Why Struggling With Trauma Doesn’t Make You Weak

surviving trauma
| Mind & Body > Mental Health

It’s been six years and I’m just now getting to the point where the smell of lilies doesn’t make me cry. When my best friend passed away in a car accident, many amazing people sent lilies to her memorial — and now the smell reminds of the worst days of my life. I still struggle with hearing certain songs or feeling panicked when I’m driving, but it’s a step. I’ve been struggling through the trauma of losing her since the day it happened, but I’m finally realizing that it doesn’t make me weak.

Trauma is universal and everyone handles it a little differently. What is comforting for some is not for others, but it’s helpful for everyone to know that struggling through trauma doesn’t make you weak. You’re a member of a strong community; many inspiring people who have experienced trauma have turned their grief into positive change, and you are still here.

However, through all of those things, if you still struggle, it’s okay. And for me, it was helpful to know that.

You’re a member of a strong community

Trauma comes in many forms. Grief, sexual assault, bullying, or violence all have the potential to cause trauma. Each experience is different, but it leaves a community of people dealing with similar struggles. Not only are you not alone in your experience that caused your trauma, you’re not alone in feeling weak as a result. You’re not alone in feeling like a victim, like you’re being overdramatic, like you’ve lost, or that you can’t ever be as strong again because you’ve been broken. You are not weak as a result of trauma. In fact, quite the opposite: you’re a survivor.

Your feelings are valid and common among the community of people handling trauma. Whether or not you choose to seek a community of people experiencing the same trauma that you are, it’s at least helpful to know there are others out there. There’s a whole community of fighters working through the trauma affecting them and you’re one of them. Support groups are extremely helpful for some people that feel like no one understands their feelings. Whether it’s online or in person, you have the freedom to connect with others like you and feel strength in that connection. But if you’re not ready, that’s okay too.

Survivors create change

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine when something is a problem until it becomes one. For many situations that cause trauma, they weren’t determined to be detrimental to a person until it happened. When bullying became a social issue affecting many children long term, anti-bullying campaigns popped up all over the world. With the frequency of school shootings in the U.S. came a jump in annual spending for school security that is projected to climb to $4.9 billion in 2017 from $2.7 billion in 2013. It’s heartbreaking that solutions come after disaster and not before in so many cases, but at least change is being made.

No one will understand a traumatic event as much as the people who experienced it. Many survivors have found comfort in speaking for the members of their community who can’t by creating foundations meant to support others in similar situations. Some survivors who have received treatment have become psychiatric nurses as a result — which is extremely helpful as there is a high demand for them in this field. Survivors have also been known to go on to become victim advocates, lawyers, and first responders after their trauma.

I wanted so badly to turn my grief into a positive force, but when I tried I just couldn’t. It was too triggering, and that’s okay, too.

You are still here

It used to bother me when I’d listen to the story of a survivor who said, “I survived because I fought as hard as I could,” or, “I survived because I was meant to be here.” That implies that the people who didn’t survive the same situation didn’t fight, or aren’t supposed to be here.

In reality every situation is different, and whatever the circumstance you got through it. Not to say that those who didn’t are weak, but it’s to say that for whatever reason, you made it through. Whether it’s trauma from your military service, from a bad relationship, being neglected, a natural disaster, witnessing violence, or an illness, you made it through.

Handling traumatic grief is a biological process to go through. It’s not all in your head, it’s a mental health issue that requires some time. You wouldn’t call someone with a broken leg weak, and the same principal applies to dealing with trauma. A broken leg needs time to rest and heal, and so do you. The stages of grief and the stages of trauma, though not the final word on managing these topics, are similar and are a great place to start to begin to understand the feelings associated with trauma. Denial, anger, acceptance, etc., are all real feelings that follow the journey of dealing with trauma. Feeling like your traumatic incident has weakened you is a common feeling. Understanding that is a key step in understanding that the feeling will subside and you will begin to feel stronger with time.

Some people experience trauma in a manageable way, and others struggle with it. Neither one is better than the other, they are just different based on each person and their situation. If you’re having a hard time, that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. Losing my best friend has affected many areas of my life, and I still break down as a result. I still cope negatively sometimes, and I still have to remind myself that my struggles don’t make me weak, they are just a byproduct of my experience.

If you’re having a hard time, that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. I may have triggers I didn’t before, and I may never be able to willingly put someone else in her “best friend” slot, but I am getting through the loss… at my own pace.

I’m not weak. None of us are. We are just a community of people that have experienced something difficult. Together we represent perseverance, not weakness.

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