Trauma. How many times have you heard or been told what trauma is, or what counts as trauma and what doesn’t? Everyone has their own perspective of trauma based on what they know, think they know, or what they have experienced; however, trauma affects each person differently. The following are five truths about trauma that I have learned from my personal experience and from my experience in social work.
1. Trauma is not limited to specific experiences.
I have had people belittle my personal trauma by saying what I experienced “wasn’t that bad.” I have also heard this being said to others about what they have experienced. There still seems to be a belief about trauma being limited to severe circumstances such as experiencing war, surviving a car accident or surviving a natural disaster. But trauma is anything that makes you feel threatened, in danger or having no control. This leads me into the next truth:
Related: What Helped Me Begin to Heal From PTSD
2. Trauma is perceived.
Everyone’s experiences are different, and no one reacts to any situation the same way. Trauma occurs when an individual is unable to regulate their emotions or have control over a situation, and they experience a threat to their bodily integrity, surrounding environment or loved ones. If someone experiences a threat, but they have more control over the situation and their emotions, they may not experience the situation as trauma like someone else might. Because everyone is different, it is important to validate what anyone perceives as trauma. Loss of control over emotions, one’s body and/or the experience of a threat is what defines a traumatic experience — not specific circumstances.
3. All trauma is valid.
This pairs with the above truth. Trauma may compromise one’s sense of security in their body, environment or society. Trauma is not defined by circumstances, but rather one’s experience in response to the circumstances surrounding their situation.
4. The after-effects of trauma differ from person to person.
The after-effects of trauma may appear in days, weeks, months, or years following the trauma. They can also be sporadic and reappear from time to time. Trauma doesn’t heal after a set amount of time, and the after-effects of trauma can resurface years later. Trauma has a lasting effect on the individual; however, learning skills to cope with the trauma and regain control over one’s emotions can help relieve or lessen the after-effects.
5. Trauma is not the survivor’s fault.
“Trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility” — I have seen this quote in various formats across the internet, but it is so harmful to survivors of trauma. Even though it states that trauma is not your fault, it connects back to the blame game that often goes hand in hand with trauma. Trauma is absolutely not the survivor’s fault, and how the trauma affects them, and how they react to the trauma, should be acknowledged with empathy. Healing is a process, and how one heals from trauma is their choice based on what they feel is right for them. Healing is also dependent on the resources available to the individual, such as mental health care services; however, a lack of insurance coverage and associated costs can negatively impact an individual’s ability to seek mental health care.
There is such a stigma surrounding trauma, and those who experience it, that the true definition of trauma seems to have gotten lost. It is important to remember that trauma relates to a threat that someone experiences to their well-being, as well as having a loss of control over one’s emotions, coping strategies and circumstances. Trauma is not defined by specific circumstances, and everyone perceives trauma differently. By understanding this clear definition you can treat others with empathy and understand how trauma has impacted their life. I challenge you to open your heart and listen with empathy to others to expand your knowledge and understanding of trauma and its effects.