The Denial of Trauma
“I don’t have trauma.”
“What happened to me isn’t trauma.”
“Trauma is something horrific.”
“I should have been able to cope with it.”
“It’s not sad.”
“I’m not upset.”
Accepting you are suffering from trauma is by far one of the most difficult aspects of recovery. I thought that admitting I was suffering from trauma suggested I couldn’t cope with the events in my life or I didn’t have the strength to deal with and process those events. I thought (and sometimes in my dark moments still think) that suffering from the effects of trauma made me weak, broken and a failure. I have met many other people who share this sentiment. They are stuck in a cycle of denial which keeps them prisoner in a cage of negative behavior patterns and harmful symptoms.
Admitting you are suffering is not only difficult for you, but has an impact on everyone in your life, in particular your family. Others around you may not want you to be suffering from trauma as it makes some difficult truths real.
Admitting trauma means other people have to look at themselves. The denial of trauma absolves everyone of their own feelings. Having the strength to say, actually, you know what, this happened and this has contributed to where I am today, is the hardest thing many sufferers will have to do in their lives. Having the strength to say this trauma is mine and I am owning my feelings will mean others have to step back and own their own feelings. Refusing to hold other people’s reactions as my own has been, and still is, nearly impossible. Often you will go against the opinion of nearly everyone closest to you.
Admitting you are suffering does not mean you are blaming anyone. Trauma’s reality does not mean someone must be responsible. The nature of getting better is to look internally and to accept that trauma is a subjective experience as opposed to objective facts of what happened.
So what is trauma? Why are some events considered traumatic to some and not others? Why did this event affect one person and yet have no impact on another? Why do people find trauma so hard to accept? I believe it’s because it is an unspoken topic. There is no narrative for trauma.
The psychological definition of trauma is “damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a distressing event or an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds the ability of the individual to cope and integrate the emotions involved.” This definition often gets simplified into the dictionary definition of “a deeply disturbing or distressing event,” which is where we all get a little lost. It’s very easy to understand trauma as something horrific, like war, or mass violence, or a natural disaster. It’s the “exceeding ability to cope and integrate emotions” section that gets lost on us.
We need to get rid of the view that trauma is an action (an event). The more psychology tells us about trauma, the more it becomes clear that trauma is a reaction. Most importantly, it is an individual reaction.
My therapist is always telling me that some children are born more sensitive than others. The word “sensitive” always irritates me, so we have decided to agree that some children are born more emotionally intelligent than others. They are more in tune to others’ emotions and more able to connect and empathize with others’ feelings.
These children are the ones most susceptible to trauma. Combined with the lack of protective factors such as the ability or willingness to ask for help and inbuilt resilience characteristics, the possibility of trauma already seems higher. Trauma can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate.
The view through trauma-tinted lenses is one of constant fear. It makes the world seem a frightening and dangerous place where no one can be trusted. Trauma leaves people feeling confused and insecure. Many children carry these tinted lenses into adulthood and this is when signs of post-traumatic stress disorder become apparent.
These normal reactions to abnormal events in childhood provided a function while the world was inherently dangerous. However, in adulthood these reactions become abnormal and become a hindrance to the ability to live, love and be loved.
Kee, A. (2018). The Denial of Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-denial-of-trauma/