Through life, we face trials and tribulations that break us and reform us into a person we can look upon with kind eyes and sympathetic smiles or one we cast away, cringing from our reflections, our memories. I used to think that marveling at myself, accepting my memories, and understanding myself as a strong person because of my trauma was the best way to be a happy person or even just a person, a whole person. In actuality, I was wrong because I weighed my trauma, stacked all of that pain and suffering on top of each other, then organized it into little strings, making it tie itself to something I liked. I was kind because I was shown cruelty. I was independent because I was not given much attention or support. I was outgoing because I felt so alone. I made sense of it all and appreciated my narrative, my life story, my climaxes, and pitfalls because I thought they made me who I am and I love who I am, right? This is acceptance, is it not?
It is not. The relationship I had with my trauma, like others, has been up and down. Once you experience horrible events or circumstances, it feels indigestible, like something is just constantly pressing into your life and your soul, crushing you slowly. There are times when you get used to the pain in your chest, the way the people around you seem further and further away from you. There will be times when you ignore it to be happy somewhere else, repressing that painful thing because why would you have to feel it all the time? There are other times when it bubbles to the top of your chest and you scream, crying hot tears as you fall into memories of the young you that you desperately wished someone would just help, save them. I have been all of these and none of these, but my goal was always to go beyond day-to-day mechanisms of accepting myself, to accept all of me. That meant explaining my trauma and unintentionally romanticizing it.
Romanticization is when an individual “deals with or describes in an idealized or unrealistic fashion” or making something seem better than it is in reality (Oxford Learner Dictionaries, 2021). Applying this to pain or trauma would mean implying it is less severe than it was or for me, linking the negative experience to a positive aspect of my current situation. The cruelty creating my kind, the neglect turning into independence, and the loneliness transforming into extroversion. I latched onto these loose ties from my present to my past, masking it as a sort of acceptance of my life.
However, this is part of the problem. When trauma is romanticized, there is a false perception created that those things needed to happen for these traits to arise. That is implicitly stating that your trauma was justified and needed to happen to reach an elevated future state. Perhaps that is a grim reality we can accept, that perhaps this one horrible thing needed to happen but that does not work in reality does it? You walk into many spaces with kind people who did not get told they were worthless every day, some people never had a hand laid on them by an authority figure but still clean up after themselves, they are still people that understand how valuable their body is without having to process a the phantom hands of sexual assault stalking every single one of their sexual encounters. Now, what does this mean?
This was the worst part for me, the one that broke down all of my self-perceptions and my coping mechanisms, the temporary walls that looked like they were made of stone but were made of glass. As they fell, I saw the words: “It was nothing, it meant nothing and it never will”. All of the pain, the suffering, and the subsequent changes that are forced in life were not necessary. Everything I am as a person today that I love and cherish could have happened through a story, or a lesson, or a conversation. Every single bad memory was just that, a bad memory. So, though it may hurt more than help to hear right now, it must be said that everything that you gained by forced trauma and horrible events could have been obtained the same way through soft words accompanied by a warm embrace. Yes, even that one time that made you join your current work field or that brought you closer to finding the love of your life, none of it needed to happen.
Now, where does that leave us? Well, we are left with pain, sadness, and the associated echoes of those things in ourselves. We are left with red strings of fate dismantling themselves from our forceful connections, and we are just left. Sadly, this is the starting point to actual healing and acceptance and not forceful romanticization of your trauma to cope with the unfairness forced upon you. Now you can look back at your memories and understand the truth behind them, that they happened but should not have happened and now you will deal with the ramifications of those moments. They cannot be hidden behind the wonderful person YOU have created today or the wonderful life you have settled into despite that pain you faced, not because of it.
Trauma is not an identity, and mine surely will not get credit for all my hard work. Nor will I be minimizing the pain of my stories, the suffering that a young child faced, to make myself feel better. In the end, I know if I saw her again, that young child crying in her room as she heard glass break over and over again accompanied by louder voices, that I would not tell her not to worry for she will be very good at blocking out loud noises in the future. Not when I know she will, to this day, flinch at the sound of something falling or start shaking around loud voices, whether or not they are directed at her or not. I don't think any of us could say that to the person who experienced that pain because all of us would just want to protect them.
Now onto the next and final point. Your trauma is not a rule that others must follow to live well, be interesting, or become independent. The echoes of our parents corrupted us as the echoes of their parents did them. Whether intentionally or not, we justify our trauma. Romanticizing our hardships makes it much easier to subject others to that same pain and suffering that internally we know we should have never faced. From generation to generation, trauma gets warped through differing perceptions and people, infecting the lives of those that follow till they too have something so similar but so different to pass on to young children that most definitely do not need it.
You are amazing in spite of your trauma, not because of it. Your trauma can end with you as long as you understand it for the horror it truly was as well as the innocent soul it happened to. Do not give credit to your abusers for the castle you made, simply because they made you bring up your defenses; it is still your castle after all. It is still your life after all. Do not let others lay claim to it, especially not those who sought to destroy it.
Romanticize. romanticize verb - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes | Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/romanticize.
About the author:
I am a lesbian intersectional feminist who loves to read books and write thoughts down; I mostly travel around in search of new adventures and cultures to learn from!