When discussing trauma and its effects on people, we sometimes tend to associate trauma with the most intensely traumatic incidents, such as being at war, experiencing extreme violence, or having a near-death experience. It would serve us, however, to expand our conceptualization of trauma, to broaden its definition, and to understand that any experience could be traumatic to someone. Limiting our definition of trauma to what we personally perceive to be traumatic, or to what we ourselves have been traumatized by, closes our hearts to others who might be suffering. We block ourselves from consciously empathizing with and understanding someone else’s pain when we decide something is not traumatic simply because we ourselves might not be traumatized by it. The consequence thereafter is often one of judgment; we harshly judge other people’s reactions and behaviors, their experiences and the ways in which they cope.
“That wouldn’t bother me.”
“I would never do that.”
“What’s her problem?”
“I’ve been through way worse.”
“Why won’t she just get over it?”
“It’s really not that serious.”
We sometimes fail to realize that pain is not objective. There are no hierarchies, standards or benchmarks for trauma. Pain really is relative; we perceive our experiences and circumstances relative to who we are, not as isolated incidents in a vacuum. Everything in our lives can factor into our perceptions: our upbringing, our relationships, our mental and emotional states. What might be trivial or benign to some might be catastrophic to others, because we filter all of our experiences through our uniquely personal combinations of fears, sensitivities, triggers and memories. Each of our subconscious minds holds differing beliefs and thought patterns, making the ways in which we process and react to things as vastly different as we are. And yet, one of our commonalities as human beings is that we are susceptible and vulnerable to the things that hurt us.
We have a tendency to be led by our ego minds, detaching us from our hearts. We think in terms of analysis, assessment and judgement, rather than connection, understanding and empathy. If we can open our hearts to the idea that we are all traumatized, each by our own particular set of painful experiences, we might be less likely to downplay other people’s pain, to judge and shun them, or to belittle them for how they are coping. We might open our hearts a little more and instead choose empathy, compassion and inclusivity.
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