Trauma recovery isn’t about making “excuses.”
I’ve worked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of trauma survivors. I’ve never once met one who was primarily looking to “excuse” ways they’ve behaved or treated others.
Trauma recovery IS about understanding.
It IS about giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt.
It IS about meeting who we were, and who we are, with compassion and trust, rather than cynicism and hostility.
Many people come to trauma recovery not thrilled with how they’ve lived their life.
Many people reading this know what it’s like to feel that you’ve alienated people you used to be close to.
Many people reading this know what it’s like to have missed out on or sabotaged professional opportunities. (I know that feeling VERY well.)
Many people reading this know what it’s like to walk around feeling like you simply having lived up to your “potential.”
Eventually we come to understand that a lot of what we have or haven’t done in our lives may be related to trauma we’ve endured and our nervous systems’ conditioned responses to trauma…but even then, many of us are resistant to really wrapping our heads around that fact.
After all, we don’t want to make “excuses.”
Many of us have been conditioned to believe that WE are the problem— and that to acknowledge what may have contributed to our behavior is making an “excuse.”
Almost every trauma survivor I’ve ever worked with has been very clear that they are NOT interested in “making excuses” for anything.
In fact, many trauma survivors struggle to even acknowledge the role trauma might have played in their behavior, specifically because they don’t want to avoid responsibility.
Here’s the thing, though: understanding what’s going on with us is not making an “excuse.”
There is a BIG difference between an excuse and an explanation.
The vast majority of the survivors I’ve worked with very much want to understand what the hell is going on with them— but they also very much do not want to reject what they’ve been told is their “responsibility” to “own” their behavior and reactions.
We can only “own” our behavior and reactions when we understand them in context.
And we can only realistically change them when we meet what’s going on with us with acceptance and compassion.
NOBODY has ended up in trauma recovery because they planned or wanted it.
NOBODY planned or wanted abuse, neglect, or other trauma to dramatically affect their beliefs, thinking, emotions, and behavior.
EVERYBODY in trauma recovery is in a process of discovering and understanding what the hell is going on. Making it make sense.
If we’re hell bent on judging ourselves for situations and reactions we didn’t freely choose, we’re NOT going to meaningfully understand what the hell is going on.
If we start out from a place of judging our past self for reactions that were the result of trauma conditioning, we’re only going to stay at war with our current self.
I know. Exploring our trauma history and our past behavior with curiosity and compassion is a tall order— ESPECIALLY when we’ve been conditioned to hate and judge ourselves for what we’ve experienced and what we’ve done.
But self-acceptance is a bedrock of recovery.
We’re not going to recovery and shame and reject ourselves at the same time.
We’re not going to forgive and judge our past self at the same time.
We’re not going to understand and vilify our nervous system responses at the same time.
Understanding ourselves isn’t about making “excuses.”
It’s about meaningfully constructing a future— and, when we need to, making amends— WITHOUT having to worry about making excuses.