How Trauma Silences You and 3 Reasons Why
I'm a well-spoken person, and have always been confident in my abilities to explain and tell stories about my experiences. It took me by surprise, then, when I experienced trauma, and was unable to accurately describe my experiences of being physically abused, sought after by NYPD, arrested, and shuttled through the criminal justice system.
I'm much better at it these days, but I never feel satisfied in my stories. It always feels like there's a disconnect with audiences that I'm eternally unable to bridge. With time and therapy, I've learned to accept this, and feel way less turmoil about it.
For a long time, I just didn't talk about what happened, simply because it pained me more to talk about it than to not talk about it. Not because it hurt to re-live the experiences, but because it was so obvious to me that none of my immediate surroundings understood. I run in very privileged circles, and what happened to me tends to occur in more lower income, often Black, demographics. Because, racism.
Also, trauma is often really complex. My story certainly is. There's just no way to boil it down into a couple minutes or paragraphs. It became so damn tiring answering the same questions over and over, that after a while, I resorted to silence.
But, for me, silence couldn't last and just didn't work. Everyone deals with trauma in their own ways, but I felt stifled and minimized. I wanted to talk about it. I just didn't know how.
These days, I'm starting to be able to talk about it, without letting others' reactions affect me as much. For me, this skill has been crucial, and I think it came from lots of regular therapy and time.
Here are 3 reasons why I think trauma feels so silencing.
Lack of shared experience with others. If the party you're talking to hasn't been through what you've been through, you feel it. It's a vibe, for sure. Sympathy goes far, but empathy goes the furthest.
Lack of supportive feedback. You'll receive supportive feedback, but also, people will judge. They may try not to, but humans judge by default. It's just not as noticeable on an everyday basis, because the topic usually being judged is probably something neutral (e.g. a movie, book, meal). When something hits close to home, negative feedback will often overpower positive feedback. Especially if the negative feedback is coming from someone you care about.
Feeling alone. Feelings of loneliness beget more loneliness beget more loneliness, ad infinitum. Once this cycle starts, it's hard to talk anymore.
One helpful tip:
Know your narrative. This is something my therapist told me to work on, that's helped me immensely. It's a really good way to know what your boundaries are and to be confident in your own truth. I suspect it's also helped speed along the processing of my trauma, because it encourages me to think deeply about it from different perspectives, in order to try and understand why certain events occurred.
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