I’ve been thinking about pain: and especially the very serious kind that we often call trauma (although I think that word is overused — but that’s for another day).
For now, though, let’s define trauma as “pain that changes you in a deep way.”
What matters isn’t so much what caused the pain — what matters is what the pain causes: a profound change. Your identity is deeply affected. Some things are traumatic for most people: rape, violence and war, for instance. However, even with those, the level of trauma — of change — is different with different people. Meanwhile people can also be profoundly changed by seemingly “small” things.
But remember how I said last week that identity is the story we believe about ourselves? And before that I said trauma is events that shake that identity to its core?
Well, let’s look at that second bit a little more.
How does trauma cause change?
It does so by challenging our deepest stories. Our stories about what people are like, what we can expect from those close to us, what we can expect from life itself… traumatic events are those that leave us questioning whatever stories we had about these things.
It’s a bit like following a map only to end up in a ditch: your confidence in that map might take a serious hit. The map is your story, the ditch is the traumatic event, and the fall is your pain.
But now you have to decide...
Is it that the map was wrong and you need a new one?
Or is it that you stopped paying attention?
Or will you simply stick to the bits of the map you already know and go no further?
Which of the three did you do the last time you experienced trauma?
P.S. I did a thread on Twitter on how we grow emotionally — check it out, I think you’ll like it.