Trauma is Subjective

Staff Perspectives

Recognizing that trauma is subjective, and believing people who have experienced trauma, is the foundation to providing trauma informed care. There are many benefits to providing trauma-informed care, both professionally and personally. Trauma-informed care is a proactive approach to safety, creates opportunities for choice, power, and control, and reduces the possibility of re-traumatization. Understanding that trauma is subjective means that just because you didn’t or wouldn’t experience trauma from a particular situation, doesn’t mean that somebody else didn’t or wouldn’t.

Before we continue to talk about the subjectiveness of trauma, let’s first agree on a definition for trauma. Licensed Therapist Krysta Dancy defines trauma as “anytime an experience overwhelms our ability to cope.” The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” When we look at trauma with those definitions and recognize that everyone has a different ability to cope with different situations, it’s easier to understand that what causes trauma and how trauma is experienced is different for everyone.

So just because you experience trauma from something, does not mean someone else who was in the same event will experience trauma. Trauma is subjective. Two people could be in the same car accident and one person could walk away fine, sleep well, and get right back on the road. The other person may sweat every time they get behind the wheel, become a chronic “backseat driver” or maybe never drive a car again. Or if we look at the current Covid-19 crisis, two people could be in the same quarantine situation; one person might come out of that quarantine well rested with a new hobby and didn’t experience trauma, while the other might come out with distressing symptoms, having experienced trauma from the situation.

Understanding that trauma is subjective allows us to have more empathy and practice trauma-informed care. When we can recognize that someone else experienced trauma even when we wouldn’t have, we can move past thinking they are overreacting or faking their response and move into providing support or helping that person find professional support as needed.

Written by Jessica Wallace, Manager of Learning & Development at the Arc of Monroe.

Jessica Wallace