The many faces of trauma

The popular opinion allows people to see ‘trauma’ as being synonymous with distress or discomfort. The other day I stood in a queue to pay for a pair of shoes when I overheard a lady telling her friend that she was so “traumatized” because another shopper “snatched a bargain from under her nose”.

The haphazard way people are using terms like ‘trauma’ and ‘stress’ gives the impression that they know what they are talking about. Our own biases allow us to assume that we know what they are talking about and we have the answers.

The problem is that as listeners we stop listening with the intent to hear and understand. We stop paying attention to what they are trying to share and why they need to tell that part of their story.

Trauma essentially means that one is wounded and there are intense emotions involved. Amongst others, the wounding can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. The pain caused by a traumatic wound is always in the present and is not something you just get over.

Many factors influence how people perceive life and find meaning and purpose. Therefore, people deal with pain and adversity in different ways. A life event can be traumatic for one and be just a crisis for the next person.

You can be traumatized

You can be traumatized when you witnessed or were part of, extremely distressing experiences, that you had no control over. Traumatic experiences include staring death in the face, accidents, illness, broken relationships, betrayal, abuse, and rape.

During the COVID-pandemic loss was one of the foremost experiences. People mourned the passing of loved ones and grieved over lost time, vanished opportunities, absent connections, and missing life experiences.

In this period it became clear that some people experienced their home life as an unsafe and unfriendly space. They didn’t feel safe in their own home. The insecure environment had a traumatic impact on adults and children. People live in the same home, but they don’t have someone to confide in or get the support they craved for. The hostility left them feeling like they were always “in the way”. They were constantly “put down” and made to feel “less than”.

Many people describe their youth as being happy and carefree, but they were abused and felt vulnerable in their early years. A person who was neglected and abused as a child often has some vivid memories and huge memory gaps about their upbringing. They generally have the belief that their needs don’t matter and they have trouble letting their guard down. If you come too close to core issues and they feel vulnerable they will shut down. They can be addicted to emotional, financial, and relational chaos because it is familiar and that fits in their picture of what ‘normal’ looks like.

Asking for help

The pain of traumatic experiences can keep people hostage for many years. Some people are not good at asking for help. Asking for help doesn’t align with their identity or their role for others. If you are the carer-giver, family-fixer, or parent, you may try to be extremely ‘self-sufficient’. Unfortunately, it is possible to consider your wellbeing as something dispensable.

Expendable self-care can be linked to growing up with an unequal exchange of ‘giving’ and ‘taking’ where you don’t want to be a ‘burden’. Feeling unworthy of love and support can be linked to low self-esteem or to the fact that ‘self-reliance’ is all you have ever known.

People who grew up emotionally neglected often believe that their emotional needs are inferior to the needs of others. This gives rise to low self-worth that leads to them doubting whether they deserve to achieve their goals. They are emotionally prohibited from getting a deeper sense of love or fulfillment. Their spiritual lives are also in a severely poor condition.

They say that they are ‘fine’ when they are not because they don’t understand themselves and other people won’t understand or care. Talking therapy seems burdensome because it is a burden to find words for the inexplicable.


Trauma has many faces. What you experienced and went through is unique and it is time to put the pain and trauma behind you. Although we can’t change the past, it is possible to become well through wholeness.

Your journey can start when you hunger and thirst for more from life. It is time to become well.


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6 NIV


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