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What to Know If You Feel Pressured to Be ‘Normal’ Despite PTSD

“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight.” — Ram Dass.

Here we are again: in recovery from the holidays. We tried to show up at the family table and be “normal.” As survivors of trauma, we often feel an unspoken pressure to join in at the holidays and pretend we are just fine. I truly hope you are just fine this holiday season, but for those who are not, read on.

I’m going to let you off the hook.

The Ram Dass quote above is so true, isn’t it? We all present these costumes of identity to each other, but when trauma has touched our lives, the costumes change, don’t they? And as profoundly as our friends and family know, deeply know, that trauma has changed us, they still want us to show up and be “normal.” Why?

It’s human nature. Partly, they want to be reassured that the human spirit is unshakeable, that we are strong, that we are “going to get through this.” Partly, they miss us: the old us. The lighter version, the lighter person we used to be. They want a glimpse of that smile, that smirk, maybe the smart-ass humor that indicates you’re “still there.” They want to feel better about what you’ve been through.

But it’s not your job to make them feel better. It’s your job to heal your trauma in the manner and at the speed that is right for you. So, going into the new year, give yourself permission to show up and be what is “normal” for you right now.

I remember the first Christmas after I was assaulted. I lived a constant mixture of contradictory emotions: one minute I wanted to do the traditional things and be with family, and the next, I wanted to do everything differently and be left alone. I would feel profound gratitude swell in my heart only to plunge into hopelessness in the next moment. That was my “normal,” and I remember feeling the pressure to put on a good face and pretend nothing had changed when everything had.

Hopefully, you have had some time this holiday with people who allow you to be where you are in your healing. And for those who want us to appear “normal,” we need to give them a break too. They may not have ever had to walk this path either, and truly don’t know what to do or say.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” — Maya Angelou.

I also remember, as I look around at the holidays, that most people I know have been touched by trauma in some form. Veterans of wars, sexual assault survivors, child abuse survivors, people touched by sudden and traumatic grief. We are all presenting our version of “normal.” We are all doing the best we can. We are human.

The best news about “normal” is how incredibly fluid it is. We always have the capacity to create a new normal, to reinvent ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, and become something more than we ever thought possible. And wherever we’re at in our healing, whatever is “normal” right now is perfect for you.

So this new year, give yourself permission to be your “normal” without expectation from yourself or others. Life is a giant come-as-you-are party, full of rich experiences and profound healing. Let it be.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” — Buddha

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.

Photo by Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash