When I was five years old, I was repeatedly assaulted by someone known to me. I did not understand it back then, but as I started growing up, I noticed remnants of my unhealed trauma in my adult personality. This is a chapter of my life that I still haven’t been able to come to terms with, this is a part of my life that doesn’t get to come out and live its truth even in my therapy sessions. The most I have ever talked about it is in a couple of lines during the introduction of a story, like I am doing right now.
In an attempt to tell myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal, and that what happened to me didn’t really damage me, I started living this narrative where I was ‘just assaulted.’
I still haven’t been able to deal with what happened to me, and on particularly bad days, when my mind does wander to the episode, I quickly look away pretending that I don’t have the right to cry it out because I didn’t have it as bad as other women who were raped or killed.
I didn’t think much of my behavior until I came across similar stories of people who belittle their own trauma because someone out there has had it worse. I recently read an interesting analogy where it said that it doesn’t matter if someone is drowning in 20 feet water, or 8 feet water. The point is both of them have drowned. And it is absolutely ridiculous to say that one kind of drowning is better than the other.
“You have nothing to be sad about, people have it so much worse than you do.”
We all grow up listening to this sentence so often that we start applying it in every aspect of our lives, including trauma. Similar to survivors guilt, we are afraid to grieve or feel bad about what happened to us because we are made to believe that we don’t have the right. It is common for people to ‘just not get it’ because what happened to you was long time back or something very trivial according to them. When you stop someone from being sad, or stressed over a traumatic incident, you are essentially telling them that they don’t matter, and their pain is just an excuse to throw a pity party.
The thing is trauma is not a race, it is not a competition. Someone will always have it worse than you, but this does not imply that you cannot be upset over your own circumstances.
Trauma belittling. We do it to ourselves, we do it to our loved ones. It isn’t uncommon for friends and family to question or doubt one’s struggle or stress over a traumatic incident that happened to them. As a result, we often end up discrediting our own experiences of struggle or trauma, causing our emotions to shut down and not ask around for help.
When you invalidate someone’s struggle, understand that you are silencing them, forcing them to get defensive, causing them to doubt themselves enough to not reach out for help they desperately need. This phenomenon is similar to Minimisation, a common technique deployed by abusers where deception involves denial coupled with rationalisation in situations where complete denial is implausible. Sadly, even our loved ones often overlook the intricacies of trauma.
When I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease last year, some of my closest friends came to me and told me,
“Be glad, you got to know about it now than later.”
“Oh don’t be sad, but you have everything else going on for you.”
“At least you don’t have cancer.”
They probably were trying to make me feel better, but really, they just made me feel that my pain or my anxiety about being diagnosed with an incurable disease at 28 was not valid, that I was overreacting.
Some people are better equipped to deal with trauma than others. Some people will be affected more by trauma than others. And this in no way means, that the victim is in some way responsible for not feeling better fast enough.
Everyone’s trauma is unique, and the aftermath that they live in, thus, is also different for everyone.
We all experience trauma differently, and have different thresholds for pain and suffering. We must stop telling stories of so-and-so and how that person had it even worse than you. We need to stop bullying people into believing that ‘toughening up’ is the only solution. We must listen, empathize and accept it fully well that we don’t understand what the other person may be going through at all times.
The proverbial playing field is not level.
I survived what happened to me during childhood. But does that also mean that I would have been able to survive what happened to you?