How do you live with your own traumas when you keep comparing them to other people’s traumas?
To others, there is a line. But I was never raped. I didn’t go through a series of horrific incidents. I didn’t have a bad childhood; my parents loved and protected me as best as they could. The sexual abuse I endured wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
My life has been a series of mini-traumas that built into complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). The amount of emotional toxicity I have experienced from friends and partners would probably shock the average person — the abuse has been enough to the point where I have never been in a stable relationship, despite having been romantically involved with a handful of people in my life.
And the emotional abuse was not just romantic; many of the people I have called my friends have harmed me.
I have no idea how to have friends, or what to do with them. For years I felt uncomfortable involving myself in social situations; in fact, it’s only recently, within the last year or two, that I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone to make friends. It’s still scary. I still prepare myself in how I should look and behave in front of other people.
Let’s talk trauma. What creates a trauma, as opposed to just a bad event? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as a “physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening” event that “has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Life-threatening, for me? No. It was very much emotionally distressing, but not life-threatening.
But was it my fault? Did I cause my own trauma? By sticking around bad situations, one would assume I created my own problems. I had the strength to leave these situations. I was not forced into staying, unlike, say, domestic abuse victims. I went places with my abuser; he was my friend. I kissed the ones who called me “stupid.” I slept with the ones who felt embarrassed by me and hid me from their friends. I stuck around when I knew she was cheating on me to spite me. I let them stay after they wouldn’t listen when I said “no,” or when I said I wasn’t interested. I still texted her every day even after she called me a slut when I told her about the abuse her boyfriend put me through. I allowed people to come into my life and destroy me.
I wasn’t forced into these situations. I was placed into them, and I followed through with them.
But it wasn’t my fault they hurt me. It wasn’t my fault they abused their power in these situations. It wasn’t my fault they caused irreparable damage to me.
And I think that’s the point. Even if our trauma isn’t “as bad,” even when we compare our trauma to others’, it doesn’t erase what we have gone through. It doesn’t get rid of the bad feelings and the nightmares. I still am triggered by the slightest things, such as the name of someone who has abused me. Comparing my trauma to others’ does absolutely nothing except make me feel worse about my own situation, and does nothing to improve my mental health.
I experienced pain and hurt and sadness, and it turned into trauma. I experienced trauma. No one will ever be able to take that away from me, even if they don’t think my trauma is “bad enough.”