Misconceptions About Trauma

Misconceptions About Trauma
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Even though people know a lot about trauma, there are still many misconceptions about it. Humans are vulnerable, but sometimes we can forget how tenacious we can become. As Viktor Frankl once said, having an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is perfectly normal. This natural response eventually brings out the strongest and most resilient sides in ourselves.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists like to remind us that all of us will suffer a traumatic event that we won’t be prepared for at some point in our lives. It may be the loss of a loved one, an accident, a shocking sight, an assault, a natural disaster, or a medical emergency.

“The feat of overcoming trauma and becoming beautiful despite everything has nothing to do with invulnerability or social success.”

-Boris Cyrulnik-

There are situations that create a strong impression on our brain. These situations stimulate areas in the brain that are related to fear and alarm. Soon everything begins to break apart in front of us. The prefrontal cortex, the structure that helps us think and reason clearly, loses strength and agility. Our mental focus becomes more opaque and turbid, plunging us into a state of anguish.

It’s possible that many of our readers are familiar with this experience. It’s important to understand that, when we experience a traumatic event, our brain doesn’t recover for months. Healing a wounded brain that has been plunged into post-traumatic stress requires time, effort, and adequate coping strategies.

Here are a few of the most popular misconceptions about trauma.

1. A traumatic event can destroy your life

When a therapist begins to work with an abuse victim, someone who’s suffered severe aggression, or someone who has lost a loved one, they often hear the following phrase: “I’ll never be happy again”.

At first it’s very difficult for someone to understand a traumatic event. In reality, the trauma has a dual nature. On one hand, it presents an undeniably destructive nature. However, it also transforms people and can make them stronger and more able to confront difficulties.

Suffering adversity doesn’t promise us a life of pain. If we look for resources, support, and put in the effort to recover, we can reprogram our brain. The wound may never completely heal, but it’ll hurt less and we can begin living a healthy life.

2. Trauma appears after a threatening event

Let’s look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ definition of trauma. The manual states that trauma is “what arises after the experience of a death of a loved one, a real threat, a serious injury such as an assault, disasters, abuses, or diseases that threaten one’s life”.

Well, in reality, many problems can be described this way. To begin, a trauma doesn’t appear as a “reaction” to a traumatic event, but rather as a result of the “emotional and psychological effect” that it has on someone. Moreover, sometimes the same event can cause trauma in some people but not in others.

When something shocking happens, the traumatic reaction isn’t immediate. It arises later after the person begins to question their life and their reality.

For example, think of a person who has just been diagnosed with cancer. At first, maybe that news is enough to make them feel defeated and traumatized. However, for many people, the most striking thing isn’t always the disease itself, but not having enough support from friends or family.

A woman with flowers on her back.

3. Trauma is a mental illness

Another misconception is believing that trauma is a mental illness. However, it’s much deeper than that. Currently, many experts in the field, such as psychologist Richard Tedeschi of the University of North Carolina, prefer to focus on post-traumatic stress disorder.

If trauma means “wound”, we’re therefore looking at something that’s broken. For example, when someone suffers a fall or a blow, they can suffer from a broken bone as a result. Therefore, when someone suffers a psychological trauma, it’s also a rupture. This mental injury makes it impossible for that person to go back to being who they once were. The trauma sufferer is “psychologically injured” and those injuries can be moral or emotional.

4. If you’re strong, you can deal with trauma alone

We live in a society that believes that only the weak ask for help. Whoever gets medical assistance is crazy and strong people can deal with everything without ever breaking down. Traumas break us inside. Nobody, regardless of how “strong” they are, can keep living their lives with a broken soul, a fragmented mind, or an eroded heart.

This is undoubtedly just another misconception about trauma: believing that time cures everything. It’s better to forget than to face. A strong attitude will vanish all pain. Let’s not believe these ideas. They lead to a desperate, dead-end street.

A woman with cotton in front of her face.

To conclude, we can’t let trauma take over our lives. We have the capacity to free ourselves from the trauma, and we deserve a more dignified and freer existence. We should live life without the weight from yesterday sitting heavily on our shoulders. Our present and future should be crystal clear, rather than blurry and confused. If you’re dealing with trauma, seek help and actively work on the fact that your inner reality is injured. We have the ability to transform and heal ourselves to live a full life.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.