Hello everybody, welcome to episode 73 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today we’ll be checking out a really great, really mindful question from someone whose shoes I think we’d all like to be in, in a strange way. We’ll be having a really good talk today about trauma and how to get ahead of it before it overwhelms us. Without further ado, here’s today’s question…
QUESTION: “Greg. Thank you very much for your work. I enjoy your podcast very much. I am seventeen years old and have just been through a very traumatic experience. I don’t want to get into what it is, but I’m scared of how this is going to affect me from now on. Do you know if there is something I can do now to prevent this experience from bringing me pain for years to come? How can I jump ahead and not worry about it long term? I just want to get this over with now as best I can.“
Traumas Do NOT Ruin Our Lives
All right, sounds like we have a very mindful teen on our hands. Sounds like you’re wise beyond your years – good for you. What a blessing it must be to learn about these kinds of things in the developmental years before your life has been ruined by all its traumas. Ah, I’m just kidding…
And I’m kidding because our traumas do NOT ruin our lives, my friend. Quite the opposite – it’s in tackling traumas head on and recovering from them that we learn life’s greatest lessons and evolve into more well-rounded people.
It’s for that reason that my first recommendation to you is to not try to “just get it over with” as you put it. That kind of approach is not going to help you.
You ask if there’s something you can do to prevent this experience from bringing you pain for years to come. The first step to making that come true is to embrace this now to the best of your ability. I promise you, everyone listening that’s older than you probably wishes they could go back and better handle the traumas they experienced when they were young rather than trying to suppress them.
You see, this would be one of the ways of detaching yourself from trauma – which you never want to do.
Trauma and Level of Attachment
I like to consider trauma as a sort of spectrum, and the goal is to be centered, or about 50% attached to your trauma. Allow me to explain:
Low Level of Attachment
If you’re all the way to the left of the spectrum, or 0% attached to your trauma, you don’t learn anything from it. If you’re completely detached from trauma, this usually means you don’t even know that something’s affected you as negatively as it has. You might even think that which actually causes you pain has been a blessing in your life.
Maybe it’s having a father who’s a racist. You grow up being exposed to racism; you believe in your father’s teachings and recognize it as a bond between the two of you and presto, you turn out to be a racist yourself because that’s all you ever know. You’re damaged, but you don’t know it until you’re hopefully exposed to an experience that’s strong enough to make you more open minded. How exciting.
Minimal Level of Attachment
What might be worse is being maybe 10-20% attached to your trauma. This means understanding when something is damaging but choosing to ignore it as best you can. You suppress your feelings, and then one day years from now you’re beating up some old lady for calling you “sweetheart” and touching you on the arm the same way that a bully did before pumping your eyes shut. We don’t want that.
A lot of people carry their traumas around unknowingly like this and are ticking time bombs for being triggered by things that their brain recognizes as being components of past traumas, but really aren’t of any threat in the here and now. These are the people that normalize their traumas and chalk them up to being “parts of life”” so they can move on. But they don’t really move on.
High Level of Attachment
Way down the other end of the spectrum is someone who is 100% attached to their traumas. Based on how we’ve talked so far, this might sound like it’s good, but at least based on how I see it, it’s horrible. When we’re TOO attached to our traumas, oh yeah we recognize them, but we also let them define us. Maybe your high school math teacher repeatedly flunks you and tells you that you’ll never be successful in life. Sure, this may be a minimal type of trauma, but it becomes a problem if there’s not some detachment from it.
Otherwise, this person grows up believing they are simply unintelligent and incapable of changing. They think finding a good job is simply not in the cards for them, they think they shouldn’t pursue graduate degrees because they’re simply not cut out for it, or whatever else. They’re so accepting of this that they prevent themselves from growing past it. They also revel in opportunities to accuse people of bad behavior that they aren’t actually exhibiting – like if they sign a form quickly, and the person that provided them with the form gently asks if they read it all the way through, and they respond by berating them with, “What are you calling me, stupid? Do you think I’m stupid?” and so on.
None of these responses sound too appetizing do they? We want to find a happy medium, and the best chance to do that is right after the trauma has happened, as is the case with you.
Trauma is a Part of Your Story
You’ve got a great leg up right now, I’m glad you had the presence of mind to ask this question when you did. Ideally, the middle ground, and what you can seek to do now goes as follows.
Acknowledge that whatever has happened to you is now a part of your story. You’re going to have a lot more traumas, too, and they will also be parts of your story. These things make up who we are, and they happen to everyone – a truth that I hope will help you feel less alone in this confusion time.
Surely, we face different degrees of trauma, but more importantly, we face different interpretations of those traumas. What’s minor to someone might be life altering to another, and vice versa. Identify your trauma and the feelings it provides you with. Explore those feelings, and understand that they’re natural. Also understand that if there’s another person who contributed to your trauma, you were simply on the receiving end of pain that THEY’VE suffered.
You need not hide the damage that has been done, but you can instead make something of yourself from it. You can use your trauma as part of your growth to help others who are going through something similar, you can use your trauma to lead you into new creative outlets, you can use your trauma to better understand the effect that some of your actions might have on people. There a million ways to use your trauma in a way that’s beneficial.
Take your time to be upset, it’s okay. But choose to be proactive in making the inevitable ripple effects be good ripple effects.
And there we have it. By the way everybody, I want to recommend a great podcast to all of you that I think would be of particular interest to those who liked this episode. It’s called Your Mental Breakdown. It’s a new podcast hosted by two therapists that talk about strategies in therapy, and there are even extended recordings from some of the sessions between the therapists and their clients which are really interesting to listen to. I was reminded of it today because in their third episode titled “Don’t Should All Over Yourself,” there’s a terrific story about a girl that transformed her trauma artistically with the guidance of one of the show’s hosts. A really moving story that exemplifies what I was kinda talking about in the conclusion there, so definitely check out that show.
To the young man who sent this question in, I’m very grateful that you did. Again, this is a question that was more powerful and helpful to others than you may realize. I promise you that if you approach your future traumas as eloquently as you’ve approached this one, you’re going to be more than fine. I just hope we were able to help a little bit today.
As for the rest of you, you know what to do: go ahead and send questions of your own to us via email. We’re at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Send your questions there and we’ll be sure to answer them on the show as best we can, as we do.