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It’s so hard when you start to realize just how deep the roots of childhood trauma go. Things that you might not even think could affect you later in life that rear their ugly heads with a vengeance when you’re not even looking.
If you’re like me, maybe what gets you the most is survivor’s guilt. It’s likely that someone ingrained it into you, telling you that you don’t have it as bad as others, especially the one perpetrator the emotional or physical damage on you. You’re told that you should be grateful that things aren’t worse. When it’s someone who you love and who says loves you, it’s even more painful, because then love becomes conflated with pain, guilt, and mistrust. You know that something is wrong with the situation, even if the rest of the time your abuser is kind and you have good times, and they provide for you and keep you safe from other things. It’s like a mirror with broken glass. Technically still usable, but with jagged edges that can cut. They tell you that you should be grateful just to be alive, because things could very easily have gone very differently for you if they had made a different choice. Maybe they don’t even take it that far, just telling you that you’re lucky not to be alone, that you could easily be abandoned if you don’t do what they say.
I don’t know what your story is. What I know is that even if your trauma isn’t “as bad” as mine, I won’t hold it against you for having a more severe reaction than me. And I hope you can understand that even if my trauma isn’t as bad as yours and I still can’t keep it together like you, it’s not because I’m trying to take attention from your pain, or imply that people like us are incapable of healing. I don’t want to disrespect your trauma by appearing to complain about something that seems minor to you. I don’t want to minimize your experience by being honest about the pain of my own. It might cut you to see someone who seems to have so much more than you, someone whose life you would have traded anything to live instead of yours, saying that they nonetheless felt abused and traumatized. I can understand why that would make you angry. I’ve been angry with those closest to me for doing the same thing. You don’t really see it until it happens to you.
But just like in my sexual harassment post, I want to reiterate that we survivors don’t do each other any favours by trying to gatekeep. What do we gain by drawing lines between who can express the pain and who cannot? That doesn’t mean that there are different levels. Humans are capable of a wide spectrum of violence against each other, and yes, I am grateful that I didn’t go through everything that you went through, and maybe you do wish that you could have had more good times like I did. But at the end of the day, the only thing we accomplish is giving abusers, including ourselves, permission to make things “just a little better” than another experience. It is fuel for the gaslight, because we are gaslighting each other, and gaslighting ourselves. If survivors tell each other than they are lucky for “only” experiencing certain things, abusers get the idea that as long as they stay within certain lines, then their victims should be thankful that things aren’t worse. Only by acknowledging everyone’s pain in equal measure, even if the source doesn’t have equal distribution, can we send the clear message that only healthy behaviour is acceptable. By drawing lines in the sand, we give permission to split hairs and try and get as close to the line as possible without going over.
The fact is, two people can go through the exact same thing and come out vastly different. We all have different tolerances for pain and catastrophe. Some of us are stronger than others, for different reasons. Emotional and mental resilience needs to be developed just as surely as the physical, and can be damaged just as surely, leaving someone with handicaps that keep them from being able to keep up with others, in certain ways. We are all strong in different ways, and we are all weak in different ways. So something that may not seem like a big deal for you might be devastating to me, for whatever reason. Whereas you might be able to bounce back and get back to normal, I may be left ruined and unable to cope. And vice versa. And instead of using my strength to tell you to be stronger, do I use it to help you stand up? Instead of telling you to quit whining and shake it off, do I remember a time in my life when I was unable to do so, and credit it to you as empathy?
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13