I’m kind of sick of the cultural double standard when it comes to post traumatic stress disorder.
On the one hand, every Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, we are flooded with posts and exclamations of how much we value our veterans’ service.
In popular culture, the zeitgeist has shifted dramatically the last several years toward believing people when they allege they have been the victims of sexual assault.
The subjects of childhood trauma and attachment trauma are very often addressed in movies, TV shows, and documentaries.
Looking at the situation from the outside, you’d think that the culture had come a long way toward acknowledging the reality of trauma and its effects.
But I’m not sure we really have.
Yes, PTSD gets a lot more publicity than it used to.
And yes, we give lip service to the fact that it is not victims’ fault when they are traumatized.
But I work with dozens of trauma patients every month— and from them, I hear a somewhat different perspective on how their difficulties are viewed by the world around them.
It seems to me we still fantasize about an inherent, nebulous quality called “toughness” that makes some people less vulnerable to, or more able to deal with, trauma than others.
I know of at least one personal development guru who won’t stop prattling on about “grit” (a quality he has decided that he, specifically, has in abundance).
As a culture, we produce more popular entertainment than ever that portrays situations that, if they existed in real life, would ONLY result in massive psychological trauma for everyone involved…but the “heroes” of these movies and TV shows rarely, if ever, display even remotely realistic symptoms of post traumatic symptoms.
It does not seem to me that we glorify recovery from trauma.
Rather, we seem to glorify immunity to trauma.
We glorify and mythologize people who seem to be able to “take” a lot of trauma, without flinching or having to pause to regroup their lives.
We glorify people who “push past” their trauma in order to tell their stories…but we rarely hear about the coping skills those people had to develop and the therapy work they had to do in order to get to the point where they safely COULD tell their stories.
Don’t get me wrong: trauma survivors are among the most courageous, resourceful people on the planet. If you do trauma work, you will witness courage (including courageous vulnerability) like you’ve never dreamt existed.
But the real experience of trauma recovery is not like an action movie or a Hallmark special.
As a culture, we need to check our expectations of trauma survivors— and our responses to them.
When we are confronted, as a culture, with people who are experiencing the common, predictable aftereffects of trauma— such as addiction, anxiety, and dissociation— we do not tend to respond with sympathy.
Rather, we tend to respond with annoyance and shame.
We tell survivors to “get past it.”
We tell survivors to “not let the past control them” (without telling them much about HOW to not let the past control them).
And we invariably compare real world survivors to the “gritty,” “tough” survivors we see in popular entertainment— and wonder why they can’t be as courageous and resourceful as those characters.
If you’re a trauma survivor and you’re reading this: you don’t have to compare yourself to anyone in the media or any character in popular entertainment.
Those personalities and character have heavily cultivated, carefully managed public personas.
Your journey is your journey. And it’s likely a lot messier, a lot more exhausting, a lot slower, and a lot less linear than anything you see on TV or in the movies.
Easy does it.
Recovery takes the time it takes.
Take the time you need— and travel the path you need to.
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