In this episode we introduce ourselves and talk about types of trauma, common myths, and Trauma Imposter Syndrome.
For more information: www.fortraumasurvivors.com
Episode One - Types of Trauma & Trauma Imposter Syndrome
April: Hi there! Welcome to “Trauma: Let’s Talk About It.” I’m April, but a lot of you probably know me as the blog “traumasurvivors.” I am a survivor of various traumas, including childhood sexual abuse. I have spent years working on my healing and learning all I can about trauma to try and understand it better. I am hoping to share some of what I have learned with you. This is a podcast that is being started to raise awareness and provide education about trauma and related topics. I am not taking on this project alone. There will be many opportunities for you, the listeners, to send in questions and we will also be bringing on guest speakers at times. Today with me is my wonderful partner, who I’m sure will be on many of the episodes!
Sean: Hello! I’m Sean, April’s partner. I’ve been through some trauma as well, and also have learned a lot more about trauma while helping and supporting April. I am always trying to learn and understand better, as well. I’m excited to be part of this new project. I think one of the important parts to start with is why we should talk about it.
Talking about trauma still carries a stigma which can make things more difficult for survivors of trauma. This stigma may leave survivors feeling like they should be ashamed, which is ridiculous. Having trauma is not shameful, no matter what that trauma is. Talking about it opens a dialogue to help survivors understand that they are not alone and their trauma is valid. It also allows people to be more educated on trauma matters. In the next episode, we will talk more in detail about this including some things about victim blaming.
April: You are absolutely right! Having trauma and talking about trauma is not shameful. It is one of my goals that this podcast helps survivors realize they aren’t alone, and there’s nothing wrong with them for having trauma. In the future, we will also talk about other educational topics, advice, resources and some general information on stuff I don’t think is talked about enough. We currently have a list of over 30 episode ideas! This first episode will be focused on some basic information about trauma.
When we experience a traumatic event, it's very likely that it leaves us with some trauma. Sometimes this can lead to a diagnosis of a disorder like PTSD, cPTSD and other various disorders, possibly even multiple at once, and sometimes it doesn't. Even if it does not lead to a disorder, it can still have various effects on us. Some of these effects may not show up for long periods of time, and some may be notable right away. In this first episode, we will be talking about some of the different types of trauma and some myths.
Sean: The first type of trauma to know about is probably the most common type people think about, which is “Acute Trauma.” Acute trauma happens whenever a person goes through a single traumatic event. This can be just about anything, but some examples might be an assault, a car accident or a natural disaster. The key point is that acute trauma comes from an event which is not repetitive and does not happen over an extended period of time. This does not mean it cannot be extremely difficult or have long-term effects on a person, of course.
April: Chronic trauma happens when an individual is exposed to multiple or prolonged traumatic events. Some examples include: various forms of child abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and war. I just want to take a minute to say that “Chronic Trauma” is not more “severe” than “Acute Trauma.” Both can be traumatizing and there is no magic scale or way to compare whether a trauma is “worse” and I don’t think it’s helpful to compare the two. Wherever your trauma comes from, you are valid.
Sean: Complex trauma also happens when a person is exposed to multiple traumatic events or trauma which happens over an extended period. It is different because it generally (but not always) involves two or more people who have a preestablished relationship. This might be the actions of a caregiver upon the person who is traumatized, such as cases of emotional abuse or neglect.
While it is most often discussed in connection with childhood trauma, it can also occur in adulthood, in situations such as involvement in a cult or repeated medical emergencies. Complex trauma often feels like traumatic events happen in rapid succession, and as soon as you get past one, you have to deal with another. Complex trauma usually causes both long-term physical and emotional symptoms for its survivors.
April: Vicarious Trauma is also known as secondary trauma. This may occur in individuals who have close contact to someone with trauma. If you have trauma from vicarious trauma, I encourage you to look for resources directed at therapists and first responders. It is especially common for individuals in those fields to experience vicarious trauma, although other people may experience it as well. If your trauma is from vicarious trauma, you are absolutely valid. It is not talked about enough how secondary trauma can be traumatizing, and you may feel like your trauma isn’t as important as others. I want to confirm for you that it is just as valid.
Sean: This seems like a good time to talk about what trauma is. When it comes to what defines a traumatic event, it can be anything so long as it causes harm whether that harm be physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual which causes the individual to feel anxious, threatened, or scared. While trauma may be caused by another person (things like abuse, assault and bullying), there are a number of ways that someone could be traumatized through no fault of anyone else such as natural disasters, serious illness and accidents.
April: This is very true! Trauma can come from almost anything. It doesn’t have to be a “big” situation that you often hear about. Now also seems like a good opportunity to talk about some trauma myths. The first one I want to address is that “Trauma is Rare.”
Trauma is not rare. At least 50% of people experience at least one trauma in their lives. You are not alone.
Sean: That makes me think of something else I’ve heard, which is that only soldiers get PTSD.
April: That is false. People can develop PTSD, cPTSD and other trauma disorders from all types of trauma.
Sean: Wait, I remember that you mentioned earlier that people don’t automatically have PTSD after a traumatic event?
April: That’s right. Different studies have varying results, but the highest number I’ve seen on a study of PTSD occuring after trauma was 20%. PTSD and trauma are not interchangeable terms. I want to take a second though and say that if you do develop PTSD, or any other trauma disorder, this is not a reflection of you being weak or anything of the sort.
People’s responses to trauma are determined by lots of factors including: genetics, coping skills, social support and the nature of the traumatic event or events. Having trauma or developing a disorder is not a sign of weakness in any way. Having trauma means that something went beyond your body’s ability to cope. And I also want to point out that if you don’t have PTSD as a result of trauma, it doesn’t mean that your trauma won’t still affect you. Any feelings, symptoms or reactions are still just as valid.
Sean: It sounds like trauma is a really different experience for lots of people. I imagine that means not everyone will have the same feelings or reactions to trauma?
April: You are 100% correct. People have all kinds of reactions to trauma, including numbness. Some may feel numb initially and then start feeling other emotions. Others may have an initial emotional reaction and then feel numb later. Numbness is a normal response to trauma - it's the brain's way of protecting people from distress. People may also feel angry, sad, ashamed or any number of other emotions. There is no rule book at all for how someone should feel after an event, and two people might have very different responses to similar traumas - or even the exact same traumatic event. Any feelings someone has are valid, and they are likely not alone in feeling how they feel, even if they don’t hear it talked about enough.
Sean: I’m glad to hear that. It’s nice to know I haven’t been feeling things “wrong.” I know something I’ve also felt, that I’m sure others have as well, is that my trauma isn’t “bad enough” for me to be traumatized.
April: That’s not an uncommon way to feel, and there’s actually a term for it! It’s referred to as “trauma imposter syndrome.” A lot of survivors experience the feeling that their trauma wasn’t bad enough to be valid, or “it’s not as bad as others, so I shouldn’t be traumatized.”
There are a lot of reasons this may happen but I want to talk about a couple of them. One reason is that they want to avoid their own feelings about the trauma.
Sean: Oh, like if they believe their trauma isn’t that bad, then maybe it won’t feel so bad?
April: Exactly. If a survivor believes someone has it worse than them, it may allow them to deny their own feelings or focus on the feelings of someone else rather than face their own.
Survivors may also cope by believing they are “lucky” it wasn’t worse. In all honesty, for some this is a step in their healing process and if this is something being used to cope, it isn’t up to anyone else to tell them they shouldn’t, except for perhaps a trauma informed therapist they trust and are working closely with.
Another reason a survivor may try to convince themselves it “wasn’t that bad” is that they want to avoid seeing their abuser in a bad light.
Sean: Like that they have complicated feelings about their abuser, and may love and care about them?
April: Yes. I won’t go into too much detail because we will have an episode in the future to talk about complicated feelings about abusers, why those feelings may occur and the fact that those feelings are valid. However, in the context of trauma imposter syndrome, it may allow a survivor to rationalize that their abuser isn’t a bad person, and it’s not bad for the survivor to love them. It’s important to note that you can be hurt by someone and still love them, and that is a valid way to feel even if it can be confusing at times.
The last reason I’ll talk about is that a survivor may be conditioned to see their trauma as “not that bad.”
Sean: Like people invalidating them? They may be pressured by their abuser or those close to them that their feelings about it are wrong and too much?
April: That’s one possibility! Sometimes conditioning can happen with good intentions though. For example, they may be pushed by people to “look on the bright side.” This may be an attempt to help the survivor, but it can actually end up invalidating them and in turn, could lead a survivor to invalidate themselves. They may also be told to “be thankful it wasn’t worse.”
Sean: I guess you could compare it to another situation. Let’s say you had your house robbed, but a few weeks ago, your friend had their house burn down. It would be normal and reasonable to think, “Well, at least I didn’t lose as much as they did.” It is also still reasonable to feel upset that you were robbed. Both of these can co-exist.
April: That’s a really good comparison! Like I said before,there is no magic scale trauma falls on. Two people can go through the same trauma and have completely different reactions. Someone else’s experiences do not negate nor invalidate your own. You can acknowledge other people’s experiences while still remembering that what happened to you should not have happened to you, and that your feelings about it are still valid.
Trauma imposter syndrome can carry some problems. One of those being that just because someone convinces themselves it wasn’t that bad, that doesn’t mean they won’t feel the effects of it. This could mean that they think something is “wrong with them” and they may seek out the wrong type of treatment to handle the symptoms or even no treatment at all.
Sean: Are there ways someone can try and challenge trauma imposter syndrome?
April: There’s no magic fix of course, but something that helps me is I imagine my exact trauma happening to a friend of mine and I think about what I would think about it from an outside view. Would I see it as valid if it was a friend who experienced what I did? The answer is, yes, I would. Based on that, I try to extend that validation to myself. I would never invalidate a friend. So why would I invalidate myself? Talking to others who have gone through similar events, in such settings as support groups and online communities, is something that I also find validating. Working with a therapist that you trust can also help.
Sean: Those sound like good ideas! I feel like we’ve talked about some important information today, and there’s so much more we could talk about, but I think this is a good stopping point for today.
April: I agree! Our next episode will talk about “Victim Blaming,” and why it’s not accurate nor okay, so stay tuned for that! We will talk to you then. In the meantime, try to remember that if you have trauma, your trauma is valid. And you’re not alone.
Thanks for listening to us on “Trauma: Let’s Talk About It.”
You can find more information about trauma and the social media that we are on on our website www. “for (that’s f o r traumasurvivors.com.” The link is in the podcast description.
Sean: Thanks for listening. Until next time!