I Couldn't Accept I Was Struggling With Trauma Because I Didn't Know What It Was
I don’t have trauma.
What happened to me isn’t trauma.
I should have been able to cope with it.
It’s not sad.
I’m not upset.
Accepting I was struggling with trauma was by far one of the most difficult aspects of recovery for me. I thought admitting I was struggling with trauma suggested I couldn’t cope with the events in my life or didn’t have the strength to deal with and process those events. I thought (and sometimes in my dark moments still think) struggling with the effects of trauma made me weak, broken and a failure. I have met many other people who share this same sentiment. We are stuck in a cycle of denial that keeps us prisoner in a cage of negative behavior patterns and harmful symptoms.
Admitting you are struggling is not only difficult for you, but has an impact on every single person in your life, particularly your family. Others around you may not want you to experience trauma as it makes some difficult truths real for them. Admitting trauma means other people have to look at themselves. The denial of trauma absolves everyone of their own feelings. Having the strength to say, “Actually, you know what? This happened and this has contributed to where I am today” is the hardest thing many victims of trauma will have to do in their lives. Having the strength to say, “This trauma is mine and I am owning my feelings” will mean others have to step back and own their own feelings. Refusing to hold other people’s reactions as my own has been — and still is — nearly impossible. Often you will go against the opinion of nearly every person you hold closest to you.
It is important to recognize admitting you are struggling does not mean you are blaming anyone. Trauma being real does not mean someone must be responsible. The nature of getting better is to only look internally and to accept that trauma is a subjective experience as opposed to objective facts of what happened.
So what is trauma? Why are the events considered traumatic to some and not to others? Why did this event affect one person and yet have no impact on another? Why do people find trauma so hard to accept?
I believe its because it is an unspoken topic. There is no narrative for trauma. So this blog post is hopefully a start.
The psychological definition of trauma is “damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a distressing event or an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds the ability of the individual to cope and integrate the emotions involved.” This definition often gets simplified into the dictionary definition of “a deeply disturbing or distressing event,” which is where we all get a little lost. It’s very easy to understand trauma as only something horrific, like war or mass violence or a natural disaster. However it’s the “exceeding ability to cope and integrate emotions” section that gets lost on us.
We need to get rid of the view that trauma is an event.
The more psychology tells us about trauma, the more it becomes clear that trauma is a reaction. Most importantly, it is an individual reaction.
My therapist is always telling me some children are born more sensitive than others. The word “sensitive” always irritates me, so we have decided to agree some children are born more “emotionally intelligent” than others. More in tune to the emotions of others around them and more able to connect and empathize with the feelings of others.
These children are the ones most susceptible to trauma. Couple that with the lack of protective factors such as the ability or willingness to ask for help and innate resilience characteristics, the possibility of trauma already seems higher than when we only think of war or natural disasters. Trauma can happen to anyone. If you take nothing away from this post, please remember this. Trauma does not discriminate, and it’s OK to accept it happened to you.
This post originally appeared on PsychCentral.
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.