Last week, I saw two things happen that should make any reasonable and educated person shudder with dread. The first was Greenwich University’s decision to slap Northanger Abbey with a trigger warning for sexism. The second was that Shakespeare’s Globe in London gave A Midsummer Night’s Dream a trigger warning for racism and misogyny. Just as they had given Romeo and Juliet a trigger warning the previous season.
Imagine, the first widely respected female author being labeled “sexist.” And the world’s most universally renowned writer a racist, despite all evidence to the contrary, and a misogynist. Never mind the female characters he created are some of the most relatable in all literature. Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing comes to mind when she practically wails out her wish to be a man so she could avenge her cousin.
How did we get to this point? I suspect it has more to do with how little control we have over ourselves these days. For all the talk about mental health, getting therapy, and trauma, the world has become more sensitized instead of wiser.
So, what’s holding us back? In my opinion, there are five blocks to us moving forward and allowing ourselves to actually enjoy life without a trigger warning.
1. You keep shifting the blame.
Unless you are especially fortunate, you are more than likely working through your own issues, whether that was childhood trauma, a traumatic event, or a wrong that was done to you. Unless you are insanely dishonest with yourself, there is or has been something in your life that has hurt you deeply.
Whether that was war, violent crime, workplace toxicity, or family drama, there is something we can blame for the hurt we feel. But that doesn’t have to define you and it certainly doesn’t excuse you from doing something about it. You can’t keep blaming what happened to you for all your problems.
At some point, stand up for yourself and decide that you are going to mitigate, if not overcome, your natural inclinations because of your trauma. Whether that’s working on being conscious instead of disassociating when things get tough or getting psychological evaluated and medicated, at some point you have to stand up and take responsibility for yourself.
You can’t control the past, but you almost certainly can have input into your present and future. But it starts by deciding you are responsible for your reality and for your actions.
Humans have been blame-shifting since time began. Everyone from Adam to Lando Calrissian has been passing the buck down the line so that they aren’t somehow responsible.
It wasn’t Adam’s fault he ate; Eve gave him the fruit.
Lando Calrissian, in The Empire Strikes Back, finds that the repairs he ordered on the Falcon weren’t done. What does he say? “It’s not my fault.”
But in each case, what is the actual issue here? Not that something wrong was done, it was that no one tried to rectify it. Adam immediately blamed Eve instead of owning up. Lando is frozen in place by inaction and R2-D2 has to save the day. Again.
But, of course, for Star Wars fans, this isn’t that much of a surprise.
2. You cling to a victim mentality.
Oh, I could wax eloquent on this topic because our present-day world seems to have nothing else on the news these days. Newsflash: we’re ALL victims of something. Sometimes, we’re the victims of our own small-mindedness. And. yes, I include everyone in that statement, regardless of your background or experience.
If you constantly tell yourself you are a victim, then that narrative is going to be in everything you do. You will end up being a victim. That isn’t the Law of Attraction speaking, that is psychology. There is such as thing as a negative placebo effect and the more you feed it, the more like it you will become.
So, stop telling yourself you’re a victim. Accept that you are, but don’t let that be your definition for yourself.
The most prevalent, and perhaps the most pathetic, is when a living human being in the 21st century blames their life circumstances on a historical event that happened hundreds of years ago. Now, I’m not downplaying historical events by any means.
We all know, or should know at least, that one historical event can influence the world long after all the original people involved are dead and dust in their graves.
But if you are so naïve to think that a historical event ruined your life before you or even your parents were born, then you need a severe reality check. The fact that someone else’s ancestors once conquered your ancestors is a fact for everyone in the world.
The flip side of that is you blame other people for that same event and none of the people you end up blaming did anything to perpetuate or contribute to that event except have the duty of living thrust upon them. Same as you.
3. You’re so wrapped up in your trauma you can’t see anything else.
Closed-mindedness isn’t just for the FLDS or the IBLP. Nor is it just for the religious. It isn’t even for one specific race of people. We’re all guilty of closed-mindedness. But fearing your trauma to where you get triggered by a mere word, or even something as ubiquitous as Greek mythology, is a type of closed-mindedness that really needs to be squelched.
At some point, you can’t let your reactions rule your life. Especially if it’s causing you to reject things which can actually help you.
There’s always the possibility that the very thing you are rejecting has its roots in someone else’s trauma. But you have to be open to the idea that while different ages of history have different viewpoints on things like the role of women in society, slavery, freedom, and even what makes up justice, that there is a common experience which binds humanity together across the ages.
If there weren’t, then the Japanese wouldn’t have made a silent film version of Macbeth. Nor would Bollywood have made their own version of Pride and Prejudice.
You just have to be open-minded enough to accept that your viewpoint will not be the same viewpoint as someone from the 18th century. Or of any other century.
Look at any of the great classic writers and you will find a human being who suffered trauma. Severe trauma, sometimes.
Dante’s exile and his sense of loss are plastered all over his Comedy and let’s not forget that he died in exile and was dependent on the patronage of others to survive.
Shakespeare writes of a mind filled with scorpions in Macbeth even though he himself almost certainly had never experienced a scorpion sting. Oh, and the censorship in his day could end up with you on the chopping block. Literally.
Jane Austen was shy and embarrassed by her novels, even though she obviously loved them and wanted them to do well. Was she just shy, or did the trauma of losing her home, her father, watching her brothers march off to war, and the insecurity from financial instability wear just as much on her as it would on the rest of us?
Now, aren’t those viewpoints worth risking discomfort? If in the process you find someone who experienced the same pain enough to put into words what you cannot, then I say bring on the Kleenex box and the cuddly weighted blanked.
4. Everything and everyone has to revolve around your pain.
This is the essence of cancel culture right here. It’s demanding that the world stop, and that everyone accepts your point of view unequivocally with no right to a different opinion. But the world doesn’t stop just because you’ve been the victim of a crime, have fought in a very traumatic war, have suffered abuse, or have suffered a loss in your family.
At some point, you have to accept that your pain is going to be with you, but the rest of the world goes on. Expected everyone to suffer with you is not only unrealistic, but it’s a little cruel. Do others really need to take on your pain as well as their own? I know I don’t.
Now, it is true that we shouldn’t be unmindful of other’s pain, that’s why there are rules of etiquette in the first place: to make living with one another easier.
For instance, this is why there used to be “mourning” periods after a death in the family or of a close friend. Not only did it give people a chance to deal with their grief, but it also signaled to the surrounding people they needed a little extra grace and kindness.
But expecting everything to stop just because you’re hurting? If that happened, then there would be no sports events that didn’t last for weeks at a time. History textbooks would be empty, and you’d have to clear every single literature class nearly every day.
Most math classes too.
5. You have problems letting go and moving on.
At some point, you must draw a line under whatever happened to you. Just as you must acknowledge, history is whatever it is. You can’t continuously hold people responsible for the past. Your own, your culture’s past, or your nation’s past, either.
It happened. Let it go. Work on ways to thrive in the present.
This gets harder the more we dwell on our hurts and the less time we spend on working on ourselves.
Just reading books on psychology like Dr. Nicole LaPera’s How to do the Inner Work or Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life can help you in ways you can’t possibly imagine until you sit down and actually take a hard look at yourself.
While Peterson is controversial, he makes several valid points about life that are more of a wake up call. LaPera gives you the tools to answer the wake up call and to move forward.
Another thing that’s helpful? Reading the classics and allowing yourself to enjoy them as they are, without judgement or expectations. You will find a wider range of emotions and experiences at your fingertips than what you would normally allow yourself. And if you don’t like it? Closs the book, return it to the library, or donate it.
It’s that simple. No need to have a meltdown, stage a protest, or ruin other people’s enjoyment of it, but allow yourself the chance to grow.
It’s hard. I know. There are still events from my past that come back to haunt me. It’s natural, it’s normal. But you can choose whether you allow those experiences to take over your life or not.
Triggered by this post? Healing is hard work, and it takes a long time.
I’ve been doing my inner work this year. I’ve dabbled, but I’ve not actually sat down and made time daily to focus on self-healing. It’s difficult. It’s overwhelming, messy, and it makes me question my perspective sometimes.
This isn’t wrong, however. This is good. It’s not about invalidating my lived experience, it’s about questioning how I view things and making sure that I handle my reality with logic, reason, and compassion.
This is a lifelong process, too. I am not the same person I was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. I’m not even the same as I was 5 years ago. This is normal and if you’re changing, it means you’re doing something right.
If you stayed the same your entire life, you’d be stagnant. And perfect. And none of us are perfect. Changing your opinion, even major opinions, doesn’t make you any less honest or authentic as a human being. It means you are actually being human and you are experiencing growth.
Neither of those things is something to be ashamed about, even if Twitter and social media tell you differently.
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