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Tiny Traumas Are Traumatic Too

by S. RufusFebruary 19, 2016
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Photo Credit: AntonioGuillem/Thinkstock

I hadn't seen Tracey in over a year. And I was wrangling, that morning, with the latest in a long series of anxiety attacks, which made me not want to see anyone.

But cancelling our outing would have been nearly impossible. Plus I'd already cancelled our last three.

Leaving the house, I was literally shaking—not so flagrantly that anyone could see: just teensy little shivers down the legs, the muscular equivalent of moth-wings, hovering.

But then—seeing her at the subway station, waiting just beyond the turnstile in her black hoodie, waiting for me, the old pal with whom she once shared a cubicle—zapped all that tension from my flesh as if I had just landed in my homeland, listening to my favorite song.

We strolled out laughing, chatting, sharing dazzling revelations as if not a whole year, but maybe an hour, had passed since our last tete-a-tete. The day passed sparklingly, made sacred by the fact that we felt seen, thus sane.

With Tracey, as with nearly no one else, I need no mask. We find the same things funny. We mourn random strangers whose obits appear in birdcage-lining scraps. We both sense some inherent soul in thrift-shop toys and cups, thus we both feel compelled to rescue the most chipped, the most faded, the noseless.

We seldom discuss our parents, all of whom have passed. They were dissimilar: Hers were theatrical, athletic extraverts. Mine were bookish collectors. Hers laughed mercilessly at her clothes, her fears, her body as it grew. Mine had hair-trigger tempers, raging unpredictably.

None of those four were murderers. But without meaning to, they scarred us both for life.

Those scars are our bond, like tattoos signaling membership in some secret society. For the same reasons, in those same ways, we are also bound to millions more around the world: millions more who are like us in the trauma they endured too young to know that trauma even is a thing, that not everyone undergoes mind-melting fear, shame and shock ever, much less daily as if this was ordinary life.

Those millions are like us, Tracey and I, in these ways and in that quiver of qualities our traumas, disparate as they were, wielded upon us: self-loathing (because all bad things are my fault), spaciness (because my brain flees when my body cannot), empathy (because I feel your pain, plus mine, plus everyone's), hyper-alertness (because danger! danger! danger!), hyper-vigilance (because what was that sound?!), untrustingness (because someone I worship called me Tubster), pessimism (because what the f*** else is there?), morbid humor, and oft-misdirected anger.

Our traumas went pretty much unwitnessed by the outside world. They weren't arrestable offenses. They were often tiny, but continuous, and they were all we knew. Our brains developed under those conditions, by those rules.  

Together and alone, we minimize our trauma to protect our parents: Sacrosanct, that Fifth Commandment. Also to protect ourselves, perversely: If it wasn't trauma, then I wasn't traumatized, so I'm not sick. I'm fine.

We minimize our trauma because we think others will. We've seen the eye-roll which means: Compared to that homeless amputee, you have no cause to cry. We want to beat our minimizers (who include us) to the punch. But in so doing, we, the tinily, continually traumatized, retraumatize ourselves, day after day. It's not playing the victim card to say: My suffering is real. I hate it. And I hope it heals.

And you're neither a spoiled brat nor a big baby if you say it still hurts.


S. Rufus is the author — under the byline Anneli Rufus — of several books including Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Tarcher Penguin 2014) and continues on the path of addressing self-esteem.


This entry is tagged with:
Low Self-Esteem

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