TRAUMA. Such a big, scary word… right?
I guess I’d have to say… both yes and no. Let me explain.
Trauma isn’t scary to me anymore, because lots of amazing things in my life have come from traumatic experiences. Learning to overcome big obstacles has made me a better, more effective, and more compassionate person. The process has forced me to know myself inside and out. I turned my trauma into triumph, by running towards it rather than away from it, right into the eye of the storm.
Still, trauma is scary for some people. For lots of reasons. To name a few:
The thought of having something traumatic happen is scary.
The thought of unleashing feelings that’ve been buried for years is scary.
If someone is impacted by trauma, and we can’t find a reason why, then WE might be at risk too. Scary.
All of these viewpoints are natural and understandable. Unfortunately, they’re not helpful, and they’re keeping us stuck as a society.
Because, traumatic events are simply events that have a deeply distressing impact. Haven’t most of us experienced something like that?
Personally, I’ve been through my fair share of trauma. My first love committed suicide, and I’ve been raped, just to name a couple events that aren’t usually debated as “traumatic”.
I’ve also been through my parents’ divorce, infidelity, break-ups, car accidents, surgery… all events that aren’t generally recognized as traumatic, even though they easily can be.
In addition to experiencing trauma, I’ve worked with lots of traumatized people. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand how unresolved trauma can easily sabotage a person’s success and happiness.
What if trauma and feelings weren’t scary, and we didn’t have to hide them under our bed with the boogeyman?
What would it be like if you’d been allowed to express your distress after something bad happened? If you were allowed to act out, or be sad or scared in public, and the people around you understood?
What if your family and your closest friends understood? What if they didn’t roll their eyes or get uncomfortable at emotional displays? What if they fought their urge to fix it, so they could support you in the ways you really needed?
Trauma sucks, yes. It’s not the kind of stuff you wish on people. But… if we keep viewing trauma as scary and foreign we’ll never be able to look it in the eye and conquer it. We’ll never be able to bring our treasures back to help the world. We’ll never be able to show others the way home (like our veterans, for instance).
If we as a society keep viewing trauma as untouchable, we’ll only perpetuate more trauma.
A child who learns to keep their emotions hidden might keep abuse hidden as well, only for their unresolved trauma to put them at risk of becoming an abuser themselves. A person who learns that anger shouldn’t be expressed, even when it’s justified, could store it all up until they blow onto others. Veterans, trained to suppress their emotional reactions, could feel threatened when their loved ones want closeness or ask about feelings (which are strictly off limits), then they could they respond in extremes, in line with their conditioning.
All of these scenarios leave a trail of impacted, distressed individuals in their dust.
We need to learn that expressed emotions won’t kill us – but buried emotions will.
Even for the lucky few who haven’t been through any trauma in their lives, it’s worth deflating this big and scary stigma that comes with trauma and difficult emotions.
Why? That’s what therapists are for. Right?
Kind of. Yes and no.
Let’s assume there’s an abundance of therapists who really know their stuff, who don’t push for medication or other quick fixes right away (since that in itself would send the message that emotions are scary, even in the therapist’s office).
It’s one thing to be supported for an hour or two weekly by a total stranger. It’s another thing to be supported by a community of people who love you.
It’s best to have both. We deserve both.
Odds are, several of your loved ones have been impacted by painful events in their past, and your support means the world to them. You don’t have to be perfect, you only need to try. Some considerations to get you started:
A true “I don’t know what to say” is more comforting than false reassurance every day of the week.
If you have a hard time hearing someone’s story, feeling their emotion, or responding to them, you can tell them that. Chances are, the person will appreciate your honesty and they’ll appreciate that you’re trying.
Understand that it’s not a competition. One person can see 10 horrible, violent deaths, and be just fine, while another can witness a sexual assault against someone else and be traumatized. That’s OK, you don’t have to “get” that part of it. Just know that people are allowed to feel whatever they feel – shame-free. Give them that freedom.
And for anyone who HAS been impacted by something difficult in their lives… Know that your possibilities are still limitless. You aren’t broken. If you’re reading this, you aren’t dead yet.
You can be happy again. You can handle whatever comes up. You WILL be able to put everything away again once you let it out (except for the things you let go of entirely).
Until society catches up, learn to rely on yourself for all of the compassion and understanding you’ll ever need. It’ll be enough, and it’ll attract others who can give it to you.
So, do you want to find peace again?
Lay your stake in the ground and declare that you’ll fight for it, as long as you’re still here. Be dedicated and be persistent. Know that people who judge your emotions deserve your compassion, not your obedience.
There’s a reason you’re here, and it’s important. There’s a treasure hidden in your trauma that the world desperately needs. Don’t let it go undiscovered.