Sunday, May 30, 2010

Safewords for Trigger Management and More

Below, Courtny introduced us to safewords and how they are traditionally used in BDSM and sexual situations. Here, I am going to expand the repertoire for safewords beyond their usual scene. Safeword use can be extended to non-sexual situations. Below, I give you the lay of the non-sexual safeword land.

Safewords for Trigger Management

Triggers are things that set off chains of reactions, feelings from, or memories of, often, traumatic or difficult events or experiences.

Trauma Triggers

Safewords can easily be used for managing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other trauma-related triggers. When a situation, particularly a social situation, starts feeling too much like your traumatic event or if someone makes a triggering remark (I've beared witness to a conversation at another table at a restaurant about how "sexy" rapists are), you can use a safeword to discretely signal to your friends or partner (whoever you choose) that you need to leave (or cope in whatever way you need, but for the purposes of this post and to keep it simple, I'm going to continue to use leaving as the post-trigger action.)

Use the comments section to suggest other applications for safeword use. And remember: they only work if both partners respect their use.

Using a safeword here is more effective than just saying, "Let's go" all of a sudden because the safeword you choose and share with your partner automatically tells your friend why you need to leave and cues the appropriate response on their part so they can be supportive. This way you don't say, "Let's go," and get the response of, "Why? I'm having a good time, aren't you? Why, what happened?" and have to go into an explanation (possibly in public) that you may not want to get into or share with other people in earshot. Doing this makes it so that you can cope on your own time without having to announce your issues to the whole room. This is true of all the non-sexual uses of safewords I'm discussing here.

Drug Triggers

The same use of safewords can be applied to triggers related to drug use. Many people trying to stay away from drugs are triggered not just by the sight of drug use and/or paraphernalia, but sometimes, as is the case with recovering crack addicts, just hearing the word 'crack' can trigger thoughts about drug use and provoke thoughts and behaviors they worked so hard to change. Using a safeword in situations (like going to a party and needing to leave when someone shows up with drugs) makes it so that you can discretely streamline your support system and perhaps arrange to not be alone until you feel calm and stable enough to avoid a potential relapse. (Again, without having to announce your issues to everyone around.)

Would-be Drunk Drivers

I've seen safewords effectively used to prevent drunk party-goers from trying to drive home. The host of the party (who also was the holder of the keys) had a drunk friend start to freak out when he refused to hand him the keys to drive home. Previously, the host had agreed with a sober friend that if this happened (and this drunk friend had a habit of getting wasted and trying to drive home), he would simply say, "Call Matt," so Matt would instantly know what the deal was and that he should intervene and distract the drunk friend until other arrangements could be made to get him home or until he sobered up. (Another great idea that this host came up with was having a Breathalyzer around (thanks to another drunk friend who had been arrested so many times for DUIs that he had to get one) and requiring people to pass the legal blood-alcohol reading in order to safely drive home. This was the most accurate way to gauge whether a person's able to drive and it's impersonal enough and backed by the law for most people not to take it personally.) The only thing worse than sending a drunk friend to drive him- or herself home is a drunk friend who gets all riled up because everyone is in their face about not driving home.

Medical Disorders

Safewords have been used effectively at work for people with seizure disorders. (However, safewords are really only effective for people with seizure disorders who get auras before their seizures.) When you notice your aura you can use a safeword to discretely let a trusted colleague or supervisor know that you need to lay down for a while. This could be a good way to manage a seizure disorder at work (or wherever) without sharing your disorder with the whole office.

Safewords can also be used by people who use wheelchairs who need assistance getting to the bathroom. Perhaps you're disinclined to announce to the person who helps you out with these things that you need to take a piss while in a social situation. In such a case, a safeword could tip off your helper and avoid potential awkwardness or embarrassment.

Anger Management

Psychiatrists have effectively used safewords to tip people with anger management problems off that they are losing control. For one psychiatrist, the word 'cut' was used to signal to their client that s/he has gone over the line and needs to step out of the room and take a few minutes to calm down before re-entering.

Of course the safeword in the above situation was used by a trained professional in a therapeutic situation. It would be an abuse of both the person and the safeword itself to use it to just cut someone off when they're trying to share something unpleasant but not out of line.


Benny said...

I'd honestly never thought so seriously about safewords until now. This makes so much sense.

Marie said...

Glad to get the wheels turning! Let me know how it works out if you decide to use them.