The Truth About Trauma

The first thing that pops into my head when I think of trauma is a therapist sitting on a couch and nodding while saying, “man, that must’ve been tough,” just like the movies. It is so hyped up in the media–five steps to get over your toxic ex, or the seven stages of grief–but truthfully there is nothing about the trauma that you can quantify. Emotions are real, and time will pass, but the single best way to cope with it is by acknowledging its existence. It happened. It sucks. Yet that is just the beginning of it, and there are so many other layers. Here are five other realities that may be helpful to consider.

It Doesn’t Have to be a “Near Death Experience”

There is this common misconception that to have experienced “trauma” there had to be an incident, accident, or even death involved for it to be acknowledged. In fact, we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that way, so when we experience something emotionally and mentally traumatizing, we convince ourselves it’s not as bad as it really is, because “at least I didn’t die”. The standard should be above that, we can look physically okay, but some of our most challenging battles won’t see the light of day. From heartbreak, hard conversations, and toxic relationships, if something had a negative impact on your well-being, it counts. 

Normalizing various types of trauma can help destigmatize that other “less intense” life events take a significant toll on your well-being, big or small. Trauma looks different for everyone, and by acknowledging it in the first place, will help you face it head-on. Being in denial about your experience or rewriting the narrative to make it seem easier to bare won’t help long term, even creating more issues later on. 

Everyone Remembers Things Differently (and That’s Okay)

The thing about trauma is that our brains are wired to help keep us safe, meaning our memory of the event or situation may be altered or gone all together. Our brains try to filter out our most painful experiences to help protect our current mental state, often suppressing them after a highly stressful event. Your memory of the situation may not line up with someone else’s who was there or others involved. Each of our brains will perceive the event uniquely, so what we remember might vary. 

Trying to focus less on the situation at hand and what “really happened”, then more on your body’s response can help take the pressure off the fear of the unknown during the “event”. Memory is a tricky concept; gaining knowledge of the scenario is often false, or misinterpreted later on, leaving a lot of unknowns. At times people regain some of that lost memory and some none at all. Your memory… or loss of it isn’t good or bad. Just let it be. Stressing about the event cant change the outcome, how it affected you is what’s important.

There Are No Right Stages or Steps to Follow

Stages and steps to healing can be misleading. There isn’t a right or wrong way to heal. If you skip steps 2-4 and jump to 5 and then back to 1, that’s fine. If you never get past 2, that’s fine. Everyone is different. Although what’s important to consider is that there are these different phases some people experience, and noticing some of those feelings can be a validating experience. 

Putting a timeline on someone’s healing road isn’t realistic because each of our experiences are unique to our own. We can’t predict what’ll happen in 2 miles or at 3000, but allowing yourself the space to heal and allow those feelings to flow can make a difference. It might never feel like the right time to move on, but letting ourselves feel peace in the rate of progress can be a step in the right direction. 

Not Everyone Who Experiences Trauma Will Experience PTSD

Trauma is special. It affects everyone differently, some will experience a traumatic event and go on about their day. Some will experience the same event and be negatively impacted for years. Knowing this can be confusing… Why was I the chosen one to experience PTSD? Why couldn’t I just move on like everyone else?

This is where the victim mentality can get the best of you. It’s not poor me, but me. If we stick to questioning the reasoning behind it all, we won’t be making any strides. Questioning is a normal response, but getting stuck in that cycle can be detrimental to our healing. 

Your body’s response to a traumatic event is exclusive, and after the fact, it’s out of our control. We can influence how we cope with the sharp, lingering, suffocating pain. Small habits and daily reminders can help keep you accountable for your healing. No one can do the work for you, but you can and will over time.

Your Trauma is Yours

The picture or dialogue you replay over and over in your head can’t be duplicated for anyone else to see. The sights, sounds, and tone won’t be experienced by anyone else besides you. Having that trauma to yourself is scary. Isolating. Numbing even. The event’s reminders, triggers, and replaying will come unexpectedly, with unexpected feelings and reactions. 

No one else can fully comprehend what it was like to be you at that moment. Some may try to emphasize, but your backgrounds, identities, and biases are all unique to yourself, creating space that alters your individual perspectives. It’s yours.

Yours to determine how much you want to share or keep to yourself. Though the perception of reality you keep inside your head is up to you, it is your responsibility to make it a nice place to be. Your trauma doesn’t define you and certainly doesn’t determine the rest of your life.

By Kennedy Baker