Trauma is trauma regardless of the source
Along the healing journey, it is common to hear comments from others, such as, “You don’t know what it’s like for me,” “I went through so much worse than you,” “He only did it to me, so it doesn’t matter,” “You don’t understand,” and “He only touched me, so why I am having so much trouble?”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of trauma is:
- A deeply distressing or disturbing experience;
- Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis;
- Physical injury.
The long-term effects of trauma is very similar for anyone affected, regardless of whether the cause of trauma is child abuse, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, assault, war trauma etc. With this in mind, any comparison of my trauma, your trauma, or anyone else’s trauma is irrelevant. As a friend said recently, “trauma is trauma is trauma is trauma.”
However, I would like a right-of-reply on some of the comments I have heard, and, unfortunately, some I have said.
For 32 years I tried to keep myself sane by saying to myself over and over and over, “It’s only been done to me, so it doesn’t matter.” In effect, what I was telling myself was, “I DON’T MATTER,” and I conveniently supported this statement with the actions of others who seemed, in my own mind, to disregard the pain and trauma I had experienced. Over time, one of the things I was most sure of in life was that I did not matter – nobody cared what had happened to me, what will happen to me, or what was happening to me right then and there.
There are a couple of points that need to be made clear regarding this.
- It was not just me my father abused, although I did not have strong evidence to the contrary until I was 37;
- The reason people seemed not to care and think that I did not matter, was because at no time did I stand up and say, “I DO MATTER.”
As for not understanding the trauma of others, I have this to say – No, I don’t know what you experienced, and yes, my experience may not have been as ‘bad’ as yours, but what is your measure of ‘bad’ anyway?
My parents did not sell me into prostitution. I was not tortured, had my finger- and toe-nails removed one-by-one, burnt with cigarettes or acid, or had slices cut out of my skin for not doing exactly what I was told (yes,these type of things do happen every day, and yes, even in Australia). I did not die from my experience, nor was I left in a vegetative state because my father went a bit too far during one of his violent rampages. Just because I did not experience any of those things, does that really indicate what I did experience is trivial, left no impact, or means nothing?
What if we go the other way? My father did more than just ‘cop a feel’ every now and then, here and there, but does that mean the trauma experienced by someone whose father did do ‘that little’ is any less than my own? In fact, from the people I have met, it is highly possible that the effects on someone who experienced ‘that little’ is far more intense than the effects on someone who experienced much ‘worse’ trauma.
The effects, regardless of their intensity, generally have very similar characteristics. All you need do is read some of the blogs written by survivors of childhood abuse and domestic violence to see that insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, inability to trust, pain, body memories, anger, etc etc etc are experienced by all. Can we really sit back and judge one to have more trauma than another?
What is to be gained by comparing our trauma or healing to others? We are individuals and our experiences are unique to ourselves – even if two people are submitted to the same treatment, the way they process and experience it is different.
Instead of wasting energy on ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’, it is far more practical to be concerned about our own healing and progress. By all means, use the experience and wisdom of others as a guide for what is possible, what might or might not work, and as a source of hope that things will get better, but becoming obsessed, or belittling the experience of others is generally unhelpful for our own healing.