The Many Faces of Trauma
What is trauma? I learned a long time ago not to define my trauma as worse or better, easier or harder than someone else's. To one person, it may be falling and needing surgery; to another person it may be a physical or sexual assault; to another person it may be losing a close family member or friend. To yet someone else, it may be a car crash or another accident that terrified and traumatized them.
Trauma, defined, is a deeply depressing or disturbing event. It is also defined, medically, as physical injury. This topic hits home with me after I listened to a group of people on the bus, one day, who were talking about something that a couple of them had been through. While they were talking, another couple of their friends decided to say yeah, well I went through this and it did this to me. To me, it seemed like they were competing with one another to see who had the "worst" trauma, and who was traumatized "the most" by their experiences. I know over the years I've had similar conversations with people, where all of a sudden one trauma seems to be elevated above another, described as worse or more harmful. The good news is, no matter what kind of trauma you've been through, there's always hope for healing and recovery. The frustrating news is that healing does take time, no matter what the trauma or injury.
Often, trauma takes so much time to heal from because it isn't something that can just be taken away from your memories and thoughts. There's no time limit or expectation as to how long it will take someone to heal. Everybody is different, just like our bodies are different, our likes are different or hobbies and thoughts are different. Healing is also unique to each individual. Studies have shown that a group of survivors from one shared trauma experience will heal at different rates.The trauma-related symptoms and reactions also vary person to person. Despite the shared trauma, each individual's brain responds differently. So, if that's true, why is it that we compare trauma to another's?
I think this comparison stems from our constant need to compare ourselves to "the Joneses" so to speak, from jobs, to belongings, to family achievements, we constantly strive to beat each other. Support groups often help break down those barriers and help people see they are not alone in their experiences or responses. However, for me, it was remembering that life is about supporting each other not minimizing others successes or traumas by trying to one-up someone's personal concerns.
I think we also need to watch our responses and determine the reason we feel the need to have gone through "worse" trauma compared to someone else. Like our responses to trauma, the reasons will be different for each individual. When we learn to stop comparing bodies, and we look within ourselves, I believe that's when the real healing to our own trauma can happen, and when we find a true understanding of another's trauma as well. I often think that we compare traumas in an attempt to sound or be more empathetic, but in the end it often comes across as being dismissive of the traumas that they experienced. The opposite can be true as well. People can minimize their trauma, thinking that it's insignificant compared to other people's. That, in itself, can cause mental health challenges and a low self-esteem. Trauma is trauma. It's our responses that matter. Remember that healing is different for everyone. The important thing isn't to compare, rather to support and care.
I also think that being a good friend and being there for someone who is expressing, maybe for the first time, a trauma that they've been through is more important than empathizing with them. I think we need to take a step back and look at each other with a greater respect and a greater understanding of each other's trauma. That doesn't mean that you can relate to their trauma; it just means that you're taking the next steps to be understanding. It means that you are listening to their trauma instead of comparing your own to theirs. People can heal from trauma. It just takes work, time, patience, and, often, the support of friends and family who are there whether the trauma is ever-present in their daily lives or whether it is long past.
To those struggling with the effects of trauma, I wish you nothing but peace and healing. Never give up, and if you ever need anyone to talk to, always feel free to DM me or reach out to a friend or somebody you trust. When all we do is compete or compare with each other, it only tears us down. It's time to take the steps to support each other and lift each other up. I look forward to taking those steps with each and everyone of you.
Written by: Cora Wright