Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Phrases I Hate ....

As a survivor of trauma and one getting an "experiential graduate degree" (not offered in any college, university, etc.) in the land in PTSD, its affects, its peculiarities and recovery from, I have been through more than my share of secondary wounding; phrases people utter which wound the recovering trauma survivor as much or more than the initial incident.  I call these people Job's comforters for while their phrases and advice sound good at face value, they're missing the mark bigtime.  Without even realizing how far off base they are.  They mean well ... BUT....

Secondary wounding, in my experience, is not usually intended to hurt.  I believe that rather than being intentional, it is because many people honestly do not know how to encourage and support people like me.  More so, they are uncomfortable hearing our stories.  They simply don't understand.  Period.  And they figure that once they're heard something, they're done.  Why should the traumatized person be so insistent on repeating themselves?  On reliving the trauma over and over again?  Why can't Suzanne just move on and be done with it?  And so they come out with something that they think will help.  Only instead they leave me with more guilt; feeling judged, cut off, with one less person to bear my stretcher when I'm down for the count.  When I'm lying figuratively on the floor, gasping for breath, begging for help.

Here is a list of some of the phrases which have cut off communication and left me feeling more judged and more powerless:
  • "let it go...."  This was the phrase I heard frequently for the 18 month period in 2005 and 2006 between the initial trauma and getting help.  The person would then walk away, leaving me left alone with the trauma, with feelings I didn't understand.  Feeling judged.  Feeling alone.  Feeling violated but not knowing why.  Frankly, I did not know why I couldn't move on.  I wished these people would give me a "how to get there from point A to point B" diagram, but they didn't.  They couldn't.  These were just words.  Perhaps well-meaning words.  But words nonetheless.  They  made the speaker feel better, but left me feeling worse.  Left me with the questions:  "Why couldn't I move on?  What was preventing me?"  It wasn't until one person listened to my story and said:  "I think you have PTSD" that things started to change.  And then very slowly.
  • "you just need to move on...."  I know that already yet.  This phrase has been a recurrent theme in this second half of my journey to recovery:  post severe stress situation culminating in 2011.  The problem is, moving on without recovery is not beneficial.  I need to work through my feelings, the horror of what happened, the injustice.  I need to lean into the pain.  To fully face the horror before I can move on in a healthy fashion ... and for that I need your support.  I need to be able to tell my story as I live through it.
  • "just forgive those who have hurt you" (usually thrown at faith-based people like myself by other faith-based people who mean well ...  BUT just don't get it)....  I want to forgive them but something is hindering me.  I don't know what.  I've made the decision to forgive but it's just not happening - yet.  Give me a diagram.  Tell me how to get there from here.  Don't leave me dangling feeling unworthy and judged.  Feeling unloveable.  Help me.
  • "moving forward...."  This was a favorite phrase of a significant person during the severely stressful episode.  It's like sweeping the dust under the furniture.  And about as healthy and helpful.  It just doesn't work.  Because the dust is still there, lying under the bed, getting worse instead of better.  Eventually, it will need to be dealt with.  Swept into the dustbin and disposed of.    Issues not dealt with do not magically disappear, they only grow worse with time and neglect.  
  • "maybe the other person ... had a bad day, feels this, thinks this, etc..."  (fill in the blank).   When I heard people saying these things to me, I felt that I was being short-changed.  Judged.  Not valued.  Not listened to.  Especially when they came from significant others during the situation.  I felt that the perpetrator was being supported and validated, not me.  I felt like their feelings and opinions mattered more than my own.  I felt that the other person was being supported, not me.  When someone is supporting me, it doesn't matter what the other person involved in the trauma may think or feel.  They're not the ones in need of your support.  Let them get their own supporters, their own network.  I need you to be there for me.
  • "I don't know.  I wasn't there...."  No, you weren't there. And you don't know.  But do you have to have been there in order to walk with me?  To support me?  To encourage me?  To prop up my leaning side?  If I was the victim of a terrorist attack, a car accident, etc., would you say that to me when I'm talking about the horrors of the incident?  No, you weren't there.  You don't know.  You cannot comprehend the absolute horror I faced.  You should count yourself very fortunate that you weren't. 
  • "I understand...."  Like HEdoublehockeysticks you do!  Other than the fact that this phrase sounds patronizing ... it is also blatantly insulting and untrue.  Unless you've been there, done that, got the t-shirt and didn't like the fit, you cannot possibly have even a glimmer of understanding of what I'm facing.  And the sad fact is that even if you have been in a similar situation, since no two situations are identical, you still cannot totally understand.  
So there is my rant for today.  Having got this off my chest - finally - I will now climb down off my purple, smiley-face decorated soapbox and go back into hibernation ... until the next post.

See you then ....

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