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Why We Should Not Minimize Our Trauma

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.

Minimizing trauma will hurt us.

Minimizing trauma will hurt us.

Minimizing my emotional pain was one of my coping strategies during my dysfunctional childhood and teen years. I experienced bullying and verbal abuse that did terrible harm to my self-esteem and body image. Physical abuse made me sore, black and blue. Saying the abuse I suffered was no big deal put me in a protective bubble for a time but did not resolve my issues in the long run or promote healing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, trauma is a stressful event marked by threats of serious harm, significant injuries, or the threat of death.

Examples of traumatic events include:

  • Natural disasters and traumatizing events
  • Accidents
  • Experiencing any type of abuse, assault, or domestic violence
  • Witnessing horrific behavior that harms other people
  • Loss of a loved one
  • War

How Trauma Affects Us

Authors Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry say that the fundamental question: "'What Happened to You?' can help each of us know a little more about how experiences -- both good and bad --- shape us" in their book What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.

The emotional impact of trauma can cause feelings of helplessness, fear, horror, and vulnerability. People's responses vary but may include grief, anxiety, depression, dizziness, nausea, changes in eating habits, sleeping patterns, and withdrawal from activities. Most people will recover within three months after the occurrence. If these issues worsen a month after the event, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Denying the severity of our situations protects us from experiencing pain and allows us to get on with our lives at first. We can have a false sense of being in control and feel enabled to continue relationships with someone who is hurting us. However, using this coping mechanism over time is harmful. Trauma can have a dramatic negative impact on our physical and emotional health.

People cope with the aftermath in several ways such as denial, disassociation, substance abuse, and workaholism. Some choose to minimize their pain to avoid facing disturbing facts about their trauma.

Ways We Minimize Our Trauma

We may claim the trauma is not an issue and tell ourselves:

“I am fine.”
“It is not a big deal.”
“It was not bad enough to be called a trauma.”
“I prefer not to talk about it.”
“I should just get over it.”
“There is no point in bringing up the past.”
“It is partially my fault that this happened.”
“Others have it a lot worse than I do.”

These comments have several characteristics:

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  • Claiming that our trauma is not that bad, denying the impact it has had on us.
  • Suppressing and disassociating from our feelings and trying to ignore them.
  • Making excuses for other people’s behavior.
  • Blaming ourselves in part for the trauma.
  • Comparing our situations with others to make them seem less harmful.

Ways We Minimize Our Trauma

Here are some strategies we use to downplay our trauma:

  • Keeps us from facing our pain.
  • Makes us relive the events again and again.
  • Makes us feel powerless to change.
  • Creates problems with daily functioning and sleep.
  • Makes it hard to enjoy life.
  • Difficulty focusing on anything.
  • Causes pain that is easily triggered.
  • Prevents our healing.
  • May create guilt, shame, or self-blame for the harmful event.
  • Tells us not to seek help.

Steps to Overcoming Trauma

Acknowledge the Harm That was Done

Some people may not define mistreatment as a significant trauma. They may think that the abuse is only physical or sexual and do not recognize that verbal abuse is truly harmful. They may experience anxiety and shame for their negative feelings. It probably will take some time for individuals to process and face the damage.

We must accept the extent of the damage done before we can process our hurts and overcome them. No matter how much we want to ignore and suppress it, our pain is there. Denying it only keeps us stuck. All the anger, frustration, hurt, and fear carries on. We may keep reliving the events and suffer more in denial than we would if we faced our situations.

Seek Help and Support

Minimizing our emotional pain may keep us from seeking help. “After all,” we may tell ourselves, “Things weren’t that bad.” We may need other people’s validation that significant harm has been done before we can accept the truth.

We must be careful when selecting individuals we can trust. These individuals should see the truth of our situation and the dramatic impact the trauma has had on our lives. We need people who will be in our corner and cheer us on as we tackle the challenges we will face. We need people who will be in our corner and cheer us on.

Trauma can cause significant damage to our mental health such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health professionals can help by creating a safe place to discuss issues and various treatment options. Some therapists specialize in assisting people in dealing with trauma and developing coping strategies.

Supporters can also help us to find and develop more healthy coping skills such as regular exercise and spending time in nature. There are many types of therapy such as music, art, and pets that can help speed recovery.

Feel the Pain

Diminishing the impact of severe trauma is one way we try to protect ourselves from hurting. Our society is afraid of pain. We have pills and syrups to treat every little ache. Dealing with the enormity of the harmful impact of what we experienced may seem too overwhelming for us to contemplate. The sadness, anger, and hurt seem to threaten our emotional stability.


However, when we do not face all the pain our trauma has caused, we are stuck in our feelings. If we really want to heal, we must take a chance and risk hurting for a while. If we do, our pain will pass quickly, and our recovery can begin.

Be Patient

It takes time to process the dramatic effects of trauma and deal with them. There may be times that words or situations trigger emotional pain, and we feel like we are back at square one. However, these times are temporary and should be considered bumps in the road rather than roadblocks.

Facing the true extent of how we were damaged is challenging. I found it very hard to admit that my parents’ verbal and physical abuse hurt me. It is very difficult for me to admit the extent of the harm that their behavior has done. It was less painful to convince myself that the abuse was not that bad or my fault.

It was easier for me to blame myself or make excuses for them. After all, the spankings weren’t that bad, were they? I had to answer: “Yes, they were.” When I recognized the enormity of the harm I experienced, I started my own road to healing.

References:

Are You Minimizing Your Trauma? Here's How to Tell, Psychology Today, Rubin Khoddam
Dismissing and Diminishing Your Past Keeps You From Healing, Psychology Today, Annie Wright
Feeling Broken? You May Be Minimizing or Maximizing Trauma, Psychology Today, Erin Leonard Ph.D.
Trauma Denial: How to Recognize It and Why It Matters, Psych Central, Matthew Boland

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Carola Finch

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