Episode 65: Was It Bad Enough To Be Labeled “Trauma”?
Episode 65: Was It Bad Enough To Be Labeled “Trauma”?
This episode is for those moments when we find ourselves wondering if what we went through is “bad enough” to be considered trauma. Tune in for a deep exploration of what trauma is and what it isn’t, as well as the differences between being triggered and being traumatized.
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Oh, hey friends, what’s up and welcome back to another episode of The Light After Trauma Podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari, and I’m happy to be here today. It has been a super difficult week, but I have made it through and I have a lot of things going on medically. So for the listeners out there, if you could please just send some healing vibes my way, I would very much appreciate that as I try to navigate what has been a very difficult process so far. And with that said, just on other housekeeping things, thank you all again, for those of you who connected with me on Instagram after the podcast two weeks ago. I know that during that episode, it was a solo episode. And I had asked a lot of you guys to follow me on Instagram, which my Instagram handle is Light After Trauma and, message me and kind of tell me if there’s any topics that you are interested in hearing about on the podcast.
Alyssa Scolari [01:36]:
And a lot of you did, and I got you connect with a lot of you and meet some of you. And that was really fun. I love getting to hear from you all. And I love getting your feedback because this podcast is for all of you, just as much as it is for me and your healing is important to me. So if there are topics that you think that you might want to hear about on the podcast, please feel free to message me again. My Instagram is Light After Trauma, but also go check out my Instagram anyway, because we have really been ramping up the content and putting out some great tips and things for you all. And yeah, it’s just been really fun to connect with you all on Instagram. So again, that handle is Light After Trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [02:26]:
And also if you can spare just a few seconds of your time, I would really appreciate a review on the podcast. I will leave it at that because I know I asked for that a couple of weeks ago. So if you are willing to do that, thank you so much. I appreciate it and appreciate you. And if not, that’s okay as well. And today’s episode, we are talking about feeling like what happened to us, isn’t really defined as trauma or feeling like what happened to me, like I don’t know if it was bad enough to be trauma. And I get quite a few people in my office and also have quite a few peers and colleagues and friends who feel that way as well. And I think it’s a very important topic to talk about because we tend to feel very invalidated in our emotions. And there are some things that we can very much label, very clearly as trauma in this world.
Alyssa Scolari [03:33]:
For example, we can label sexual assault and rape as trauma. We can label child abuse as trauma. We can label fatal car accidents as trauma and a whole host of other things that in our society, we look at that and we go, oh, that’s definitely trauma, that’s traumatic. Being a victim of a violent crime, domestic violence, suicide, it’s all very, very traumatic. But then I find that there’s this other piece to trauma that a lot of people are missing and that doesn’t really get talked about enough, which then causes people to think to themselves, well, do I have trauma? And well what happened to me wasn’t that bad and other people have it worse. I know plenty of people who think to themselves and I myself was one of these people. People think to themselves, well, at least I wasn’t this, or at least I wasn’t that. And at least I wasn’t sexually abused as a child. Now that, that must really be trauma. What I experienced, eh, it’s not really that traumatic.
Alyssa Scolari [05:03]:
And I feel like this is a result of a couple of things. I think one, it’s a result of just a general lack of understanding about what trauma is and what it can look like. But then I also think it’s a result of a perhaps subconscious level of denial wherein, and I know this was the case for me when I call it trauma, when I sit here and I say out loud that I have been traumatized and I have endured trauma in my life, it doesn’t really feel that good. It kind of … Being able to say oh, well this wasn’t trauma, this was hard, but this wasn’t trauma, keeps me almost in a level of denial.
Alyssa Scolari [06:01]:
So it’s almost a way of us like gaslighting ourselves and talking ourselves out of feeling the way that we feel about what happened to us and talking ourselves out of our human experiences. And that in itself can be a coping mechanism. If I tell myself that what happened to me or what I went through or what I didn’t get in my life, and I’m going to circle back to that. If I tell myself those things, then I don’t necessarily have to feel as bad. And I don’t necessarily have to face all of the feelings or the intensity of the feelings. Therefore, it’s easier for me to say other people have it worse, or this really wasn’t trauma. It sort of gives us an out and a workaround for how we can avoid dealing with the heavy feelings. And here’s the thing.
Alyssa Scolari [07:07]:
That works for a little while, but eventually it catches up to us. So I know that for me, when I was with one of my abusers and I was questioning. For a long time I was questioning whether or not it was actually rape. And I kept saying to my therapist at the time, “I don’t think this was rape because I could have been more clear about it. I could have said no.” In fact, I actually remember sitting in therapy one day and saying to her, “Well, what if I was the abuser? What if I’m the one who hurt him? What if I’m the one that manipulated him into having sex?” And I was so deep in this level of denial and I was so hung up on all of the things that I could have done or said to prevent what had happened.
Alyssa Scolari [08:12]:
Well, it couldn’t have been rape because I did not scream, or kick, or cry, or try to fight for my life. And it wasn’t rape because I stayed with him. And it wasn’t rape because I thought that I wanted it at first. I said, yes at first. It was my fault. And again, these things aren’t necessarily about just sexual assault. This can really be about any type of trauma. There are also lots of folks who find themselves thinking things like, well, my parents never hit me. So I don’t really think it’s fair to say that I was abused because there are children out there that really get beaten and raped. And I wasn’t either of those things. And it becomes especially tricky. I think when we start thinking about, well, I had a lot of my needs met, for example, my parents had a lot of money. They bought me anything I needed. I never wanted for anything. I always had food on the table. Therefore, the emotional neglect couldn’t have been trauma. It couldn’t have been that bad.
Alyssa Scolari [09:34]:
And like I said before, that kind of works for a while, that like mindset and that mind frame and that way of thinking, and it helps keep the emotions at bay. But it doesn’t help forever. Because what happens is when you start saying those things to yourself, you, like I said, deny yourself your true experience. And in doing so you also deny yourself the emotions that might go along with your experience. And this finds a way to somehow ruin your life in the future. Or I should say ruin parts of your life in the future. And a lot of this is subconscious.
Alyssa Scolari [10:23]:
So for example, if you’re somebody who was in an emotionally abusive household, but let’s say your parents were wealthy and you never wanted for anything. You might say to yourself, well, this wasn’t trauma, but when you become older and you start looking for relationships yourself, what you tend to do is you tend to seek out partners who are just as emotionally, as abusive as the household that you grew up in, because you have never allowed yourself to come to terms with the fact that what you experienced was traumatic and was abusive. So when you continue to tell yourself on one level that nothing bad happened, but your body and your brain and your subconscious know on another level that it was bad, your body is forever seeking to get out of that cognitive dissonance that you have put yourself in.
Alyssa Scolari [11:27]:
And your body wants to do that by then recreating the childhood that you grew up in, where you were emotionally neglected or emotionally abused. You will recreate that over and over and over again in adulthood, in an attempt to either prove to yourself that it was okay, and there was nothing wrong with what happened to me as a child, or as a way to prove to yourself, oh, this wasn’t okay. This is what happened to me when I was a kid. Or what my partner is saying to me right now is what my father used to say to me or what my mother used to say to me and it doesn’t feel safe.
Alyssa Scolari [12:19]:
So it works in the long run to tell ourselves my trauma wasn’t that bad, or it wasn’t even trauma, but it catches up with us eventually. And that is a really, really hard thing to be able to sit with, this idea that what happened to you may have been in fact trauma, because then you would have to do something with that. And that can be really painful, but it’s not nearly as painful as repeating the same patterns into adulthood and having difficult relationships or friendships that don’t work out, partners that you don’t end up with because you’re spending your time trying to recreate your childhood. And again, I don’t want to be very specific to childhood abuse here because this can also just run the gamut of all types of trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [13:25]:
I got into a car accident in October. Oh, it was October 12th, I believe, 2015. It was Columbus Day, which is now Indigenous Persons Day. Yes, I believe I said that right. But hurray for that. Goodbye Christopher Columbus. Get out of here. This land was never yours. I digress. Back then, it was Columbus Day and I got into a car accident and I was fine, I had some serious bruises and my car was totaled and it was a pretty bad accident. I have no idea how I made it out of that accident alive. There were three cars involved in total and somebody had run a red light and I was at the green light and I was just going through the intersection, minding my business and I got pretty much T-boned. So I don’t know how I made it out with just a few bruises, but I did, and I could not get back into the car afterwards. I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t drive. I was shaking and I didn’t really understand it at the time. I didn’t.
Alyssa Scolari [14:37]:
All I knew is that my reaction was so strong and so intense. And I do remember my mom kind of being like, what is going on here? Like, I understand that it was scary, but you have to get back in the car and get on the road. And I was just like, no, I refused to drive. And when I would drive, I would have massive panic attacks. And I think that if you had asked me back then, if that was traumatizing, I would have been like, no, it really wasn’t bad enough to be traumatizing because I lived, everybody else lived. Nobody was hurt. Nobody died. It was just a really bad car accident and things happen and it wasn’t traumatizing.
Alyssa Scolari [15:31]:
So then I would get in my head about like why am I like this? Why am I having such a severe reaction to this? And that was five, six years ago. Yeah, because today is, the day that we’re recording this, this is October 15th, 2021. So this was just around six years ago that this happened. And I just hadn’t the faintest idea why I was reacting so strongly then, and now all these years later, when I look back on it, I realize that I was very traumatized by that. And I was traumatized by that for a very specific reason. And it was because not long before that car accident, I witnessed somebody be hit and killed or struck by a car and killed on the spot. And that was extremely traumatizing. And I never got help for that. I just stuffed those feelings down. And before that, I had had a history of my best friend’s mom died in a car accident. One of my best friends in high school died by also getting hit by a vehicle.
Alyssa Scolari [16:54]:
And I just had a history of issues with cars, car accidents, anything, being on the road was extremely triggering. So I didn’t really understand it back then because I didn’t understand trauma to the depth that I understand it now, but that reaction that I was having wasn’t just a result of that car accident. Even though if it was, that would be okay too. It wasn’t just a result of the car accident. It was a result of all of the things, all of the traumas with cars that I had had in the past coming to the surface. And that is why I had such a strong reaction, but I didn’t know it at the time.
Alyssa Scolari [17:42]:
So I just continued to invalidate myself and think that I was crazy. And I hate that word, but that is what I would tell myself. I do my best not to use that word anymore, even though I am a fan of … Or not a fan, but I have a habit of saying things like, wow, that’s crazy. I try very hard to substitute it with words like, that is wild. I do my best. I do my best with this linguistic evolution. But anyway, I digress.
Alyssa Scolari [18:13]:
So I wish that I could go back and I wish that I could tell myself that the truth is it doesn’t necessarily matter if what happened to you was a one time thing, if what happened to you was traumatizing because it triggered things from the past. All that matters is that you are having an extremely strong reaction and you are experiencing symptoms of trauma. It doesn’t matter. You don’t necessarily need to have all of the pieces. I didn’t have all the pieces back then and I wish, I wished then, and I wish now, that I had had a therapist that said to me, you don’t need to have all the pieces of the puzzle for your emotions and your reactions to be valid.
Alyssa Scolari [19:08]:
Because I think that we get in our heads a lot about how, I think that something bad might have happened to me when I was younger and I don’t have any memories, just kind of this weird feeling, but what if I’m just making it up? And what if it didn’t really happen? And what if whatever did happen, wasn’t really that big of a deal? But then the other question that we ask ourselves is, but then why am I like this? If nothing happened, why do I have these intense feelings? Why do I have these intense triggers? Why do I find myself feeling rage, or guilt, or shame over my body, or over the subject of sex or whatever it may be, why am I having this reaction if nothing happened?
Alyssa Scolari [20:01]:
And I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to put all the pieces of our childhood together and all the pieces of our past together, I should say, so that we can have an answer. And so that we can feel validated in saying, see, I am the way that I am because of A through Z that happened up to my life to this point. And unfortunately, trauma just never works like that because our brains are so brilliant and they’re so wired for protection and survival, that there are certain things that our brains just store in the back, or just let go of forever. And that we can’t store into memory as a way to protect ourselves. And I use this analogy with a lot of my clients. So I’m going to share it with you all because I think it’s a really good one.
Alyssa Scolari [20:55]:
If you are a police officer or a law enforcement officer, and you get a call that there is a weird scene that you need to go out and investigate, and you go out to somebody’s home and the glass is shattered and there are pools of blood on the floor. And there are shell casings from a gun and the furniture is broken and there’s nobody home, but you just see lots of blood and broken glass and just lots of chaos, lots of disarray. It probably would make sense to a law enforcement officer or honestly, any human being that something really bad happened here.
Alyssa Scolari [21:54]:
Now, a police officer isn’t going to go, well I don’t have all the details and I don’t have a body. So I’m not really going to investigate this and clearly nothing happened because nobody saw anything. I have no body, nobody saw anything. So clearly nothing happened and this is all just a random pile of disarray that means nothing. Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen. Cops are not going to do that. Law enforcement officer’s not going to do that. What they’re going to do is they’re going to be like, oh shit, something terrible happened here because look at all of the clues we have. We’ve got the blood, we’ve got the broken glass, we’re going to dust for fingerprints, we’ve got fingerprints here, we’ve got a gun here, we’ve got shell casings. And they’re going to do a thorough investigation, even though they don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle. And I think that we can use that analogy when it comes to trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [22:58]:
You may not ever get all of the pieces of the puzzle. I still don’t have pieces of the puzzle. But I don’t tell myself that just because I don’t have those pieces doesn’t mean that something bad happened or it doesn’t mean that something bad didn’t happen. Is that a double negative? Ah whatever, you get the gist of it. So we would still work on healing ourselves, and we would work with the clues that we have just as law enforcement would work with the clues that they have. The same thing goes. We get clues, whether it’s, I’m finding myself getting really triggered during sex, or when somebody says this to me, I find myself getting really angry, or I find myself having nightmares all the time about something. I’m not quite sure what it is. I find myself being very hypervigilant. I panic often. I’m very sensitive to noises. You’ve got all those clues. You don’t necessarily need the whole picture to call it what it is.
Alyssa Scolari [24:19]:
I hope that that is helpful because that has been super helpful for me because I am a big fan of invalidating myself. I was even doing it last night. I was sitting in my office and I had a break in between clients and I’m sitting there and I’m going well, what happened to me isn’t nearly as bad as other things that I’ve seen people go through. And I found myself down this rabbit hole of like, who do I think I am, having a podcast, speaking about trauma when other people have had it so much worse than I have. And I was just like, Alyssa, stop sister, stop, stop doing that to yourself. Because all it did was make me feel like shit and it completely invalidated my experience. I invalidated my own experience. You don’t deserve that. You don’t need all the pieces to know it was trauma.
Alyssa Scolari [25:24]:
And the other thing I want to come back to you, which I said at the beginning, but I will circle back to, is that one thing that I think is very difficult in the world of mental health and the world of trauma, well, one of many things that I don’t think gets talked about nearly enough is that, you know what? Sometimes trauma is about what you didn’t get. So oftentimes there are folks that will say, I don’t have a history of trauma. I was never abused, or raped, or assaulted, or living in poverty or a victim of a violent crime or whatever it may be. But trauma doesn’t end there. Trauma can also be about what you didn’t get in life. Did you not have stable parent figures? Did you not have the validation and support that you needed? Did you not have the financial security that you needed growing up? What didn’t you have as a child? Because that can be just as traumatizing.
Alyssa Scolari [26:37]:
Now I know that as I go on and on about this, somebody out there is probably having this thought because my mother said this to me. And I think it’s a very valid point. My mother said to me, back in May, I think we were having a conversation. And I was sort of giving my perspective on a situation and talking about trauma. And she said to me, “But you’re a trauma therapist. Like you look at everything as trauma. Like, in your opinion, Alyssa, everyone has trauma.” And I’ve actually been like really thinking about that for the last couple of months and I actually agree with her. I don’t think that everything is trauma. I want to be clear about that. I really don’t. I think that trauma really depends on the individual and that what might be traumatic for some person might not be traumatic for someone else. And I think a lot of that depends on protective factors. Like what’s the level of support that they have? What are the types of resources that they have?
Alyssa Scolari [27:49]:
So I can get into protective factors on another podcast, but while I don’t think that everything is traumatizing, I do think that everybody does have some level of trauma or will have some level of trauma in their lives. I mean, this pandemic alone has been traumatizing for folks. So I do believe that, and that’s not really … I do believe that there’s more extensive trauma than others. But I do believe that everybody walks around carrying some level of trauma in their lives and that’s okay.
Alyssa Scolari [28:35]:
Again, I think that when we hear the word trauma, we think of it as like, it has to be this huge, horrific thing. That like I was sexually abused as a child. Like no, it doesn’t always have to be like that. It really doesn’t. And it is so specific to every individual. But I do believe that all of us are walking around with our own undigested trauma, whether it be generational trauma, religious trauma, you name it. There are so many different types of trauma out there. So some people may disagree with that and take it or leave it. But I truly do believe that. And that doesn’t mean that I’m pathologizing anybody. I don’t think that trauma is what’s wrong with you. I think that trauma is about what has happened to you. And I guess I just don’t believe that any of us make it out of this world unscathed. So, I mean, that’s my take on that.
Alyssa Scolari [29:36]:
So I hope that this was eye opening for some you. I hope that this was helpful for some of you. It took a lot of having to say this to myself over and over and over again, for me to start to realize what I was doing to myself and I still do it. Like I said, I was even doing it yesterday. I was invalidating myself. But ultimately, this is how I feel about it. This is my viewpoint on it. And I think that it doesn’t matter the severity. If it’s trauma, it’s trauma and you don’t need all the pieces to know it’s trauma, and there’s no such thing as it wasn’t bad enough to be trauma, nobody gets to decide that for you. Nobody. The only one who gets to decide that is you and you alone.
Alyssa Scolari [30:37]:
So thank you for tuning in today. Thank you for listening. I really hope that this was helpful. Again, give me a follow on my Instagram, Light After Trauma and reach out, say hi, connect with me. I would love to hear from you. And if you have any questions about this or want any follow up questions answered again, just either shoot me an email, which is email@example.com or just DM me on Instagram. In the meantime, I will be back next week and it was a pleasure as always. Love getting to share some of this stuff with you all. And I will be holding you in the light and wishing you you all a beautiful week. And I will talk to you soon.
Alyssa Scolari [31:18]:
Thanks for listening everyone. For more information, please head over to lightaftertrauma.com or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram we are at Light After Trauma. And on Twitter, it is @LightAfterPod. Lastly, please head over to at patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you and we appreciate your support. [singing]