Between a Rock and a Hard Place: 3 Reasons You Can’t Ignore Trauma
When you face difficult times, you have two options: work through the difficulty you’ve encountered or try to avoid it. For many who have lived through a traumatic experience, going around or burying traumatic memories can feel like the only feasible way to move forward. But whether we acknowledge or try to ignore them, our experiences continue to affect us long after they’re over; trauma is no different. Here are three reasons why you can’t ignore traumatic experiences and why you shouldn’t try.
- Trauma eviscerates your relationships with others. It is healthy and functionally necessary to trust others. This is obvious in everyday situations, like trusting the driver of a car stopped at a stop sign not to run you over as you cross in a crosswalk, but it’s especially important when it comes to close interpersonal relationships. Because a key component of many traumatic experiences involves the violation of trust by a loved one or a loved one’s inability to follow through on a promise, ignoring a traumatic experience you’ve had will make it difficult to form close bonds. For example, if a parent or loved one abused you, you may no longer trust that another person whom you care for deeply and depend on will not treat you the same way. Yet, avoiding feelings will leave you even more isolated from the people best positioned to lift you up and affirm your innate dignity as a human being.
- Trauma can be passed on. Our minds and bodies deal with traumatic experiences by creating new coping skills, some of which go on to harm us once we’ve returned to more normal conditions. A recent study published by researchers from the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center has shown that the children of holocaust survivors, particularly those survivors who entered concentration camps and endured prolonged periods of starvation when young, have inherited biological markers of trauma survival. Specifically the holocaust survivors were seen to have a deficient amount of cortisol, an enzyme usually released by the body when stressed, and this deficiency was passed on to their children who in turn developed a surplus of other enzymes to compensate, and ultimately affected their health for the worse. Confronting your traumatic experience may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done, but if you want to ensure your future children do not suffer for the wrongs others have done to you, it is imperative that you try.
- Only you should control you. No one asks for something bad to happen to them; sometimes things just happen to us and we are left to pick up the pieces. It is natural for a big event in our lives to inform our future decisions, but a traumatic experience can sometimes begin to interfere with activities we once loved. If you avoid the trauma you’ve experienced, you are empowering it to inform your decisions to an extent you are unaware of. Your life should be about what you want, not what you want to avoid.
You can work through difficult, traumatic life events. Processing your experiences with a therapist, close friend, or in another way that feels right for you, will lead to a fuller life for you and your children, and will decrease your use of unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance abuse. By acknowledging your own traumatic experience, you’ll take back the narrative of your life and ensure that only you get a say in who you become.