Before the word ‘trauma’ filled our mainstream vernacular, I used to think my life had not been traumatic. It had been hard, sure. There had been some really rough patches (okay, decades), yes. But was I traumatized? No. (At least, I didn’t think so and never would have used that word to describe my childhood or my adulthood.)
Trauma, in my mind, was reserved for those who had something REALLY REALLY BAD HAPPEN to them. But my stuff? It hurt but I got through it.
It wasn’t until fairly recently, I’m sad to admit, that I started thinking in terms of trauma regarding myself and my life.
Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, says that trauma is basically when something happens to you that makes you so upset that it overwhelms you. He goes on to say that the trauma is not the event that happens, the trauma is how you respond to it.
And author and therapist Aundie Kolber makes a helpful differentiation between what she refers to as capital-T Trauma and lower-case-t trauma.
Capital-T Trauma could be things that cause PTSD, like:
the death of a parent at a young age
the death of a sibling
an injury that is permanent
a house fire
being in a war
a parents’ divorce (especially one that is unexpected / drawn-out / high in conflict)
growing up with only one parent
the alcoholism of a close loved one
Whereas lower-case-t trauma could be grief over things like:
the death of a pet
moving (perhaps when you didn’t have the choice or didn’t want to)
the end of a friendship
leaving a church (on not great terms)
a break-up with a girlfriend or boyfriend
not getting into your dream school
(To be clear: one person’s Capital-T Trauma could very well be another person’s lower-case-t trauma and vice versa, for sure. Each person is unique, as well as their pain, their tolerance for it and their perceptions of it. This is just my version of these two “types” of trauma.)
This actually helped me a lot because it opened my eyes to my reality and it helped me show myself a bit more grace and even compassion.
I also think people tend to fall into one of these categories when thinking about the levels and amount of trauma they’ve experienced (not taking into account the anomalies who somehow magically made it to adulthood idyllically and unscathed by the harshness of life where nothing bad happened to them):
1) the over-blowers:
a lot of people did a lot of bad things to me + if I’ve done anything bad it’s because of what everyone has done to me = now my life sucks and there’s nothing I can do about it
I can think of a few of these. They are difficult to be in relationship with because of their negativity and they are difficult to help because of their lack of ownership.
2) the down-players:
nothing really bad happened to me + I haven’t really done anything hugely bad = everything’s fine and I’m fine
I know a few down-players too. It can be sad to see someone not understand the weight of the pain that they’ve endured because that means they probably haven’t processed it and that it might come back to bite them in the future. As Richard Rohr says, “pain that is not transformed gets transmitted”.
3) the sweet-spotters:
some really bad things happened to me + some not as big bad things happened to me + I did some not so great things too = so this is who I am now + this is my life now > what can I do about all of it?
Ahh, I like this kind of person. I want to be this kind of person. I actually think I am becoming this kind of person after being both the over-blower and down-player at different points of my life. It’s taken a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of humility, a lot of therapy, a lot of journaling, a lot of prayer, a lot of opening myself up to the work of the Spirit to both soften and strengthen me, but this is what I believe wholeness is.
So, which one sounds like you? Are you an over-blower, always pointing the finger but never looking inward? Or maybe the down-player, because who wants to feel the feelings? Or moving in the direction of the sweet spot, being honest about how others have hurt you and how you have hurt others, ready to start doing something about it?
Or, maybe you don’t even know. Maybe you can’t see yourself in any of those. For you, if these words stirred something up in you, I’d suggest sending this post to a trusted friend and asking where she thinks you land.
Regardless, whether you want to admit it or not, sweet one:
You have been hurt, and I’m so very sorry, and there is healing.
And you have done some hurting, and you can make amends, and there is forgiveness.
And God sees you,
and God loves you,
and God wants to restore you and heal you.
God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. -Psalm 147:3
Here are a few resources that may help you:
*Aundie Kolber’s book Trying Softer and her companion workbook
*my e-course Childhood Wounds
*my podcast – All That to Say: https://anchor.fm/elisabeth-klein
*Facebook group for all women: https://elisabethklein.com/join-wholehearted-group/
*top 10 tips for taking care of you: https://elisabethklein.com/top-ten-tips/
*webcast: who am I now (that I’m not who I thought I was)??: https://elisabethklein.com/who-am-i-now/
*fill out this coaching survey and I’ll respond with a custom coaching proposal: bit.ly/how-is-your-life-working
P.S. CALLING ALL WOMEN (who want to turn their pain into redemption!): I’m giving away one of my courses – BEAUTY FOR ASHES – along with a one-month group coaching experience. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to join! (We start TOMORROW.)