a blog and resources for trans survivors and loved ones

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  • Healing.
  • Connecting.

What is trauma?

Many survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence know that we’ve been through something terrible and that it has affected us. Some of us may use the word trauma to describe what happened or the impact. Some may not. Many transgender/nonbinary people have experienced discrimination, harassment, isolation, or other forms of harm related to other people’s problems with our gender. Some of us have also experienced poverty, loss, violence or injury, racism, or war. These events and circumstances can also be trauma. 

The word trauma is often used to describe things that have a deep and lasting impact on our lives, our relationships, and our sense of the world. Trauma includes situations that threaten our sense of safety or control over our own lives. However, it is not limited to that, because some people never had those things to begin with or didn’t have much of them. Trauma also isn’t limited to one-time events. It can be caused by a series of events, or a situation, or the world we are born into – one in which safety is never a possibility. People growing up in occupied territories or war zones. People facing racism and oppression and seeing the generational impacts of that on their communities. That’s not to say people living in those situations don’t have any agency or options, but their sense of safety and control may be very different from someone who is growing up in a safer environment.

Not everything that is bad that happens to us will be traumatic. Not everyone will experience the same event as trauma. Not everything that results in distress will be traumatic.

Think of experiences on a spectrum: unpleasant experiences can be difficult, challenging, uncomfortable, and sometimes traumatic.” – https://madinsouthasia.org/living-in-a-trauma-centered-world-a-socio-centric-approach-to-trauma/

Trauma is also used to refer to our responses to events or circumstances. Our response to circumstances is impacted by our other life experiences and identities. For example – two transgender people hear the same information about the ongoing legislative attacks on transgender people. One person has a support network, safety resources, and knows many people working against these attacks. That person may be upset by the news but does not develop trauma responses. The other person has less social support. Perhaps they have been told not to discuss transgender issues at work and feel at a loss for how to engage with the news. This person does develop trauma responses including hypervigilance, anxiety, sleeplessness, and despair. 


Common questions about trauma:

Does it matter if it was trauma or not?

Yes and no. There are some specific healing practices that may be useful in healing from trauma. Some people find having a name for their experiences can be validating and help them understand their response. Some people also find it helpful to identify events in their lives that are not traumatic. For example, by recognizing that an event is stressful or uncomfortable, but is not unsafe, may be helpful to calm your nervous system. For instance you might tell yourself, “Yes, it was upsetting for me to have a disagreement with my friend. And I know they care about me and are safe to talk to. This may be hard, but I know I am safe.” 

Some definitions of trauma and trauma responses come from mainstream psychology. Though these have been evolving over time, they do not include the full range of human experiences. A mental health professional may be able to provide a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but that diagnosis is not always necessary to get the support you want and need. And if a professional says that you do not fit the criteria, that does not mean that you are not having trauma responses.


What do I do if it is trauma?

Everyone has the right to get support, care, and healing – no matter what words you use to describe what you’ve experienced. You may want to seek services specific to the experience – for example: sexual assault or intimate partner violence support. Other people like individual therapy – there are many types of therapists. There are many other healing practices including art, movement, support groups, being in nature, and more. Many people engage in multiple forms of healing support. 

Will I feel this way forever?

There are many different types of support and healing options. Different strategies work for different people. Most people say that they will live with the impacts of trauma for the rest of their lives BUT that impact will get smaller or less frequent over time, especially with help. Some people say that they feel like they’ve healed and then the impacts of trauma will show up again. This is all normal. This in some ways is similar to how someone who broke a bone as a child may have occasional pain in that area as an adult. Getting support can make a huge difference.

Healing practices can and do reduce the impact of trauma on our lives and help us to understand and manage our trauma responses. You are not alone in this experience and you are worthy of care.

Next month we will share more about some of the impacts of trauma on our lives.