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What is Trauma, Anyway?

Rebecca Hilliard
Guest Blogger
I’ve had many people ask me if what they’ve been through is trauma. Many people who think that what they’ve experienced isn’t bad enough to be trauma. They think that they’re being too sensitive or fragile and that it shouldn’t be affecting them as much as it does. There’s this thought people have that trauma is only real and valid if it’s something really horrible.

But let me tell you that trauma can be anything and that you don’t have to experience something horrible to develop PTSD. Trauma can be getting into a car accident and PTSD can make you too afraid to drive again. It can be having a bad experience with a medical professional and PTSD can make you never want to go to the doctor again. Trauma can be a sports injury, an unhealthy relationship, living with financial insecurity, or growing up in a strict religion. There are no rules or guidelines when it comes to what trauma is. If something happens and it affects you a lot then it’s trauma. Even if the same thing happens to someone else and doesn’t affect them as much.

We can’t control how our brain responds to the things we experience. We can’t control whether we develop PTSD or not. It’s not about being strong enough or tough enough. It’s about how our brain responds to what we experience. When I was in high school I tore my ACL and that might not be a big deal to some people but for me it was emotionally devastating and affected me for years afterwards. I grew up being taught that I had to behave a certain way in order to not go to hell when I die. Some people might have been able to shrug off those teachings but it crippled me and even now as an adult I have so much fear and anxiety about religion and the afterlife. I’m not weak because these things have affected me. And you’re not weak either if you’ve experienced something that has affected you a lot.

When we develop PTSD our brain is trying to protect us and prepare us for future trauma. It knows that we went through something terrible and it’s trying it’s best to keep us ready for something else terrible so that it doesn’t affect us as much. PTSD is incredibly difficult to live with but I think of it as my brain trying to help me. It’s on my side. And even though it doesn’t feel like it, it is possible to recover from. It’s possible to feel safe again. I’m currently working on teaching my brain that it’s safe to put its guard down. It’s safe to rest and feel safe.

So if you’re wondering right now if what you went through was trauma ask yourself this…Is it affecting me on a daily basis? Do I have big emotions about it? Am I feeling fear and anxiety about it? If you answer yes to those questions then what you experienced most likely was traumatic for you, no matter how small it seems. How you feel is valid. Your emotions and experiences are valid. You are not too sensitive. If you’re looking for support I definitely recommend talking to a therapist about it. They can help you work through what you’ve been through so that it doesn’t affect you as much. And if you want to talk to other people who have experienced trauma check out the WhiteFlag App. There are people there who will be able to understand how you’re feeling. You’re not alone in this.

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