Why You Shouldn't Tell a Trauma Survivor 'It Could Have Been Worse'

The world we live in is so often built upon comparisons. Is she thinner than me? Is he in a better job than me? Do they work as hard as I do? So much so that even mental illness seems to have been categorized. Upon discussing my mental illnesses, the reactions I have had have been broad. However, there is one comment in particular that will stay with me:

“Yeah, but what she went through was so much worse.”

This was perhaps one of the most painful and belittling things I have heard in a long time. As a woman who struggles with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I am fully aware I have not been through the same things as everyone else. Of course there are people that have been through much more harrowing ordeals than my own but that does not mean you are entitled to tell me my experience and reaction to it is invalid.

I would love to be able to say I came back to this retort with some witty one liner or fantastic prose to eloquently communicate this thought — but I didn’t. Instead, all I did was nod and fall into silence. Consequently, I have been unable to talk about my experiences with this person ever since.

I have found myself making the mistake of trusting the wrong people with my feelings again and again. When I finally feel prepared to open up to someone I am regularly told to “stop worrying about it,” to “forget it,” to “be thankful it wasn’t worse.”

No. No more. What was done to me was illegal. It was assault. It was painful. It changed me from a confident and calm child to an anxious and introverted adult. I will not pretend nothing happened just because it does not fit your paradigm of trauma. I will not refuse to look for treatment because I have been told it “wasn’t a big deal in comparison.” I will not apologize for how I have been affected by something I had no control over.

I will remember we are all different. I will remember that while I may not faced the most horrendous form of abuse, every wound deserves to heal. If a person has a broken arm, you don’t tell them to get over it because someone else had their’s cut off. Trauma is not a competition. I don’t want to play that game. I want to get better. I want to talk to someone who wants that too. If you don’t think my problems are worthy of your attention, then you are not worthy of mine.

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Thinkstock photo via AlisaRed.

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