“Let’s compare scars and see who’s is worse.”
That’s a song lyric I remember. I’ve been humming on this for some time, especially in this stage of accepting trauma.
A couple of trauma definitions:
Trauma: any situation that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.
“Trauma is a breach in the protective barrier against stimulation leading to feelings of overwhelming helplessness.” – Sigmund Freud
I love the above definition that I heard while watching a podcast from Molly Boeder Harris because it can relate to any barrier; emotional, physical, mental, that makes us feel like we’ve been robbed of our sense of safety within ourselves. It’s a breach into our sacred space that people shouldn’t be coming into. This breach affects the brain and leads to a specific set of symptoms: trauma.
These definition encompasses so many things; from sexual abuse (a subjective experience), to surgery, to parents who weren’t able to attend to their child’s needs, to bullying, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, birth trauma (for both baby and parents), loss, a physical injury, natural disaster, witnessing horrific events/violence (often invalidated by the person experiencing, because they justify that it didn’t happen to them), etc.
What is especially important here is that the physiological response is very real, and the experience is subjective. Molly talks about a book called “The Body Keeps the Score”, and the title in itself is enough to explain how the body keeps in it the trauma, muscle memory is so real (ever get some kind of massage, or move in a certain way, go in a stretch, and have “a case of the feels”?). The body remembers trauma, deep in our tissues, whether we know it or not, it stores it inside our subconscious.
Did you know that it wasn’t until up until the 80/90’s that babies weren’t administered anaesthesia because it was believed that they didn’t feel pain? The body remembers that.
One of the questions answered in this podcast was about whether there was a gage of trauma severity: to see if one traumatic experience was worse than another. (to which Molly applauded and expressed was a passionate topic of hers to discuss).
Trauma is trauma: Molly explains, “We’ve created a hierarchy within our understanding of trauma which has neglected a lot of people’s needs and leads to a lot of self-blame, shame, of ‘Well, I didn’t go to war…all I did was have a really terrible surgery, so why am I so messed up, it could’ve been so much worse, what happened to me!?'”
Or with sexual abuse, maybe there was only verbal harassment not contact, but the person has all of the symptoms of someone who was raped.
With trauma, it’s not about the event, but how the person experienced the event, what resources were or were not available after the event, what was the relationship to the person or the environment. All these factors matter, not only the main traumatic event.
One trauma is not comparable to another. One is not “worse” than another. It’s so unique to each person’s experience.
This is big for me because I often invalidate my own experience of trauma, and so many other people do too. This is why we get stuck inside the trauma and this is why I’m having a time moving forward: it’s hard to acknowledge my trauma (I’m having a hard time even writing this.) But it’s time.
So that’s that. No trauma is worse than another; the physiological and psychological expressions in the body are the same. So here’s a cheers to compassion for all.