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[OPINION] Trauma - you are not what happened to you

I believe we underestimate the impact on trauma on our lives. Trauma is not about language. It is about feelings, memories, messages, fears, doubts, anxiety, vulnerability and so many common triggers.

Mostly triggers are everyday things: a banging door, a setting sun, footsteps towards your bedroom, quick walking behind you, the sound of thuds behind a closed door, someone shouting, a stare, a look, the sound of a belt or zip being undone, the rustle of leaves in a bush as you walk by, the list of triggers is endless.

They talk about the fight or flight response to trauma, but what about freeze? When we are traumatised we choose one of these options, some people take the risk and the courage to fight back and others take the personal safety option of fleeing the situation. There are countless examples in our lives where people flee, there are children who choose to live in the streets, there are adult children who choose to move to other countries, or there are those who as soon as they have the means will terminate toxic relationships which cause them trauma.

There is no wrong way to deal with trauma as in my opinion, we are individuals born to connect with other people and have relationships. Babies yearn for a parents’ touch, toddlers are always seeking attention and acknowledgement. No man or woman is an island and can possibly operate in isolation from the rest of the world. Many try, even though it is unnatural. We need human contact, support, acknowledgement and love.

As people we have become so accustomed to masking hurt, pain and trauma. We have put on pretences to ensure we navigate through the challenges, drawing as little attention to ourselves as possible. The other options include people living in the misery of the trauma and not really knowing what their options are. They become their trauma as opposed to counting the trauma as something or many things that happened to them. They are not what happened to them, it is part of their lives and their history. There are various processes we can embark on to not take our trauma into our futures. We must be willing to take a look and to change how we see it. Trauma is part of life. Some get more than others; few escape this life without trauma.

Eventually we all have choices to make and it is the quality of our relationships that inform the actions we take. When we feel supported and heard, it is easier to share life challenges with professional therapists, close friends or members of your family. I have discovered that sharing with people I trusted helped me to heal and to move on from the events. It isn’t an easy process and it is a lot more complex and difficult until you choose to acknowledge that you have been hurt by someone or others whom you loved, trusted or had an unfortunate traumatic engagement.

A reality for me is that the world is moving so fast, everyone has a “get on with it! get over it!" attitude. These approaches have not worked ever. Until you work on healing and being in recovery from trauma, it will not leave your thoughts, your actions and reactions in the world.

We need to know our traumas, we will do ourselves a service acknowledging what happened and what we made it mean. Sometimes, what happened is so traumatic that we make it mean something about ourselves: I am weak, I am not enough, I am not worthy, I won’t amount to anything, it is me not them. The other outcomes of trauma are that the person who is traumatised has no other role model but to cause trauma through the way they show up in the world. There is a truth which teaches us that hurt people hurt people. Nobody is born to be a bully or to cause pain and problems with their being. We are all formed by our experiences and what we witness as normal.

For me, trauma always goes with violence physical or silent violence, every type of abuse where one person or group dominates another. It is always interesting for me to hear the stories of some people who appear to have the most successful, enviable lives or jobs and when we actually listen to where they come from, many made a decision when they were young to leave a legacy, to prove their worth or to never be poor or vulnerable again.

Sometimes the trauma we experience runs our lives, we become like machines. We lose our empathy, we are defensive, we are doubtful or suspicious. It really is such a waste that more of us don’t take the time to show each other love, empathy and understanding. A problem halved is a problem shared. Not everyone who wants to know our stories are comforters, some are just curious busy bodies but we get to choose how and whom we trust. It is such a personal process; it takes small steps or big audacious ones. We get to choose.

There is an inspirational story about two brothers who grew up in a violent, abusive home. The one became a loving family man and the other became a violent abusive adult. When asked how and why, both of their responses were: "When you come out of a home like that, what are your choices!?"

As a society many live with wounds and traumas, we need to be kinder to ourselves and to others. It is actually pretty hard to be kind to ourselves and being kind to others is a lot more rewarding than living alongside, and not with, the groups you associate with.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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