Abuse Survivors Speak Out About Being Triggered By Trump
In the aftermath of Trump’s election, The Establishment received pitches on our president-elect’s dehumanizing rhetoric surrounding minority groups, on his proposed immigrant deportation and Muslim registration policies, on the rise of the “alt right” white supremacy movement he’s helped champion, and on the threat he poses to women’s reproductive rights.
Many also reached out to describe the more visceral reaction they had to the election of Trump; to not only acknowledge the threat he poses to democracy and this country, but to share an understanding, on a deep, personal level, of what it’s like to be abused. What it’s like to be gaslighted. And then, what it’s like to be told that any subsequent feelings of pain are invalid.
Below, three writers who have survived abuse share their reactions to the election of a man who has been, to so many, a triggering force.
By Brittany Kerfoot
I don’t notice it until the presidential debates air. The television clicks on and I hear his voice. Without warning, my body temperature rises and the anxiety sets in. Donald Trump looms behind Hillary Clinton as she speaks. He interrupts her, belittles her, tells her she is wrong, wrong, wrong. With every word, I grow smaller. I am 17 again, on the floor of that dark dorm room, a knot forming on my head after my boyfriend pushed me into the wall. I am 15, in his car, listening to how I am worthless, how my feelings don’t matter. I am 9, in my parents’ darkened doorway, watching my father scream insults and shove my mother into the closet.
I ask my husband to turn it off. Even after the screen is blank, I still have to walk away; I can feel him lingering there, his anger filling the room.
Anger. I am more acquainted with that emotion than with any other. My sisters and I grew up around violence, and it eventually became commonplace. Like Trump, my father is a stereotypical bully: He attacks the vulnerable to make himself feel powerful, he is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, and he gaslights anyone who challenges him. As is common among children from troubled households, I repeated the cycle that was modeled for me: My first boyfriend was essentially a younger version of my dad, and the abuse started almost immediately. My ex made me feel like a possession, a broken toy he could toss around or discard as he pleased. He felt entitled to my body — and anyone else’s body — and told me I was lucky to get any of his attention. When he cheated on me, it was my fault. When he hit me, it was my fault. He was the king, and I was the lowly subject.
Anger. I am more acquainted with that emotion than with any other.
As Trump gained in popularity, I found it increasingly difficult to even read his words in print, much less watch him assert his aggression on TV. I stopped watching the news, deactivated my Facebook account, and refused to talk about him with my friends and coworkers. It wasn’t until my therapist made the connection between Trump and the men of my past that I realized why I experienced such visceral reactions in the months leading up to November 8th. Now that the election is over and we are faced with a minimum of four more years of Trump’s triggering behavior, I am not surprised I feel so unsafe. I’ve read stories of women and minorities who have been harassed by his supporters. I’ve seen the normalization of hate speech, violence, and the notion that consent is an unnecessary burden. Memories have surfaced that I thought I packed away, and they make me feel small and powerless. I ride the metro with my keys in my hand, anticipating an attack. When I walk home alone, I’m gripped by the fear of being assaulted. I can only imagine how much worse it will get.
I try to practice self-care. I do yoga, go to therapy, and surround myself with patient, caring people. My experiences are not unique, and I want to speak out and help other victims, but the abused girl in me tells me that it’s pointless, I don’t matter, I am wrong, wrong, wrong.
But I am not that girl anymore. The living room in my new house is nothing like the one in which I grew up; those cruel words and abusive behaviors aren’t welcome here. I still have work to do, and I can’t shut out the whole world to avoid my triggers.
But I have hope. My voice may be one of many that often gets drowned out by those who are stronger and louder, but I will not be silenced anymore. Not by my father, or a boy I loved, or my president.
By Clarkisha Kent
Watching The Unstable Orange™ run for president — and win — was like watching my father get away with every abusive thing he did to my family.
My father, like La Naranja™, is an equal opportunity bigot. And to people like them, everyone can get a piece of this dehumanizing pie. The Gays. The Transgenders. The Terrorists. The Mexicans. Them Indians. The Chinese. Those pesky, lazy Blacks.
But wait! There’s more!
There’s the son whom he refers to as a sissy because he refuses to overperform masculinity. The daughter whom he refers to as a dyke because she does not confirm to rigid definitions of femininity.
The son whom he refers to as Retarded Boy™ for daring to be aneurotypical and having an “inconvenient” existence. The son who he refers to as a midget for daring to exercise his autonomy in his food choices as a child.
The son whom he refers to as a bastard child, for no other reason than his mother had the audacity to demand that he care for his child. And then there’s the daughter whom referred to as “fatso” for 18 good years, for no other reason that he knew it would cripple her sense of body and self for a lifetime.
And these types? They like to get you when you’re most vulnerable. So they’ll hit you when you’re young.
When you’re weak. When you’re confused. When you’re lost. When you’re voiceless. When you cannot fight for yourself. When your sense of self can just as easily be washed away like sand.
But it’s not enough for them to do these things. They will then seek to steal from you the last thing you have left:
Because one day, they too might become vulnerable. Old. Weak. Defenseless. Ripe for a whooping from Mother Karma with an exposed underbelly to boot. And when that time comes, they will insist you doubt the very things that happened to you.
And it will all be in the name of peace.
They’ll encourage you to “let bygones be bygones.” Extend a hand of love. Reach across the aisle in blissful bipartisanship. Let the past be the past.
And this is essentially my problem with everyone post-2016 Election.
This is my problem with liberals determined to be the bigger people in theory to the point of asininity. This is my problem with your empty declarations that “Love Trumps Hate!”. This is my problem with your baseless safety pin. This is my problem with you gawking and guffawing over well-dressed Nazis.
Because all of these things predicate their existence on the assumption that Good Will Always Win Out In The End™. That gross darkness and evil can in fact be vanquished by a misquoted MLK Jr. Quote.
And as a queer, fat Black femme who’s managed to live at some of life’s many intersections for this long, I know enough to know that good doesn’t always win. Good didn’t win during the 2016 Presidential Election.
Good had its ass thoroughly beat.
But do we care to acknowledge that? Or our we gonna continue to gaslight each other with fake declarations of love and so-called empathy?
Because until we understand that love can include righteous anger, direct action, and accountability, and does not have to answer to calls of unearned forgiveness, we will continue to create men like my father.
And we will continue to create men like Donald Trump.
And, to be clear, when I say we, I am in fact speaking to a very, specifically White subset of we.
By Laura M. Martin
The day after the election, my female friends wore black. We felt flattened, heartbroken, defeated. Many of us took the day off work in protest. We comforted ourselves with ice cream and bad TV. We compared the experience to being dumped.
The aching numbness did feel like a bad breakup, but it reminded me more of another heart-breaking experience: intimate partner violence. Watching the election results come in, I felt like I was back in an abusive relationship. I woke up the next morning with a denial-fear hangover, hoping it was all a dream.
I tried to forgive my country for electing Trump just as I had tried to take responsibility for the abuse of former partners. I longed to justify and explain. I blamed myself. If only I’d been more outspoken in my opinions, I thought, if I’d tried harder, done more, I could have prevented this. But beneath my denial and self-blame was a familiar, nauseating knowledge that the problem wasn’t something I could control or change. The only thing I’d done wrong was trusting those underserving of trust. I believed that this country and the people in it cared about human rights, equality, and the environment. But America’s allegiance to Trump proves a different set of values: isolationism, aggressive capitalism, self-interest.
After the shock, I felt the sickening relief of a violent climax. In the cycle of abuse, the building anger and tension is more frightening than the eventual blow. Trump’s appointment felt like the hand that had been held up over and over, finally crashing across my face. There was a dumb satisfaction at this proof of cruelty, in knowing that my fear was correct, that I was not paranoid, over-sensitive, or delusional. I experienced a fleeting instant of smugness followed immediately by self-blame. I should have known. I should have done something. I should have prevented this. I felt stupid for staying, for antagonizing, for letting things go this far. Where at first it seemed that the problem was that I hadn’t been assertive enough, I now felt that in fact I’d been too antagonistic, too loud and aggressive in my feminism, that I’d pushed too hard for change. If only I’d been gentler, more patient, less belligerent, I could have prevented this.
There is a comfort in the delusion of control self-blame provides, but there is nothing you can do to stop abuse. That’s why victims of domestic violence are told, not to try to change things, but to leave.
I wonder now, is that what we should do? I’ve heard a lot of arguments for staying and fighting, but as I watch our president-elect ignoring and admonishing the media, appointing a cabinet that confirms his prejudices and self-interest, creating his own propaganda, bypassing fact checkers and journalistic objectivity, ignoring violence performed in his name, threatening to take away our basic freedoms, I wonder if there is any way we can fight that will matter.
The rhetoric of abuse, that it’s not personal, that it’s not a big deal, is a big part of why it’s so hard to escape. Violence and hate are progressive; once a line has been crossed, there is no going back. In the days following the election, Trump entered the apologetic stage. He was mild mannered, choosing his words carefully, expressing care and concern. But he hasn’t changed; the abuser does not stop abusing, he simply waits for the victim to relax, to let down their defenses, before he strikes again. The violence and hate will only increase. There may be nothing we can do but leave.