Debunked: 7 Myths about Trauma
Funnily enough, a main focus in my work has not revealed itself yet in my blog posts. After all, I don’t intend to write articles to discuss the entirety of a subject, and this one has felt hard to approach and attempt to refine. Possibly because it is already somewhat complex to talk about in a brief way without oversimplifying or overcomplicating it, since the word tends to cause a significant reaction that typically results in negative assumptions. And that word is: Trauma.
Trauma, in and of itself, is something we all have. But the type (emotional, physical, childhood, etc.), severity, stage in life, duration of time experienced, and the ways we adapt and cope with trauma is another thing entirely. Due to this reason, trauma is one of, if not the, most prevalent mental health condition to affect the average individual… But due to misconceptions/misinformation, ableism, and stigma, plenty of people do not really understand what trauma is and how it functions, which has disastrous personal and societal results.
Now, let’s debunk some commonly held beliefs:
1. It happened in the past, so you should just get over it
Symptoms from trauma exist in the present, in ways that are internalized and held in the body (The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk). Sometimes we aren’t able to even locate memories that have been repressed, so it’s possible that some people are affected by what they aren’t able to remember. If someone claims to successfully be “over” their own trauma, it is likely because they had the support, resources, and healthy coping mechanisms that are not available or possible for everyone in every circumstance. It is also important to mention that trauma is linked to major and chronic physical health problems such as immunodeficiency/autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, hypertension, and more.
2. People/I have/had it worse, so I/they shouldn’t complain
Comparing trauma is as helpful as comparing broken limbs. Sure, breaking your leg may make it harder to walk than a broken finger, but that broken finger is painful and destabilizes life in its own way too. If you internalize this for yourself, it makes it even more difficult to sort through emotions that are worthy of deciphering and understanding so that one may fully accept and move forward with proper treatment rather than focusing on “pain olympics”.
3. If they/I don’t have PTSD, the trauma isn’t that bad
Trauma can create vastly difficult and serious symptoms such as chronic anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disordered eating, self-harm, and more… and all of these symptoms could be linked to complex PTSD— Something that is being better understood by health professionals only in recent years, and it is entirely possible that trauma-focused intervention is overlooked. Some psychological experts point to the idea that all disorders and negative mental health symptoms are derived from trauma, whether it is experienced first-hand or trans/intergenerational.
4. If a certain kind of therapy doesn’t work, then nothing will
Thankfully, there are a lot of varieties of care and treatment out there for various symptoms, conditions, and disorders. Sometimes DBT is more helpful than CBT for certain problems, or Somatic Experiencing is a better fit. Sometimes talk therapy or art therapy, EMDR, or something with a spiritual foundation is best. What is most important is trying and giving an appropriate amount of time with strong commitment to yourself to heal.
5. You can only use prescription drugs to cope with trauma
Prescription drugs make life more manageable in order to reach stages of growth we may not be able to access without them, but this is not the case for everyone. In some cases, the lack of control over side effects, fear of judgement, and the change in and of itself can be triggering and can be more difficult to cope with. Whichever the situation may be, prescription drugs are not as effective without simultaneously receiving therapy in almost all cases. So, no, you do not have to take medication to recover from trauma— It just may make it easier or more possible.
6. Emotional trauma is not as significant as physical trauma
A few different recent studies and reports (1, 2, 3) have confirmed that children with emotional trauma had comparable if not worse mental health issues than those that were physically and sexually abused. Of course, I think it is important to include that it is rare for physical and sexual abuse to occur without the presence of emotional abuse, but it is a significant point of research that does not get as much air-time while being the most commonly experienced. If someone is emotionally abused (which can present itself as neglect, conditional love, terrorizing, demeaning, etc.) as a child, then the effects are much more difficult to untangle since the child normalizes the abuse to survive.
7. Someone who is affected by trauma is 'weaker' than other people
As mentioned above, access to resources, a support system, and positive examples of emotionally intelligent people to learn behavior from are all arguably more important to working through emotional trauma than being emotionally walled-off and steamrolling through life. It takes more strength to be compassionate, vulnerable, and sensitive rather than self-protecting with emotional distance, cruelty, and "emotional armor”. When measuring strength, I ask: “Is it the strength in my arms or is the basket I’m carrying full or heavy?” Everyone will grow tired from carrying what is heavy, but building that strength or lessening what is in your basket is possible, though that day may not be today. Strength cannot exist without weakness. It is a part of life, not something to reject.