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  • Writer's pictureCarol Korenowski

17 Painful Things People Say About Trauma & How To Respond

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Trauma can be anything that overwhelms a person's internal capacity to cope. Since we are all humans who were once crying babies, most of us faced internal overwhelm that dysregulated our nervous systems early on. Many were lucky to have a caregiver usually available to soothe us and help us release stress from our bodies. Over time we learned to co-regulate, self-soothe, cope through difficult struggles, and feel peaceful.

This is the normal we hope for. We all get completely overwhelmed sometimes, but we learn to feel and express it. Unless we had to shut it down. The experiences that overwhelmed you as a child or adult without appropriate care and expression can stick for a long time. If your brain perceives threat or harm and your body can’t release the stress or tension, the effects of that stuck trauma can linger for years.

A big reason we keep holding tension is we’ve been taught to ignore our physical and emotional cues of stress. Our whole life we are told to stop, sit down, stay still, wait, be quiet, don’t run, be nice, forget, get over it, get up, stay positive, try harder, be happy, no whining, stop crying, calm down, don’t be sad, you’re fine, and smile. We mostly just pay attention to easing the signs for pain, sleep, eat, drink, pee and shit.

A big problem with not understanding our body’s sensations (a necessary factor in feeling peaceful), is that most of us move through life, knowingly or unknowingly, responding from trauma. Trauma isn’t just the big symptoms you see on tv, on your phone, or in your ex. Trauma can hide in your speech, feeling, patterns of thinking, instincts, beliefs, habits, personality traits, health, muscles, memory, and DNA.

Even though we might all have trauma, it is still difficult to understand what it is, how it shows up, or the long-term mental, emotional, and physical side effects. I’m a therapist and every day I learn new ways to help people understand how trauma can affect them and how to heal. I wish you knew these 17 untrue and painful things people say when they don't understand trauma, and considerations for what you might think or say.

Carol Korenowski, Calgary Psychologist at Therapy Alberta

What you should know about the author before you read this article:

My name is Carol Korenowski. I am a psychologist and owner of Therapy Alberta. I’m not your therapist, and I’m not giving advice. I am only offering tidbits of information to capture your attention without overwhelming you. If any of these tips resonate with you as a giver or receiver, especially related to interpersonal conflict, it might help to see a therapist. Please get help if you think you have trauma.

17 Things People Say To You When They Don't Understand Trauma & What to Consider:

1. “It’s in the past.”

Trauma doesn’t stay in the past. If a present situation, sound, emotion, word, smell, touch, or memory sparks a familiar feeling related to a stuck trauma, a part of you responds as though the trauma is now, and whether you know it or not, your brain perceives current threat. To protect you from danger, your body instinctively acts in defensive mode. Anything can be too much, too soon, too fast in trauma time.

- Consider: I feel bad right now.

2. “You should be over it by now.”

When the defenses the body wanted to act out during a trauma but couldn’t, get stuck, they can replay until resolved. Sometimes, your defense mechanisms stay chronically activated. Your body tries or does flee, fight, freeze, hide, fawn, please, appease, shame, numb, dissociate, separate, go rigid, collapse, shake, or shut down. You repeat these cycles of fear, tension and pain in your self, life and relationships.

- Consider: It’s still affecting me after this long.

3. “You learned from it.”

Learning in a state of fear is harmful. Surviving trauma is draining, you work so hard just to get by or get hurt sometimes. Living in a state of danger and defense exhausts the body and mind. It can change the way your brain is wired, impact how you learn and respond, and prevent you from being able to rest and recover. Not slowing down, not needing help, and not showing emotion can also be signs of trauma.

- Consider: It taught me I couldn’t be okay or safe.

Female figure on a swing

4. “It made you stronger.”

You don’t need to fight to be a strong human. Still, you defended yourself the best ways your body knew how. Sometimes strength is being still, silent, disappearing, or surrendering with a quiet resistance in your thoughts, words, or behaviors. Maybe you didn’t react how you wanted, but a different reaction could have gotten you hurt worse. Your successes are because of your wisdom and strength, not trauma.

- Consider: I was already strong.

5. “You wouldn’t be where you are today without it.”

When you survive trauma, you might have people or things in your life you wouldn’t trade for the world tied to that trauma. This does not change the fact that there was pain attached to the good. You work extra hard to deal with the pain, or not pass it on like it was passed to you. Even the wounds of childhood trauma that were never your fault, are your responsibility as an adult. It sucks and it’s not fair.

- Consider: Imagine how much better I could be without it.

6. “It was meant to be.”

Humans are not meant to be harmed. We are wired for love and connection, and that is how we thrive. People are not meant to harm other people. Our brains are especially not wired to cope with human to human harm – it always overwhelms. This trauma continues more than it should when you suppress your feelings if fear or shame is triggered, and you stay silent, unable to get help or make changes you need or want to see.

- Consider: I am worthy of good things, and it hurts that it happened to me.

Happy youth playing guitar

7. “You turned out fine.”

You didn’t turn out fine, you were always amazing. There were people who cared about you. People who showed up, however briefly, as best they could, to care for you, love you, and nurture your good inside. Yet we all hide parts of us and things we don’t like about ourselves. Some people really see you as you are and still love you, believing you might act bad because of trauma, not because you are bad.

- Consider: I’ve struggled a lot.

8. “You need to deal with this.”

Many people have difficulty summoning the empathy and compassion necessary to stay connected to you when you are in pain, fear, anger, or shame from trauma, especially if your response is triggering them. When others are unaware of their own trauma, unknown and uncomfortable feelings activate being near others suffering. Some people might blame, distract, deny, diminish, dissociate, or distance.

- Consider: I’ll get help from someone safe.

9. “You need to talk about it.”

You’ve tried talking and most of the time it goes bad. Sometimes it makes things worse. People think you are overreacting, just looking for attention, or don’t believe anything is wrong and say it’s not a big deal, or it will go away. Others talk about their own shit whenever you bring it up. Some ask what’s wrong with you? You can’t always talk your way out of trauma – it’s like thinking about your emotions instead of feeling them.

- Consider: I need to feel my feelings.

10. “You are too emotional.”

Your feelings are amazing. Your emotions, sensations, and symptoms are the messages your body is sending, asking for what you value, want and need. Numbing your feelings interferes with your body’s natural attempt to heal itself. Hurt feelings are bigger when you feel them alone or unsupported. You don’t need to escape or hide your feelings, you just need safety in your body and environment first.

- Consider: My emotions are real and valid.

Happy man with a beard

11. “Your thoughts don’t make sense.”

Your thoughts make sense when you listen to your body. You can be aware of and change your reactions to past traumas. You were never meant to feel this way, and certainly not alone. Your thoughts have an origin and belief held in the memory of your body. You have to feel them from inside your body. The associated feelings are your protection – listen and trust when your body says no, run, hide, freeze, quiet.

- Consider: What does my body say?

12. “I don’t know what to do.”

If the person in front of you doesn’t know how to help, check in with yourself and see if there is anything you want, need, or feel comfortable asking for. If neither of you know, they can go back to the basics: 1. Be kind; 2. Take a deep breath in and out; 3. Let the person know you’re here to support them; 4. Feel your feet on the floor; 5. Be curious and listen; 6. Ask questions; and 7. Go to therapy if you want to learn more about your own reactions.

- Consider: Just sit down and be with me.

13. “You won’t get better.”

Everyone can get better. To change it is often necessary to feel the trauma while staying connected with yourself and someone else. There are people who can stay grounded, be mindful and stay in relationship with you even when you act out from the pain of known or hidden trauma. When you are supported through your defenses, you can find and meet an unmet need. Feel it together to heal it together.

- Consider: Who do I trust to help me get better?

14. “You’re safe now.”

Listen, your body tells you when you're really safe. Sometimes we don’t recognize it. If you want to know what safety feels like to you, slow down and notice when you are somewhere you feel good or calm. Breathe in and out. Take a sip of water. Scan for safety – look around for clues. Stay present and watch your mind and body. Focus on your external and internal senses. Drop into your body for signs or feelings of safety.

- Consider: Do I feel safe in this moment?

Happy father and son

15. “It’s too late.”

It’s never to late to create safety. Start small. Stay still if you need, move, or make an excuse if you want to leave – go pee, refill your drink, make a call, stand up, go for a walk. Tell someone when something feels wrong. Tell someone else if they don’t understand. Do whatever you need. You might find safety with a friend, neighbor, classmate, partner, peer, stranger, community group, psychologist, or therapist.

- Consider: I can do something to feel a little safer right now.

16. “You deserved it.”

Maybe you’ve done bad things, but you do not deserve to be harmed because someone else decides so. I think three huge barriers to healing from trauma are 1) fearing that you will get in trouble or be rejected if anyone sees what you see in yourself, 2) believing you can’t change, and 3) lacking trust in yourself. No matter what you’ve done, you deserve to tell the story of what has happened to you and feel what is happening for you now.

- Consider: I deserve to be heard.

17. “You should only get evidence-based therapy.”

Evidence-based therapy can be a great part of a mental health approach to trauma. And you need to do what works best for you. The relationship in therapy is what matters the most, so find someone you feel you could learn to trust over time. Take into perspective your culture, nutrition, sleep, exercise, safety, access to resources, and alternatives. Balanced approaches seek to improve your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

- Consider: What works best for me now?

Happy woman

Author’s Final Note:

You can’t change that your trauma happened, but you can change how you think about it and how you feel about yourself because of it. You can feel better.

If you have channeled a lot of effort into living after or through trauma, imagine what your life could be like if you were free to direct that energy elsewhere. Rest and dream.

You can pour your time and energy into loving yourself and others instead of defending yourself. You don’t have to love yourself first. By loving others, you can learn to love all parts of yourself.

You can create healing instead of suppressing pain. You can learn a lot by looking at other people’s thoughts and reactions to potential past trauma, and adapt your responses to help you become a better human.

Carol Korenowski is a mother, psychologist, and the founder of Therapy Alberta, a private group practice with psychologists, social workers, and counsellors offering trauma-informed individual, couples, teen and family counselling and therapy in Calgary and across Alberta.


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