(No triggers, I think)
People who have been the victims of traumatic experiences tend to self-identify as ‘survivors’. It’s a pretty simple thing – ‘victim’ is a word that reinforces the feeling of being powerless and defenceless. ‘Survivor’ is a word with some strength in it, and a reminder that however awful it was, you got through. Not everyone survives of course, those of us who do, know that we were lucky.
Whether you see yourself as a victim or a survivor, those words can come to be the focal point of who you are. The story of what happened can become the biggest, most important story you have. I think in the short term this is necessary – it’s part of the processing of events, and reassembling your life and identity in the aftermath of whatever changed you. We can never go back. We can never be the person we were before *that* happened. What a survivor has to do, is figure out how to assimilate *that* into a sense of self that can move forward, and isn’t defined solely by the experience.
Traumatic experiences take over your thoughts. It’s part of what it means to be traumatised, that something you didn’t want is able to set up camp inside your own head and keep torturing you from in there. People who don’t manage to sort this out are more vulnerable to future trauma. What’s dangerous here is the way in which traumas can normalise themselves, inside a person’s head. It’s when we start to believe that the thing which happened is part of how the world works, that we have reduced hope of getting free from it. If you can see it as a one off, an accident, bad luck, something that won’t happen again, the inside of your head is better protected.
Of course, with one off trauma experiences, it’s a good deal easier to recognise that it was a unique event, and you won’t have to face it again. What’s really hard is when you live with an ongoing trauma situation – people in war zones being the most obvious example. Trauma really does become normal in that kind of situation, and changing how you view the world is really hard when that happens.
It takes time to overcome things. It can take years to be something other than the person to whom a thing happened. For many survivors, that sense of self as survivor is always going to be there. With support, and opportunities, we may all have the scope to be more than the sum of our scars, but these are hard things to do quickly, or to do alone.
So if there’s a wounded person in your life, and you don’t understand why they’re still so caught up in the past, be gentle with them. It takes time. We all heal at our own rates, depending on experience, and subsequent support, and on who we are. That’s ok. How fast we may think a person should get over it is no measure of how long it will take.
If you want to help a person heal, one thing that you can do is spend time helping them affirm other parts of themselves. Help them remember other aspects of who they are, allow them space to try and be those aspects of who they used to be, and if that’s hesitant, just hold the space and let it be ok. Over time, small things can make really big differences.