How To Explain Trauma To People Who Don’t Get It


So many times I’ve heard friends say, “You mean you’ve got major trauma that leads to PTSD that happens outside of the military?” The answer, of course, is a big, resounding, YES! The problem is that we don’t have enough sources demystifying trauma and PTSD so that it’s easy to see where it comes from and how it happens. (Finding Meaning in Trauma and PTSD)

Have you ever heard about someone else’s awful traumatic experience and thought that yours was inconsequential, or less awful? All too often we look at the experience of others and judge our own experiences against them. But that’s fundamentally wrong. Just because your trauma may not, on the surface, appear “as bad” as someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s any less traumatic or has less adverse effects.

Adding to this kind of thinking is the opinion of other people. Whether you’re in a competitive support group where members try to outdo each other with horror stories, or you’re surrounded by people who don’t understand what trauma is, it’s easy to feel devalued and invalidated by the comments of the world outside. If you have Complex PTSD, PTSD or other Trauma related Disorder you are invariably invalidated by other people’s ignorance of the types of issues that cause the disorders. They can range from car accidents, to work issues, to child abuse, domestic violence, messy divorces, the death of child/spouse. In other words a whole range of issues.

Explaining Trauma and PTSD Starts with Knowledge

Educating yourself about how to define trauma becomes critical in appreciating your own experience and recovery process, plus educating those around you. This week, I had a terrific conversation with Judy Crane, founder of The Refuge – A Healing Place, a treatment center for addiction, trauma and PTSD recovery. During our chat, Judy defined trauma down to a very minute level. I want to share it with you and hope that you’ll share it with others so that we spread the word about what trauma really means.

What is Trauma?

When it comes to trauma and PTSD, some people don’t understand the depth of the problem. Here’s how you can explain trauma and PTSD so they easily get it.A trauma survivor herself, Judy first defined trauma as

“anything less than nurturing.”

Wow, that casts a wide net and repositions trauma from the exotic to the every day, which makes it much more accessible and ubiquitous. If you’ve ever felt like you’re separate or disconnected from the world because of your trauma, the truth is that the world is full of it; you are very connected, indeed.

Judy then went on to deepen the definition by saying that trauma is

“an event or experience that changes your vision of yourself and your place in the world.”

From this perspective, you (and anyone you share this info with) can see how easily trauma leaves its mark. Without your permission, a negative, frightening, hurtful or disempowering event occurs that shifts you into a place of feeling “less than”. From here, it’s a slippery slope to feeling unworthy, undeserving, purposeless and useless, the very feelings that contribute to post-traumatic symptoms and interrupt a normal life.

Explain Trauma & PTSD Simply; Others Will Get It

The next time someone (including you) poo-poos your trauma or PTSD experience or belittles the effects it’s had on you, share Judy’s simple explanations. You can say, for example,

Trauma is anything less than nurturing that changes your vision of yourself and your place in the world.

Explain, too, that trauma happens in both the big and little moments of how life negatively alters you.

From bullying to verbal abuse to abandonment and neglect, trauma comes in as many forms, shapes and sizes as the human race. That means experiencing trauma is part of the human condition. When you feel traumatized you are a normal, feeling, thinking being who has just had a perspective shift that can be shocking, startling, disconcerting and leave you feeling at a loss for how to respond.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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