Many trauma survivors have difficulty extending themselves the benefit of the doubt. 

Or basic compassion. 

Or basic respect. 

Trauma has a way of convincing us we don’t “deserve” these. 

Trauma even has a way of convincing us that it isn’t, you know, trauma. 

We KNOW trauma impacts the human nervous system in some fairly predicable ways— and yet our trauma often tries to convince us we’re suffering because we lack character. 

Our trauma tries to convince us our suffering is due to our lack of toughness or willpower— not the fact that our nervous system has been subjected to a stressor that human beings haven’t evolved to handle. 

Sometimes our trauma tries to get us to compare our experience with other peoples’, and uses THEIR response to similar stressors as examples of why WE’RE not handling our traumatic stress well. 

After all, our trauma tries to tell us, if trauma was the REAL problem here, wouldn’t EVERYONE be equally devastated by similar stressors? So why are THEY handling it so well, and YOU’RE suffering so much? 

It’s a trick. 

The truth is, there are DOZENS of reasons why different people respond differently to traumatic stressors— and why certain stressors seem to cause more pain or dysfunction for some people than others. 

But it has nothing to do with whether a stressor is or is not objectively “traumatic.” 

There will absolutely be people who will TRY to sidetrack you into the debate about whether what you experienced was actually “trauma.” 

The fact is, it doesn’t particularly MATTER whether what you experienced fits their, or anyone’s, definition or “trauma.” 

When we’re suffering, semantics aren’t important. 

What IS important is you accessing the tools, skills, and support you need to get safe, stable, and back on your feet. 

I honestly don’t care if ANYONE calls what I consider to be trauma, trauma. 

You can call it whatever you like. Call it “Gilligan” for all I care. 

What I care about is people getting what they need to recover. 

Very often, the “is it REALLY trauma, though?” debate distracts from us doing what we need to do to recover. 

Very often, that debate serves no purpose than to make survivors feel shame. 

“If it isn’t trauma, why am I struggling with it so much?” 

Many survivors leap to the conclusion that if what happened to them ISN’T “objectively” trauma, than the problem ISN’T what happened to them— it’s THEM. 

This reinforces the fundamental message that many survivors have been on the receiving end of for years: it’s your fault. 

All this pain, all this dysfunction? Your fault. 

For YEARS we ‘re told that. And then, when we FINALLY start developing an understanding of how trauma impacts us, when we FINALLY glimpse a context in which all this pain or dysfunction make sense…the “is it trauma, though?” crowd shows up to mess with our heads. 

Don’t let ‘em. 

Don’t get up in your head with “is it trauma?” discourse. 

What you endured affected you the way it affected you. 

It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It matters how it affected you. It matters what you need to recover. 

Focus on your experience. Focus on your needs. 

Don’t get sidetracked by others’ need to weigh in on the labels you attach to your experience. 

One thought on ““But is it REALLY trauma, though?”

  1. What a perfect message to read on my 59th birthday. It’s been “my” fault my whole life–and decades of trying to amend that, of course, to no avail because it was always a mind f@ck and deflection by bad actors who dodge accountability at all costs. On this day, I’m not hearing from any of those family members, and it’s ok. I feel free to realize the real me and reject that assigned narrative and unreasonable expectations. I feel grouchy AF a lot now, but I know that it’s just the pendulum swinging the other way from over-optimism and ppl pleasing. It’ll balance out, 1% at a time. Thank God, and thank you Doc. Your messages are incredibly on point, and have helped so very much. I feel like this is my 18th birthday–with newfound freedoms– but from within. 


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