At the moment, the study of psychological trauma seems to be firmly established as a legitimate field of inquiry. Now each month brings forth the publication of new books, new research findings, new discussions in the public media. But history teaches us that this knowledge could also disappear. – Judith Herman, MD Trauma and Recovery“
Last week, I attended a Trauma & Attachment Conference in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. It was an incredible time hearing top experts in the field of trauma research and treatment.
The third day featured Martin H. Teicher, M.D., Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Teicher began his lecture by echoing the concerns of Judith Herman.
We are in an exciting time in terms of research, acceptance, understanding, and openness to the idea that childhood trauma is a serious matter with long-term health consequences. However, history shows that openness to the roots of trauma is followed by periods of suppression of truth. When this happens, those of us in the field must be prepared to continue our fight for truth (my summary).
It is easy to guess why institutions, organizations, and systems would downplay the prevalence and the impact of childhood trauma. A systemic recognition would require a shift in medical, psychological and social services. (See my blog post: Anna O: A Role Model in the Age of Trump.)
And it’s easy to blame the system for the minimization of childhood trauma. The system (whoever that is) is removed, distant and intangible. It’s easy to blame them.
The truth is, I’m also tempted to downplay the truth about childhood trauma–even though I write, talk, and read about it every day. Not to mention that I am married to a childhood abuse survivor! I’m still tempted to minimize, to dismiss, or to try to lighten up the topic.
Why would I do that?
Because childhood trauma is. . .
- Childhood trauma asks hard questions about life, humanity, goodness, faith, and the world.
- The topic triggers painful memories of my past.
- Because childhood trauma survivors deserve a compassionate response, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.
- Mostly, I’m tempted to downplay it because it’s uncomfortable.
Although it’s hard to do, I’ve found that getting comfortable with the emotions, the thoughts, the questions, and the past is the best way to resist the temptation to downplay the truth about childhood trauma.
How can you practice not downplaying the truth?
Here are five things I do:
- Accept the facts. One in four girls and one in six boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse. This statistic does not include domestic, verbal, or emotional abuse, all of which are extremely damaging.
- Get help if you find yourself struggling with your childhood. It is courageous and wise to seek professional support if you need it.
- Learn how to engage with survivors and families impacted by childhood trauma. Check out Sarah Beaulieu’s Tedx Talk An Uncomfortable Conversation Worth Having.
- Appreciate beauty. Awareness of suffering, childhood trauma or otherwise, heightens awareness of the simple pleasures in life. Take note of what you see, hear, smell, and feel!
- When you feel the pull to downplay suffering, pause and breathe before you respond.
The truth is that childhood trauma is made up of all the things that cause us to downplay it. It is painful, sad, overwhelming, and heavy. The other truth is, we can get better at staying connected to it through practice, education, and acceptance.
We can learn not to downplay the truth about childhood trauma.