Notes for Holding up a Healthy Conversational Space

A conversation on gender-based violence can evoke different responses from different individuals based on their personal experiences and privileges. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind while talking about this sensitive issue.

1. All participants do not have the same level of privilege

While the included modules offer many activities and resources, many discussions are not just intellectual exercises for everyone ― people who face discrimination or have experienced violence are potentially dealing with a mental health issue.

2. Importance of Trigger Warnings

Trigger Warnings allow those who are sensitive to the subject of discrimination and violence to prepare themselves for discussing about them, and better manage their reactions. Remember, the key to an effective Trigger Warning is being specific - if a Trigger Warning is not specific enough, it could refer to anything from eating disorders to bullying. Thus, it’s a good idea to follow Trigger Warnings with specialized lists of content. For example, while discussing a case study on partner violence, you could specify beforehand, “A quick heads-up: This discussion contains instances of Rape, Abuse, and Partner Violence. If you feel triggered, please know there are resources to help you.”. For those who need the warning, this helps them prepare for the discussion, and for others, this helps sensitize them to the fact that those around them can find the discussion hard going.

3. Do not pressurize someone to talk about their experiences

Forcing someone to talk about a sensitive event is making someone re-live the experience and all of the negative emotions that come with it. Some people just aren’t ready to open that box of worms. Instead, give people room to explore the trauma and the the time to open up when they are ready.

How to help someone who feels triggered

 

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Even with the best of preparations, sometimes precautions don’t work because triggers are usually individual specific. Here are a few steps you can take to help someone who feels triggered by an ongoing discussion.

1. Recognize

Recognize that your content could be hurtful to someone.

2. Apologize

Apologize for saying something that hurt the person. Remember that the apology is about the person who has been hurt, and not about you. Avoid justifying or defending your words or actions and be sincere about your apology; it is not personal.

3. Empathize

Empathize by trying to understand why the person may be hurt. You can do this by actively listening to the person who is feeling triggered.

4. Rectify

Continue the discussion by avoiding a repetition of the said trigger. Remember that triggered reactions can temporarily render people unable to focus, regardless of their desire or determination to do so. Be open to participants leaving the conversation if they feel uncomfortable. Make sure they have access to help if they need it. It is advisable to have a mental health professional on board for such emergencies at events.

If a professional is not present at the venue, here are a few resources that can enable you to help someone who’s been triggered:

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