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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Post Traumatic Special Cupcake Syndrome

I didn't plan on making this a blog post. In fact, it was meant to be just a comment on my Facebook page, but I am seriously ticked off, and I need to tell you why.

This morning, I read a tweet from a Youtuber who was chided for not putting "trigger warnings" on his content. Trigger warnings are comments or warnings applied to various media online, to make survivors of abuse or trauma aware that the posting may contain content which can "trigger" symptoms of their mental illness, like flashbacks, nightmares, or anxiety attacks.

Trigger warnings have their place. They protect trauma survivors from further pain. 

To give my response to this a little bit of background: I have lived with PTSD for 20+ years. I was diagnosed in 1989. I was a stupid, scared teenager with no concept of mental illness except that it made one "crazy" to have one. I did not make a good connection with the psychiatrist who made the diagnosis, and soon dropped out of therapy. 

I've essentially been on my own with this. When I was diagnosed, there were no internet communities dedicated to abuse and trauma survivors. There were no soldiers' groups spreading PSAs for combat veterans. There were few therapists who were familiar enough with the condition to provide effective treatment beyond medications to mask the symptoms. It wasn't until I was an adult that I was able to find the counseling and help I needed to cope with the symptoms.

That is not what makes me angry. It's been incredible to see an entire community spring up in support of those who live with the effects of past trauma. It's been healing to be able to reach out to others and tell them there IS hope. You can heal. You can find peace, and while PTSD isn't truly "curable" in most cases, the symptoms can be managed with good support and self-care routines. 

What makes me angry is the request for trigger warnings on content that is put out there for entertainment.

Now, let me clarify- Trigger warnings have their place. They are common in communities that are designed as a support network. Those online spaces are, by definition, safe zones. They are where survivors go to find the connection and healing they need. Trigger warnings on shared content that might be problematic for the members of the group are just a common-sense courtesy that make these groups what they are- bubbles of safety.

The internet, as a whole, is NOT a "safe zone". it is the wilderness. You enter at your own risk.

It's beautiful, and there are hazards. Preparation and common sense are necessary. 

Expecting any content provider or entertainer, to provide trigger warnings is unreasonable and dangerous- and here's why- it's GIVING UP YOUR CONTROL. You are giving someone else the job of keeping you safe. This is not healthy or productive. It's the first step on a slippery slope and in certain circumstances, can lead you into abusive, unhealthy relationships. 

As a survivor, control is a critical thing. You lost control to the traumatic event. In healing, there often arises a need to control EVERYTHING. This might come out in OCD symptoms. It might come out in needing routine or a "safety" item or object. It comes out in a myriad of ways, some healthy and some not. 

The attempt to control others, by demanding trigger warnings, is an unhealthy expression of this need, and when people respond by giving in to the demand, they are essentially feeding the insidious Special Cupcake Syndrome that impedes healing.

We are all Special Cupcakes, but not even cupcakes deserve the right to control others to get our needs met.
Special Cupcake Syndrome is when someone who has a mental illness, or who does not have a mental illness but desires attention and control, who may or may not be an abuse or trauma survivor, demands special treatment, or acts out in ways to get attention for themselves, or attempts to control or manipulate others, using their real or perceived condition as an excuse for their behavior. 

Let us be VERY clear- PTSD and related illnesses are NOT THE SAME THING as Special Cupcake Syndrome. Sometimes, the lines can become very blurred between the two, because survivors NEED attention. They need validation. They need support and healing and understanding and compassion from the people around them. These are natural and valid needs for every human being. None of those needs mean that they are displaying SCS, and not all expressions of these needs are SCS related. NEVER FEEL GUILTY OR ASHAMED TO EXPRESS YOUR NEEDS. 

SCS is not an expression of a need. It is an unreasonable demand to have that need met by someone else, in a way that seeks to control them, and it's most commonly found in online interactions. (Though, it does happen in real-life encounters as well.) With SCS, getting the need met is less the goal than controlling the other person. Getting your needs met in ways that do not manipulate, abuse, or attempt to control others is the only healthy road to healing. What survivors both need and fear is to be KNOWN. We need to be seen. We need to be loved as individuals, by people who know us well enough to love us. We can not get that from people who do not know us well, like celebrities, web page administrators, or other "anonymous" internet connections. They have no connection with us, or real investment in our well-being. Demanding that they meet our needs is not only unreasonable, it's unrealistic. It is holding another person responsible for our feelings and reactions- which, in turn, gives them control over our feelings and reactions.

What SCS behavior gets us is attention for our condition. Attention can be a balm, a soothing salve, but if it is for the wrong thing, or expressed in the wrong ways, it's actually doing more harm than good.

Bandaids don't heal everything. Sometimes stitches are required to close a wound. 

If you have a puncture wound, doctors will tell you NOT to use salve or try to heal the surface of the wound too quickly- doing so can cause a really nasty infection, and the wound will have to be re-opened to drain it. Puncture wounds must be healed from the inside out. So it is with trauma. Until we allow ourselves to deal with the initial trauma, and have help adjusting our perspectives from a trusted therapist, we can not heal. 

Healing is the only path to peace. 

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, flashbacks, nightmares, mood swings, or other symptoms of trauma, please seek out the help you need. There are many qualified counselors who can guide you through the healing process. There are groups and communities where you can begin to find connections and build a network of support. There are probably people in your real-life circles, who care enough about you to become part of your healing process. If there are not, you may need professional support and help to find those people. You need to learn about healthy personal boundaries and healthy ways to get your needs met in the context of loving relationships with healthy people.

Self care is NOT an expression of SCS. It's a good and healthy expression of supported yet self-sufficient autonomy.
It takes time. It takes trust in others. It's not easy. It takes support. You can do it. The trauma left you wounded, but you're still here. You are not a victim. You are a survivor. Own it. Where there is life, there is hope. Make the most of it. With love from the trenches, Mary PTSD Resources: For Veterans (Thank you for your service!)