As a trauma informed health professional, my goal is to always ensure that a client feels safe in any session – be it for an injury, in my pelvic health practice, or a mental health concern.
With it being Mental Health Awareness month in October it is good to know what things you can and can not say to those who may be suffering from trauma.
We all have different life experiences, opinions and biases. Some comments that are often made can be incredibly invalidating and hurtful.
The concept of talking about trauma for some can be incredibly scary. So if someone decides to open up to you, I urge you to really think before you decide to respond.
1. “Don’t you think some people have it worse than you?”
Trauma is not a competition. It’s a complex psychological imprint that is deeply ingrained in our mind and body, and it affects everyone differently.
Everyone’s trauma history is valid no matter the magnitude.
2. “Well, at least it made you stronger”
Resilience is what in fact makes us stronger – therefore how we have managed to navigate and rebuild our lives.
Many people actually feel powerless and hopeless and still struggle with living life and finding some closure. Asking them to “look on the bright side” is invalidating and, honestly, quite disrespectful.
Instead one could focus on congratulating someone on their commitment to being honest with their emotions, to their healing journey, and how they have managed to rebuild their lives.
3. “Why didn’t you fight back?”
A common response in trauma is freezing, and occurs when someone is feeling completely hopeless, and simply does not have the strength to fight. It is common for people to numb or completely dissociate themselves from the situation – which we often learn in childhood:
“We learn to begin dissociating in childhood. When life around us feels too ‘big’ to cope. When we don’t have parent figures to guide, nurture, emotionally support us — when we do not have a secure attachment and cannot fully be our core self.” Dr Nicole LePera
4. “You should try yoga or meditation”
While I do believe these mindfulness practices can be incredibly healing — and I’ve personally benefited from them and seen many clients also — they certainly don’t fix everything and other methods of therapy are required.
Some people can have panic attacks when trying meditation because their nervous system is so dysregulated that being in silence accelerates their heart rate. Others can freak out because closing their eyes triggers their trauma.
When I am working with clients we often do eventually get to this stage, however it is a very slow process of reconnection to their body and mind.
5. “If it was so bad, why didn’t you leave?”
If you’ve never experienced an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to understand why someone would stay in a situation that is detrimental to his or her well-being. But….abusive situations don’t always feel abusive when we’re in them. In fact, if we were conditioned to ignore basic red flags and normalise unhealthy behaviour, abuse can actually feel like love.
Asking someone “why didn’t you leave?” is re-traumatizing, and it blames the victim for the pain they’ve endured when, in reality, they didn’t know any better.
Most of us carry some form of trauma that affects our daily lives, and it takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to process it and move on. Unfortunately we live in a society where talking about feelings has been historically labelled as weak. Be the change today and when you next speak about yourself or listen to someone else’s story – think before you speak, and let’s help each other heal.
October is Mental Health awareness month and we want to support anyone that needs our help. Renee offers 1-1 mindfulness sessions at Auckland Physiotherapy and can work with you. Book in your session now or if you want a bit more information then book a 15min complimentary call with Renee to get the best options for you.
By Renée Malyon, Physiotherapist, Mindfulness & Somatic Trauma Therapist