You’re going to run into people who straight up deny that your experience is your experience.
You’ll try to tell them what you’ve been through, and they’ll say, “nah, that didn’t happen.”
You’ll try to tell them what you’re feeing, and they’ll say, “are you sure?”
You’ll try to tell them what you need, and they’ll say, “no, you don’t. You need this other thing.”
You’ll try to tell them how something impacted you, and they’ll say, “well, THAT’S the wrong reaction.”
Again and again we run into people who refuse to take our account of our experience at face value.
This happens all the time when our past includes painful, complicated relationships or traumatic events.
As hard as it is for survivors to put words to what they’ve been through, it can be even harder to share those words with another human being.
Survivors are very often used to their experiences being questioned, doubted, or ignored.
One of the great ironies of the overdue conversation we are now having about trauma and its consequences is that, while it’s given survivors more opportunities than ever to speak out about what it’s like to try to recover, it’s also provided opportunities for survivors’ narratives to be picked apart and cross examined— often publicly.
The more we, as a culture, learn about what trauma does to our nervous system, our relationships, and our decision-making, the more some people will feel the need to judge and gatekeep whether other peoples’ experience was “really that bad.”
Some people truly think they’re doing the world a service by announcing that some peoples’ pain isn’t “bad enough” to justify their level of injury or impairment.
Here’s the thing: nobody’s else’s opinion about how much you “should” be hurting, changes how much you’re ACTUALLY hurting— but their opinion CAN add another layer of shame, self-loathing, and secrecy to what you’re already carrying.
Somebody else’s opinion on whether the word “trauma” is overused in popular culture doesn’t change how ACTUALLY traumatic your life has been.
Somebody else’s judgment on whether or not your diagnosis is real or not doesn’t change what you’re ACTUALLY struggling with in your head and heart— but their judgment CAN make you doubt what you’re experiencing such that you feel conflicted and guilty for seeking help or trying to soothe it.
Speaking as both a trauma survivor and a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of complex trauma and dissociation, I can tell you: I don’t actually care what anybody thinks about the prevalence or use of the word “trauma” in the popular culture or on the internet.
I care that trauma survivors get what they need to stay alive and start reclaiming their lives.
Please, please, please: don’t get wrapped up in the discussions you see on the internet about whether an experience someone has had actually qualifies as “traumatic.”
Don’t get wrapped up in arguments about whether “trauma” is over diagnosed, overused, or overemphasized in our culture.
Focus in on what happened to you, and how it affected you.
Focus in on what you need to get through the day alive.
Do NOT dive in and try to sort through how much your experience “should” have affected you, based on somebody else’s opinion or standard.
Deal with what happened, and what is happening, to you.
You don’t have to pick sides in any debate about trauma.
You don’t have to meet anyone’s standard for “hurt enough” to deserve support and help.
You don’t have to use any words you don’t want to use to describe your experience. I honestly don’t care if you use the word “trauma” to describe what happened to you or the reactions you now have to deal with.
What I care about is you staying invested in creating a life that works for you. That is livable for you. That makes sense to you.
Yeah. They’re going to deny, question, and doubt your experience. Sometimes even the people who are close to us are going to do this, which is a drag.
Your responsibility is still to you.
Your quality of life. Your priorities, values, and loved ones.
Not to their expectations, definitions, approval, or their “side” in any bigger debate.