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8 Reasons Trauma Survivors Don't Reach Out

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Coping with trauma and its painful fallout is hard but it can be equally as hard on our loved ones. Trauma can affect the very wiring of our brains, and can impact our mood, sleep and self-concept — all of which can put a big strain on our relationships. I don’t say this to make any trauma survivors feel guilty or ashamed (though I know you all probably will anyway, since shame is kind of our whole thing). I just say this because it’s pointless to pretend that our symptoms of trauma don’t affect our loved ones. Instead of avoiding it, we can accept this reality and make plans for how to navigate it.

It can be hard for our loved ones to watch us struggle and see how our trauma is affecting our relationship with them. It can be frustrating and our loved ones might feel ignored, isolated or abandoned. We can’t magically cure our trauma in the blink of an eye (though we can heal with time; remember, healing rewires the brain too). We can explain to them why we can’t always talk about or explain our trauma symptoms. If it’s hard for you to put the words together yourself, hopefully this post can help you start the conversation.

1. We don’t always realize how our trauma is affecting us. It takes a remarkable amount of work and courage to face trauma and acknowledge how it is affecting your life. It’s scary to admit that you aren’t acting based on what you actually want to do, but based on what fear has trained you to do. Please, be patient with us. We will talk to you about it once we can talk to ourselves about it.

2. We might not even know we’ve experienced trauma. This might sound crazy, especially if something from our past clearly seems traumatic to you, but most trauma survivors were taught that “It wasn’t that bad,” “You should be over that by now,” or “That was really your own fault.” We can’t cope with or talk about our trauma if we don’t even realize that’s what’s going on.

3. We don’t want to relive our trauma by talking about it. Trauma isn’t just an event that is bad or painful. It’s an event that cannot be integrated into our reality. It’s too painful, we can’t deal with it so it exists in its own separate reality, unprocessed and just as potent as when it first happened. When we talk about our trauma the memories and feelings can come flooding back as if they are currently happening, and that is simply too much for many people to bear.

4. We don’t want to sound like we’re making excuses. It’s true that living with trauma can affect our behavior and our relationships, but it can sound like we’re just making excuses, especially if we’ve hurt someone with our dysregulated behavior. Trauma is an explanation, not an excuse. More often than not we’re so ashamed of ourselves so we don’t believe that. We just see another disaster we caused.

5. We’re afraid you’ll think we’re being dramatic. I’m not sure if this is a fear for other people who have experienced trauma, but this is honestly my number one reason for not opening up, even when I know I probably “should.” What if I tell you about my trauma, or try to explain why I’m acting the way I am and you think I’m being ridiculous and overly sensitive? I know that by not opening up to my loved ones, I am making our relationships harder, but that is almost always preferable when compared to the possibility of being called dramatic, being dismissed by people who are supposed to love me no matter what.

6. Talking about our trauma won’t undo it. The truth is many people feel like there’s no point in discussing their trauma because talking about it won’t fix it. It’ll just open up a bunch of painful memories. To a certain extent, this is a very valid reason to not open up. Trauma is enormous and painful and is often best treated in a therapeutic setting. If your loved one isn’t opening up about their trauma, try not to push it. Instead, gently suggest that therapy might be a good, safe place to deal with their pain.

7. On the other hand, we might feel like we talk about our trauma too much. Some folks, myself included, fall on the other end of the spectrum. We talk and talk and talk about our trauma, as if we can change history by endlessly reliving it. It doesn’t work that way. We end up feeling like we talk about our trauma so much that everyone must be sick of it by now, so we clam up. 

8. Dissociation is a common symptom of trauma and it makes it very hard to communicate effectively. Dissociation happens when someone is not mentally present in the moment. It can be extremely mild, like when you pull into your driveway without really remembering the drive home, or extremely severe like when people enter a fugue state and have absolutely no memory of their experiences. Dissociation is an unconscious coping mechanism many trauma survivors use to get through their painful experiences or memories. It’s nearly impossible to have a real and vulnerable conversation while dissociating because you aren’t mentally there.

If someone you love has lived through trauma, hopefully this list has helped you understand why they sometimes struggle to open up to you. It isn’t personal. Trauma is just hard. If you’ve survived trauma yourself I hope this post can help you have better, more productive conversations with your loved ones about your experience. Make sure you check out my blog, Megan Writes Everything, for more helpful content about trauma, mental health, and hope.

This story was originally seen on Megan’s blog here

Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

Originally published: September 21, 2020
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