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Re-Thinking Trauma

Updated on June 9, 2016

Trauma... Scary or not?

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 the best parts of my life have come from traumatic experiences. Learning to overcome the obstacles born from traumatic events has made me a better, more effective, and more compassionate person. The process has forced me to know myself inside and out. I've 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 really natural and understandable reasons. Unfortunately, viewing trauma as scary and taboo isn't helpful, and it's keeping us stuck as a society.

What Makes Trauma So Scary?

Lots of things.

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 a traumatic event, and we can’t explain why it happened to them, then WE might be at risk too. That's scary.

Plus, a common symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is feeling scared and stressed really often, even when there's nothing to be afraid of.

The Terror of Trauma

Unresolved trauma can leave behind a trail of negativity... as beliefs about your safety, about yourself, and about the world.
Unresolved trauma can leave behind a trail of negativity... as beliefs about your safety, about yourself, and about the world.

The Impact of Trauma

Traumatic events are simply defined as events that have a deeply distressing impact. Haven’t most of us experienced something like that?

As a mental health professional, I've worked with countless clients struggling to get ahead under the weight of unresolved trauma. As a friend, daughter, sister, and partner, I've yet to meet a person who doesn't have something traumatic lurking under the surface.

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 of events that aren’t usually debated as “traumatic”. I’ve also experienced my parents’ divorce, infidelity, break-ups, car accidents, surgery… all events that aren't generally recognized in society as traumatic, even though they can be.

These events have completely shaped who I am as a person, impacting every aspect of my life. For many years, that impact was negative, as I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol in an effort to move forward while keeping my scars hidden. Once I opened up to healing, however, everything changed. My trauma began to inspire and direct my career in mental health, and fueled my desire to learn about myself. Today, I have more happiness than I ever dreamed possible, and I only have my trauma and my persistence to thank.

Share Your Experience

Have you ever been impacted by a difficult life event?

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Scientific Support For Post-Traumatic Growth

Questions to Consider

What if trauma and feelings weren’t scary, and we didn’t have to hide them under our bed with the boogeyman?

What would your life 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 you've been through? 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?

Why This Matters

Trauma sucks, yes. It’s not the kind of stuff you wish on people. But… if we keep viewing trauma as “scary”, 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 keep viewing trauma as scary, as a society, we’ll only perpetuate more trauma.

A child who learns to keep their emotions hidden might keep their 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.

How You Can Help

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 solutions 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.

Chances 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:

1. A true “I don’t know what to say” is more comforting than false reassurance every day of the week.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Let's Value Expression

A Trauma Survivor's Battle Cry

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).

Do you want to find peace again?

If so, lay your stake in the ground and declare that you’ll fight for it, and you'll fight hard, 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.


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    • profile image

      Brianna McInerny 19 months ago from Rochester, NY

      Denise, I agree! Those things we tell ourselves as a result of trauma are hugely what trip us up over time. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss, but very glad that you're finally able to grieve your brother and process the loss in a different way. I hope you've found ways to re-connect with your family! Lots of love to you.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 19 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      My brother just older than me drowned at the tender age of 16. At first, I couldn't cry. I remember my family crying, but for a long time, I could not. I remember telling myself that it was not my fault that he died. I felt estranged from my family for a time, and even wanted to get away from them. It was not until years later, when mourning the death of another close family member, that I was able to allow myself to grieve for him. It is funny what trauma does to us, and the things we tell ourselves as a result of it!