I’ve noticed a strange pattern in a number of heartfelt conversations over the past several months. The pattern goes something like this:
Friend: [starting to tell me about a personal tragedy and how it affected them]
Friend: [dipping a proverbial toe into the emotional waters of their response to the tragedy]
Friend: [cuts herself off mid-sentence and/or mid-emotion] … but it wasn’t that bad.
Me: It sounds like that was really hard for you.
Friend: Yeah, but worse things happen every day. Hell, worse things have happened to me.
Me: [listening silently, making eye contact]
Friend: [tears welling up and perhaps running down her cheeks] I’m just so tired of being strong.
“It wasn’t that bad” is, at first, a brilliant survival tool. As a friend of mine explained, if she admitted how bad her abuse was, she would have to face how bad it was. That seems like a simple statement, but we go to great lengths to convince ourselves that we are safe. We find whatever ways we can to live through the pain or horror of our most deeply threatening experiences. “It wasn’t that bad” is adaptive, allowing us to keep going, to fight, to survive.
Over the long run, though, this adaptation is not sustainable without having consequences for our health, our relationships and our sense of agency and aliveness. The denial that helped us to survive can, over time, become a blind spot that keeps us at a distance from the truth of our experience – and ultimately from ourselves.
For some, there comes a point when we say, “I’m tired of being strong,” when we allow the tears to fall and the hardening against the pain to begin to dissolve.
With the proper support, we find the safety to look at the ugliest parts of our life experiences, the ugliest parts of humanity. We eventually accept that we were not safe and that we in fact learned to live despite the horror of our experience. We recognize the brilliance in doing what we had to do to survive. We find the forgiveness we need to heal, oftentimes most importantly for ourselves.
For many of us, the habit of silencing ourselves is a hard one to break. The inclination to resort to the “it wasn’t that bad” mentality can be strong. What if, instead, we said instead, “I survived that”? What if we learned to tell our stories with pride in our resourcefulness, how we found a way to keep going anyway? What if we moved from victimhood to survivorship? What if we learned to say, “You know what? It was that bad. And I’m still here, still me. I survived that.”
I’m sharing these thoughts because I believe healing is possible, which is why, no matter the form it takes, my work is focused on supporting individuals and the collective in the pursuit of wholeness. I’m sharing these thoughts because I am still healing, still learning to accept, still learning to tell the truth – first to myself and then, at the times when I feel ready, to others.
This spring I will be participating in a 70-hour training to become more trauma-informed from the lens of the NeuroAffective Relational Model, which focuses on healing complex trauma. Complex trauma (also known as developmental or relational trauma) is distinct from shock trauma in that it results from ongoing interpersonal challenges during childhood, rather than as a response to discrete threatening events such as violence, natural disasters or accidents. However, the two are not separate in that complex trauma can result in any of the symptoms experienced with shock trauma, as well as additional symptoms. Among these additional symptoms, shame is a major player. Shame also often plays into various versions of “it wasn’t that bad.” In addition, individuals with unhealed complex trauma are generally more susceptible to experiencing shock trauma, having fewer resources available to navigate threatening events.
Although I am consistently learning, growing and sharing, I am excited to return to a formal classroom setting (even if it’s a virtual classroom 😊). I am also curious to see how I will incorporate my ongoing studies into my work, which currently includes the following:
- Remote Reiki sessions: I continue to offer these sessions, which incorporate verbal guidance and include a recording for you. Sarah Brennan is also available for Remote Reiki sessions that incorporate Transformative Insight Imagery to support your healing and find alternative solutions to old emotional patterns. We both offer 30-, 60- and 90-minute sessions. Schedule online.
- Beyond MeToo podcast: I launched this podcast in 2018 to address the question of how we heal from sexual trauma, both as individuals and as a collective. I’m excited to announce that Beyond MeToo will be re-launching soon and this time with my new co-host Sarah Brennan! Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher.