Trauma is not a competition.
There’s some misconception around trauma that can make it seem like there’s an objective “right” or “wrong” about it.
We sometimes do it to ourselves by comparing what you experienced to some imaginary alternative scenario.
“It wasn’t really that bad. It could have been so much worse.”
And other times its inflicted onto us through unhelpful comments from friends and family.
“You’ll be fine. Basically the same thing happened to me and you just have to think about it this way…”
But the reality is that it’s not helpful to compare trauma. It’s not a competition. There is no award for “best traumatized individual.”
Now don’t get me wrong. There are different types of trauma, as well as different levels of severity for the impact of trauma. But trauma is trauma.
Let’s define a few things.
Trauma: Trauma can be described as the result of an experience that threatened someone’s sense of safety or security. This can be done physically, emotionally, sexually, or otherwise. In fact, the definition of trauma has little to do with the event itself, but rather the impact of the event. If an event or series of events (like a relationship) occurred that causes ongoing mental/emotional distress even after it’s over, chances are you’ve experienced trauma.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This is a mental health disorder listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5-TR). It describes a specific group of criteria after experiencing a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. These criteria can include symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and dissociation, among others.
Many people tend to compare trauma because there is a stereotype that all traumas MUST fit under the diagnostic criteria of PTSD. But this is simply not true.
You can’t have PTSD without trauma, but you CAN have trauma without PTSD.
And in either case, you have the right to seek help for how trauma has affected your life.
It can be easy to compare your experiences against others and feel like it needs to be “bad enough” to be considered trauma. But that’s not the case at all, and it’s not very helpful to do that. This way of thinking is invalidating because there can always be a case where something is considered worse than the next thing.
The more we can release the need to compare and judge our own experiences, the easier it will be to seek healing. And the less likely we will be to compare and judge those around us as well.
It’s not a competition. It’s a journey to healing for ourselves and our loved ones.
Start by giving yourself compassion and the acknowledgement that maybe your trauma is valid enough as it is.
If you’d like help with your trauma healing journey, please reach out to me here.
Photography by Portrait Memoirs.