While the word “trauma” is commonly used in everyday conversations and online, it is often misused and misunderstood. Though public knowledge about trauma and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) has increased significantly in recent years, confusing, inaccurate myths about trauma and what it really looks like are still widespread. For more background on what the word “trauma” really means, check out our previous post here.
Once we have a better, more accurate understanding of trauma, it’s time to debunk some of the most common trauma misconceptions.
MYTH #1: Everyone living with trauma has PTSD.
FACT: After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s not uncommon for some PTSD symptoms to surface, such as having nightmares about the event or feeling on-edge. In fact, having some sort of reaction to a traumatic event is completely normal, and doesn’t necessarily mean that this person has PTSD. For some people, these symptoms will subside after a few weeks or a month (in this case, it is often referred to as Acute Stress Disorder). If symptoms continue to significantly impact a person’s life for over a month, they may be diagnosed with PTSD. Some others might have experienced trauma that affects their lives in subtler ways– not having a clinical diagnosis does not invalidate how some feel about the trauma they’ve experienced.
MYTH #2: PTSD and trauma always result from one life-threatening traumatic event.
FACT: It’s true that experiencing one deeply disturbing or life-threatening event such as a natural disaster or personal violence can be highly traumatic and lead some individuals to develop PTSD. However, it’s often more useful to understand the word “trauma” as describing the reaction to an event or series of events, rather than the event itself. An event that one person perceives as traumatic may not seem as upsetting or life-threatening to another – but that doesn’t make the resulting trauma or pain any less real. What’s more is that trauma can also result from repeated or ongoing events of varying individual severities, such as childhood neglect, emotional abuse, or domestic violence.
MYTH #3: Only people who are emotionally weak will be affected by trauma.
FACT: PTSD and trauma, like all mental health concerns, can often look different for each person. No two people will experience trauma in exactly the same ways, even if they’ve experienced the same event together. There are many different factors that can influence how someone will react to a traumatic event – some people may have stronger support networks or personal coping mechanisms in place that make them more or less prone to lasting psychological harm. People who do go on to develop PTSD or who struggle significantly in their lives post-traumatic-event are not weak. Trauma recovery is incredibly complex, and it is virtually impossible to predict individual reactions. Having strong support systems and effective coping mechanisms can be incredibly helpful for many in the aftermath.
MYTH #4: People who have experienced trauma will suffer as a result of it for the rest of their lives.
FACT: For those who have experienced trauma, sometimes the pain can feel overwhelming and the chances of ever fully recovering slim. It may feel impossible to believe that they will ever feel “normal” again. While traumatic events can certainly be life-changing, this does not mean that recovery isn’t possible, nor does it mean that nothing good can come from it. There is no universal timeline for healing and for most, it will take time to feel safe and secure again. With enough support from friends, family, and mental health professionals, all people can heal from unimaginable tragedies and go on to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Often throughout the healing process, some who are recovering find that they feel a new appreciation for life, or a larger capacity for empathy. This growth demonstrates just how strong and resilient we are, and how overcoming hardships makes us even stronger, not weak.
It’s important to remember that your pain, experiences, and feelings are valid, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others. No one can predict how they will respond to adversity or tragedy – and what sends some of us into a deeply traumatic period of our lives won’t necessarily have the same effect on others. There are countless factors that predict the severity of our reactions to negative events in our lives. Whether you are struggling with trauma that is impacting your day-to-day functioning, or you seem to be doing alright most of the time and just need some healing support now-and-then, you deserve to get the help you need. You are not weak, and you are far from alone.