Was it "Bad Enough"

A common issue people struggle with a lot is the idea that their trauma isn’t “bad enough”. That somehow what they went through wasn’t as severe as what someone else went through, and they don’t deserve to have their trauma. That they don’t deserve the resources, support, or access to survivor spaces other people do. This kind of imposter syndrome is incredibly harmful because it stops people from getting the help they need and deserve.


The only thing required for your trauma to be real and for you to belong in trauma spaces is for you to be traumatized. That’s it. There’s no requirement for there to be a certain number of incidents, or for any event to reach a certain level of objective shittiness. If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, then your trauma is real and valid.

Small situations can be traumatizing. Big situations can be traumatizing. The part that makes an experience traumatic or not isn’t the event or precipitating incident itself. Your subjective experience of what happened, and the thoughts and feelings you had at the time, are what would make that traumatic or non-traumatic for you. If you felt threatened, no matter what it was that felt threatening, then you’re likely to experience trauma. For example, if you have an extreme phobia of clowns and one gets too close to you or startles you, that might be traumatic, even if the clown is a nice and safe person, and didn’t do anything to you. Other people might not feel that way, and might engage in a friendly conversation with the clown. But if you felt extreme distress in that moment, then that distress would have likely been traumatic for you, and that makes your trauma real and valid.


Another reason why gatekeeping trauma on the basis of what happened is that there’s really just no universal scale of badness. Different people respond differently to the same thing. What is horrible to one person may not be as bad to another person, and that's okay. I was sexually assaulted as a teenager by a stranger, and really don’t experience ongoing trauma as a result of that. It sucked, but I don’t have any lingering effects from it. I almost walked face-first into a spider web while hiking when I was a little kid and still experience flashbacks, nightmares, and chronic hypervigilance as a result of that. A close friend of mine manages to cope with his trauma from military service, but the aftereffects of his trauma from divorce affect him every single day. Most people would consider assault to be much more “real” or valid as a source of trauma than encountering wildlife while hiking. Most people think of the military when they think of trauma, but rarely consider that divorce is traumatic, too. Each of us responded more strongly to a trauma that would not traditionally be “as bad” than one that most of society would recognise as severe. The scale of what is really bad is so different from person to person that deciding what is “bad enough” just doesn’t work.


If you are experiencing trauma, no matter what caused it, it is real. You deserve compassion and support. You deserve to be in trauma spaces. If someone else comes to you and tells you about their trauma, and the event they described doesn’t fit your idea of what “should” be traumatic, honour their experience and don’t withhold your validation or support just because you think it’s “not that bad”. If it’s bad enough they’re telling you about it and asking for your support, then it really is that bad.



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