I was prepared to publish a completely different post, and perhaps I will. But, as I was cleaning my kitchen, another thought came to mind.
Why do so many people with deep trauma never reveal it even if much of it is adaptively processed? Why? Why do we refrain from telling our stories or tell highly redacted versions?
Aside from the obvious reasons like stigma and boundaries, are there other reasons? I think so.
The healing process takes so damn long. Healing from deep trauma feels like the work of a lifetime, and, in my experience, people grow weary of that process. So many well-meaning people grow tired of the subject, verbal processing, and resultant affect, and the inevitable question arises: “Why can’t you just be happy? Isn’t it time for you to move on?”
Funnily enough, for many of us dragging that deep trauma around, we ask ourselves the same question. What’s more, it isn’t that we aren’t “happy” per se. It’s that there is work to be done, and, like the mail, it just keeps on coming.
There is a unique weight associated with deep trauma, and it’s hard to explain what it feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Why can’t we just get over it? Frankly, I don’t know. Why can’t I just get over it? Why can’t you just get over it?
Imagine all those Syrian refugees. Do you think that they will ever be able to “just be happy”? I can’t answer that, but I do know that they will never forget their current and past experiences. Victims of human trafficking? From personal experience, I can say that you can go on to build a good life if you survive it, but it takes a long time. And, no, you don’t forget any of it. Should you be unfortunate enough to witness other people get tortured or even murdered…? No. You will not forget that, and you will likely never get over that. If you yourself survive torture, then, no, you will not forget that. And, sometimes, your brain does not survive it fully intact. Deep trauma leaves trenches. Not small scars. Your brain is actually changed on a neuronal level by trauma.
Sometimes you find yourself wanting to simply talk about it particularly if a long-dormant memory springs to life, but you won’t. It’s not that you can’t. You won’t. Why do we not talk about our past experiences? Honestly, it’s because they are too horrible to inflict on another person. It takes a special person to be our witness, and, truthfully, it’s almost worse to see the shock and horror followed by the pity that overtakes people’s faces when they hear the narrative account. They reel back fully incredulous. You can almost see them begin to wonder if you are really a sane individual; or, maybe you’re just a big faker feigning normalcy. Either they lose their words and stare at you, or, worse, morbid curiosity sweeps over them; and the uncomfortable questions begin.
“You were actually abducted? Wow. How did that happen? How did you get away? Like…literally…how? What happened to you when you were there? Did the FBI get involved? Did you see really bad things? Oh! What was the worst thing that you saw?”
What is the worst response? Being blamed for whatever it was that ended in your experiencing trauma. The victim blaming response. “What did you do to cause this? Surely, no one would ever do a thing like that if you didn’t instigate it.”
The problem with all of this is that you know that nothing in all of this is to be normalized, but, since this is all a part of your story and life experience, it’s your normal even if it is as far from normal as the East is from the West. This is why it is so alienating. You are on the outside of the bell curve in terms of life experiences, and you don’t know who your people are. Do you even have a people? Where do you go if you’re a refugee, a torture survivor, a survivor of prolonged abuse of any kind? Who do you talk to about your inner darkness? Who might understand it? Who won’t grow weary of hearing about yet another terrible thing that happened to you? Who won’t blame you for your own suffering or judge you in some way?
For me, it gets put aside and processed, for the most part, alone because blame and judgment slow my process down. There are some things that I fear to bring to the light of another person. Judgment is more than I can bear at this point. I grow tired of saying, “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.” It does matter on some level not because I long for approval. No, it’s not that. It is something quieter and deeper and harder to get at.
I think that when you’ve grown up being thought of so poorly by the people who were supposed to be your biggest fans and supporters, the idea of being accepted and even approved of becomes almost a fantastical notion. A dream. One develops a veneer in order to survive and push forward. At some point, however, the need to be cared for, liked, and accepted becomes apparent. A desire for devotion emerges. To feel chosen. Preferred. Wanted. Safe. Special even. So, to endure even more judgment for trying to fight to heal from events that were undeserved and completely out of one’s control just brings on pain and further ontological alienation. It is easier to say nothing or omit information by broadcasting an edited reality to the world beyond than to be honest. And, I sometimes wonder if this isn’t the reason why autoimmune disorders are so common among people who have experienced trauma.
There is great comfort when we are invited to talk about what we’ve experienced and how we are experiencing it now in a validating and safe environment among people who truly care for us and won’t grow weary of the arduous journey. Being able to authentically work our process in safe relationships without fear of judgment is probably one of the best entry points to a quickened healing process. This is a true gift.
So, as you make your way in your process, be on the lookout for that environment and those people. They do exist.
Really really good!!! You put into words what is very difficult to understand, much less express. Thank you!
Well, for the record, I’m not engaging in self-pity. I am trying to explain why so many people who have past trauma don’t disclose or just give up on the healing process. There is a lot of judgment from others and poor access to true support that go along with healing. And, that sense of existential loneliness can be overwhelming and too much for people which can fuel maladaptive behaviors. And who can blame anyone for that?
Oh I didn’t think you were engaging in self pity AT ALL! Quite the opposite. I completely relate so much to what you are saying. Because of all of the above,it’s tremendously hard to find the fortitude to keep moving. To find people who will stick it out with you. Very well said.
I think that finding the right people to share the journey with makes it all worth it. Because then you find that you have a shared history with people, and a bond is formed that is quite strong. Those friendships become irreplaceable.
But you are trapped inside yourself just like your x and being trapped inside yourself is narcissistic.
The whole human race is suffering deeply just like you
I would have to disagree with you. Narcissism is not being trapped inside oneself. Narcissism is better described as malignant self-love if one had to boil it down to a descriptor. Trapped inside myself? No. If I were trapped inside myself then I would not even be able to process anything alone or write a blog because the word “trapped” implies that there is no getting out. To process something means that there is an exit. What this post has elucidated is that there are reasons why deep trauma limits that process. Can it trap a person? Yes, but those limitations are often outwardly imposed through stigma, judgment, and lack of access to adequate treatment.
The current treatment options for returning veterans is a perfect example or even female vets with MST. Their situation is about as limiting as it gets due to outwardly imposed restrictions. So, by way of your logic, you are saying that veterans of war have NPD because they are denied proper mental health care upon their return? That’s positively false.
Making connections with other people, however, who have experienced something similar in order to establish healthy intimacy which is the foundation for proper healing can be almost impossible for some people who have certain kinds of trauma. Just look at your response to my post here. You judged me because I tried to describe the internal dynamic of carrying deep trauma and wanting to heal but finding few people to connect with and what that looks like. I am now a trapped, narcissistic person for that? You proved my point.
No, I am not. My healing inroads are simply limited. I have to seek out highly trained clinicians and do the most talking one time a week and develop high distress tolerance for anything that happens in between sessions. There are no support groups available for my kind of trauma. And, I know one other person in the same situation. Is she trapped and narcissistic? In no way. She just knows the score.
She knows who she can call as do I.
For more information on narcissism, I would highly suggest reading Sam Vaknin’s book “Malignant Self-Love”. For a good example of trauma survivors who are externally limited in getting treatment, look up MST (military sexual trauma). The two couldn’t be further from each other in terms of mentalization and psychology.