But Wait, There's More!

Supplement to 'How call-out culture traumatizes us'

This quick article is intended as an addendum to Tada Hozumi's piece titled 'How call-out culture traumatizes us' and published in 2017. I encourage you to read it, not because you would need it before reading me (you don't), but because it is a good article by itself.

Quick recap: Hozumi explains that call-out culture is inherently traumatizing for three main reasons.

  1. It endangers the call-outing person by encouraging them to have massive outbursts of uncontained emotional release that might be retraumatizing,
  2. and also by exposing them, in this vulnerable state, to the instinctive defense mechanisms of the person they call-out.
  3. It endangers the call-outed person by putting them in a situation where an attack is made to them but they have no reaction allowed but submission. Having no way to escape pain or danger creates the perfect condition to integrate the "freeze" trauma response in our body, no matter if we consider the attack justified or not.

As you probably guessed now, I wrote this article because I would like to add new bullet points to this list.

4. The person call-outing might also be traumatized by the harm the call-out do

One thing we know about abuse (but is often forgotten in activist circles) is that it does not just traumatizes victims. Witnesses, caretakers and sometimes perpetrators might get traumatized too. Another thing is: how you react to a harmful situation is an important factor for it to be traumatic or not. Put those two things together, and you understand that sometimes, the trauma caused by something done to you might get intertwined with the traumatic feelings you have about the abusive ways in which you reacted, making all of this harder to unpack and heal. An extreme but telling example is in 'The Body Keeps the Score', where psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk shares, among others, the story of a U.S. veteran whose best friend was killed by a landmine before its very eyes. The pain he was still feeling, years after this day, was mixed with the guilt and horror he felt about the truly atrocious ways in which he discharged his feelings of rage and grief the day after on unrelated, innocent civilians.

I think you begin to guess my point. Of course, call-out in leftists spaces are no U.S. warfronts, and the level of violence involved is nowhere near the same. And of course, people being called-out are not "unrelated, innocent civilians". Nevertheless, call-out is a reaction to harm or trigger that might be harmful, sometimes downright abusive. In some cases, the call-out itself is abusive (when, for example, it contain false or distorted informations, leverage positions of privilege, or attack not the acts of a person but what's projected of their character). Even when they are made in an ethical manner, call-outs, because they are uncontained, may start or join campaigns of collective abuse or institutional violence. This may traumatizes the person called-out, of course, but also the person calling-out.

Moreover, call-out culture put on the person called-out the blame for the harm done to them (see my previous article). This creates cognitive dissonance and impedes the recnognition of the abuse perpetrated on the person called-out by those who , which subsquently slows their healing.

5. Everyone is a collateral damage

As I said, witnesses of abuse and caretakers might get traumatized too. By definition, call-outs are public events. They may trigger. The person calling-out may not be the only person who might get thrown out of her window of tolerance, release massive amounts of emotional energy and get subsequently retraumatized.

When witnessing the way the person called-out is treated means witnessing abuse, and since call-out culture usually punishes those voicing dissent with what is happening, this is a recipe for a lot of emotion unbottling. At least, it causes dissonance between the body feeling threatened by the fact that collective abuse is perpetrated by the community we are in towards its members and the discourse claiming that it makes it safe. This is not trauma yet, but it can slowly build into it as it accumulates.

Furthermore, not only the audience of call-outs has to bear witness to it, but it is usually asked to participate actively, which creates stress whether they choose to do so or not. Some people might felt coerced into participating into collective abuse, or might felt in retrospect that they have been convinced to act in a way inconsistent with their values. At best, behaving in a abusive way in the name of ending abuse creates cognitive dissonance. Some others might feel threatened because they choose to dissent, when they are not plainly attacked themselves. A lot of call-outs I knew involved at some point abusive behavior between people who were neither calling-out nor called-out.

Finally, when the group cohesion is built around such events, it might also impedes, when needed, the recognition of the abusive way the call-out was done or handled. This also slows healing, particularly when taking responsibility for one's abusive behavior or participation in collective abuse in the wake of a call-out might lead to estrangement from the community.

6. The person called-out has its survival reaction turned against themselves