learning more about ourselves and more about the things that trigger us. In fact it may even be that we discover things about ourselves in situations that have triggered us that it is in fact not what we thought that triggered us that did in fact trigger us.

I experience something of this just today. I went into a kind of mini shutdown, or mini meltdown. I am not sure which way to describe it, but it sure was not a fun experience but it was in fact a learning experience where I discovered that it was not necessarily the thing I thought it was that was the catalyst of this experience.

I would like to pre-empt this section by stating that I do not in anyway blame anyone for this experience. It was what it was, it was not pleasant, but it was a thing that happened. Simple as that. I have learned about myself from it and so in some respect good has come about from it.

Essentially I made a post in a group. It was possibly triggering and I was aware I was going to be posting things in other contexts that were likely to be triggers for people within the group. I thought I was genuinely being caring and respectful to fellow members. I then messaged the admins about the situation and let them know what and why. Probably I did this in the incorrect order, but I can’t change history.

The admins posted back with a response that I had great difficulty with. I will not go into any detail at all about that, except to say that I reacted quite emotionally and then engaged in quite some dialogue with them about it and much misunderstanding on my side occurred. In the end I interpreted what was said to be accusing me of something that I hadn’t done. That is not to say that was what was said or what was intended or implied, only that it was my perception.

The result for me was that I was highly upset and visibly in a state involving tears streaming down my face and feeling quite unable to move from the situation I was in and at the same time finding it very difficult to extricate myself from continuing to engage in the situation with the people involved.

The most unfortunate part of this situation was that it occurred for me in a public place. I had taken myself to a public library in order to work quietly and provide my family some space and time out from me, we all need that sometimes. So there I was in a public place trying to not engage, trying to not show the visible upset, and wondering how long I was likely to be “stuck” in that turmoil.

In the end though, I discovered that I was not triggered in fact by the actions taken or the words typed by the people involved but by the beliefs I formed based on my own false perceptions of the situation. As I thought about all this over the period following I discovered that it was in fact the sense, or in fact the belief, that I have been falsely accused, disbelieved, or told I am wrong – when I firmly know or believe I am correct.

I hasten to add again, I am in no way saying this was what was said or implied, only that I formed a belief that this was the case. I believe now in hindsight that this belief was in fact, incorrect. What I did discover though, is that this is a trigger that is strongly tied into my experiences of bullying and abuse in childhood. It is deeply ingrained due to the frequency and breadth of occurrences in both the family of origin and social settings in which I grew up.

I would also like to say this is not meant to be a post to provoke pity towards me but in fact an expression of learning about myself.

The upshot of all this is to think about and attempt to work out and put in place strategies that will assist with this newly discovered trigger. A work to be completed over time.

What this has brought into sharp focus for me is the fact that, we can feel as though we have a high degree of self-awareness, a high level of knowledge of what the things that trigger us, when in fact we never have quite us much insight and knowledge into our selves as we may think.

Yes, we must strive to know our triggers, but we must never form the belief we know them all.