What is trauma, compared to just unfortunate events in everyday life? This question was posed once while talking to my cousin where I had called past events in her life traumatic, and she responded: “nah, it be like that sometimes.” And while I understand the sentiment of “it be like that sometimes” I also know that recognizing your trauma is an extremely important part of personal growth and self-love. So I started to wonder if people were actually taking the time to recognize, process, and work through their traumas, instead of pushing them aside.
It was hard picking just one traumatic event in my life to talk about here. While there have been many levels of trauma in my life, I wanted to be able to write about one that has impacted me greatly, that I’ve done a great deal processing on, and in the end, have some sort of result to speak about. But that’s the thing, trauma will forever have effects on you, and there will always be more to discover, learn and work on.
Ok so, my mother is an alcoholic. That in itself is traumatic, but more specifically one of the ways this has affected me is my disinterest to have children. I know that when I was a kid I used to play with baby dolls, and I know that in elementary school I thought about what I would name my kids. But there was a time where that changed and I became adamant I would never have kids. Everyone told me “just wait until your twenties” but I knew there was something in me (or the lack thereof) that just didn’t want them. An ex-partner of mine actually called me out on this and asked me if I didn’t want kids because I was scared to be a mother, because my mother chose alcohol over me. At the time, I laughed and continued to hold strong on my opinions. But over the course of four years (yes, sometimes it takes processing these things that long) I started to think critically about these traumas and how they could have affected me. I realized that because my memory as a child is extremely limited, and because the only real memories I have of my mother is her choosing alcohol over me, I started to develop some deep-seated fears. For one, I’m scared I won’t love my children. More than that, I’m scared I won’t love my children enough, more than anything in the world. Secondly, I fear that I won’t be a good mother, that I won’t give them the time or attention they need. And finally, I fear that a life with a strong familial base isn’t possible. I fear that families are always broken, that there will always be divorce, drama, and that blood, is in fact, not thicker than water.
Now, do I want kids? I have no fucking clue. Since I’ve come to these realizations it’s been a confusing time for me. On one hand, I’d like to be stubborn and hold on to these thoughts I’ve been saying for the past 16 years. On the other, conquering these fears is a beast on its own. How do I move past these fears, how do I know what is a real emotion and what is a product of my environment?
Only time will tell. But the important thing is that I’ve recognized this trauma, some results from it, and I can now love myself a bit more because I better understand why I feel a certain way.
A major act of self-love, self-understanding, and self-care is recognizing and working through your traumas. Here are some things to keep in mind when working with your traumas.
Call it a trauma. Trauma can be defined as a psychological, physical, or emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. This experience wasn’t just another day. It impacted you and it will continue to impact you. Using this term validates your emotions, your reactions, and it sets a precedent for how you will work through it.
Your traumas don’t define you, but they did help create you. You are a product of your environment. Whether your environment was good or bad, you are who you are. But there are ways to change, if you want that to be the case. It’s important to recognize how your traumas have affected you, so you can choose what to do about your traits.
Grow through them, because of them. As I said, you are who you are. But maybe, some of these traits aren’t so good. For me, I was a major stickler about being on time because of my traumas. So much so that it was negatively affecting my friendships. But I recognized this, and I now realize that I can’t (and shouldn’t try to) control other people’s ability to be on time. But I can control mine, and hell, if I want to be 15 minutes early to everything, then so be it. But I won’t get mad at my friends if they’re forever an hour late to everything (sorry guys, you deserved that one).
Communicate your needs. The time thing is a good example, I’ve learned that if I want to feel better about my friends being late, I need to communicate with them. Specifically, I now ask them to let me know if they’ll be late, and ask for specific time ranges that they think they’ll arrive. This helps calm my anxiety immensely, and all it takes is asking what I need. If you’re communicating these things and aren’t getting the results you want, consider sitting the person down and being completely honest about your trauma and why you need something. But try not to do this in the moment, as your emotional state will be compromised, and to be fair, this person has no idea why you’re asking these things of them and could become defensive.
Working through your trauma can be terrifying, but in the end, you’ll have a better understanding of yourself. And the world needs more introspective badasses like you.
A SPECIAL EXERCISE: The Trauma Tree
Use this exercise to become familiar with your trauma and how it’s affected you both negatively and positively. Try actually drawing it to get the visual, and come back to this tree as time goes on. See what you discover about yourself.
This drawing will be comprised of three parts: The Ground; The Trunk; The Branches
Draw a thick tree growing out of the ground. The space in the ground should be left open for you to write. Write your trauma in this space.
In the trunk of the tree, write about how your trauma has negatively impacted your habits, thoughts, the way you communicate, your pet peeves, how you love, how you receive love, etc etc. It’s important to check in with yourself during this part, as it can be very emotional and upsetting to think about these things.
Now from this trunk, draw as many branches as you want. These branches represent how you’ve grown from this trauma, how it’s shaped you in a positive way, obstacles you’ve overcome, how you’ve grown stronger, how you’ve helped others overcome the same things, etc etc.
Reflect on your trauma tree. Is the trunk thick with negative and bare of positive branches? How can you grow through your trauma, because of it? How can you add more branches to this tree? What kind of personal, internal work can you do?
Reflect, learn, and grow.