Riding the trauma bandwagon
Warning: some may find this column triggering. They probably shouldn’t.
I started thinking about this when I read about an incident at a writers’ festival in Vancouver, where an Indigenous speaker was verbally confronted by an audience member.
What stuck with me was a line in the Globe and Mail about the scene from a writer who was there: “The room became immediately traumatized by all of this.”
Well, probably not. Some were probably offended, others uncomfortable, some maybe even confused. Some, for whom the open conflict may have gotten piled onto old scars, may well have been traumatized.
But the whole room? No.
We’re not just normalizing the effects of trauma now, we’ve reached the point where we are fetishizing it.
When something horrible happens, it’s no longer enough to be discomfited or outraged or even be expected to eventually be able to cope with it.
Now, we have to be permanently damaged.
Popular culture is awash with damaged heroes and victims, all tormented by things from their past that resurface as full-colour flashbacks.
Wounded is in — resiliency isn’t.
The fact is that everybody will experience some form of trauma in their lives; it is, sadly, part of being human. People around you suffer, are injured, die — loved
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Different people react differently to different things; what damages me may not damage you. We are complicated creatures, and the smallest of events may injure. Or it may not.
But the message that’s being sent now is that, if you don’t have a deep, long-lasting reaction to any sort of trauma, however transitory that trauma is, there’s something wrong with you.
And that’s not right. We have to stop expecting people to be instantly traumatized.
I’m not saying that there aren’t serious psychological results from trauma — of course there are, and, thankfully, some of the stigma around that kind of psychological injury is disappearing. More money and effort is finally being spent on trying to help and comfort those affected by it.
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But a mental injury is an injury like any other; it may be two steps forward and one back, sometimes one step forward and two back, and getting better is a progression, like any injury.
Think of it this way: if you have an injured back, what you really want is for your back to get better, not to have an aching back to talk about for the next 20 years.
The same is true for a mental issue like post-traumatic stress disorder; the vast majority of people just want the terrifying dreams, flashbacks and odd behaviours to go away. Many are quite simply ashamed to even raise their condition outside a circle of family and close friends, afraid that they will be seen as weak.
Sometimes, an injury involves permanent lifestyle changes. You may never recover enough from your back injury, for example, to go back to playing recreational hockey.
Someone recovering from the after-effects of trauma may find they can’t stand public events, especially if they can’t find a place to stand without strangers behind them. Some people will always need their back against a wall, and they’ll do exactly that. Some need service dogs to keep people from approaching them from behind. Lifestyles get redrawn to cope.
But every little scrap of discomfort is not an instant source of post-traumatic stress disorder or anything like it.
And thinking that it is cheapens the real and lasting effects some people are experiencing.