5 Common Misconceptions About Trauma

Published on June 18th, 2020

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Common Misconceptions About Trauma

The impact of trauma has become more and more understood and acknowledged in our society. Many people understand that trauma has a deep impact on people, however, there are some incorrect assumptions and misconceptions regarding trauma and the way people respond to trauma. Here are some common myths about trauma. Let’s debunk these myths!

Myth #1 – All trauma is created equal

Trauma is NOT a one-size-fits-all experience. Two people could have very similar experiences and have very different responses to the situation. In fact, they could even be at the SAME traumatic event and have different responses to it!

One person may experience a car accident and walk away with minimal physical wounds, but the psychological wounds may plague their ability to function for many years. Another person could be in a car accident requiring hospitalization and appear to have minimal lasting psychological impact. This happens because every person has different life experiences, different past trauma experiences, different support systems, and different nervous system responses. All these things play a role in how traumatic events may impact someone.

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Myth #2 – Trauma happens only when there is physical injury.

Traumatic events may result in physical injury, but this does not determine whether the event will cause lasting trauma responses. Trauma can result from physical injury, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, psychological abuse, near-miss accidents, surgeries, and many events you may not even realize could be traumatic! For example, a little girl could fall off her bike and struggle with lasting fear. You may think, kids fall off their bikes all the time, and you would be right! But this particular time came on too fast and caused the nervous system to activate into fight/flight response. The struggle to release and come out of the fight/flight response may lead to ongoing fear and panic around riding the bike.

Myth #3 – Trauma cannot be healed or changed

Trauma impacts the body and mind in different ways, such as difficulty calming, feeling on-guard, experiencing anger outbursts or withdrawn from others or re-experiencing the trauma in memory, nightmares or flashbacks. These symptoms can be very distressing and seriously impact a person’s life. It can seem like there is no way out! There is hope though!

Finding the support, including the right therapist, to help you navigate trauma is the first step to helping process the trauma and renegotiate the way the trauma impacts the body. Trauma therapy can come in many forms including Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Some alternative therapies have shown promise in helping heal trauma as well. People respond differently to the different trauma therapies so it may take some time to find the right fit. The right therapy type and therapist are out there.

Myth #4 – The person needs to just “get over it” or “let it go.”

Every person with PTSD to ever enter my office has heard these comments. “Just let it go,” “move on,” or “just don’t think about it anymore.” While these comments may come from a well-meaning friend or family member, but they are not at all helpful or accurate.

If the person could “just let it go,” they absolutely would. If it were that simple, we would all just move right past traumatic events and never think of them again.

Trauma does not just impact the conscious mind; it also impacts the body. The body and the brain come together to keep a person on high alert, in an attempt to try and protect the body from future trauma. This constant heightened state brings the other trauma responses (such as rapid breathing, hypervigilance or nightmares) and thinking the person’s way out of these body responses… well… it’s pretty difficult.

Telling someone to get over it, actually, makes things harder because it tells them that they could just stop thinking about it and everything would be better. But since they haven’t been successful in “just getting over it,” there must be something wrong with them. Not helpful or accurate. Supporting the person by listening, encouraging them to get help and validating that their feelings/responses are real experiences are much better approaches to helping a person struggling with trauma responses.

Myth #5 – The person is being “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.”

I hear this one a lot, especially in response to teenagers and children with trauma histories. While it may seem that the reactions and symptoms are out of proportion to the situation, it is impossible to know the impact the trauma had on a person.

The person may seem to “lose it” over something very minor to someone watching from the outside but, the body response felt very big to the person. And the person may have no idea what triggered the response or why they responded the way they responded.

Creating safety for a person struggling with trauma responses is the best way to help them navigate the trauma. Even if the responses do seem to be “too big,” allowing the person the space to process the response and know they still have support is so important to start the process of healing trauma.

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