Recently I’ve been coming across some interactions on social media which are quite unsettling. Unsettling because the interactions I’m referring to are people not only comparing trauma, but arguing about who had it worse. This isn’t only on social media though, I’ve encountered it myself, and heard many other stories or face to face interactions which follow the same theme.
I’ve seen and heard people argue about which was worse; rape or molestation, genocide or slavery, physical abuse or emotional abuse, the list goes on. The fact is though, none of them were worse than the other. They all sucked.
Sure, we could sit here and try to quantify levels of trauma, but why? I have yet to find reasoning behind this thinking which isn’t laden in negativity.
Something we must all learn to understand if we are to heal together - trauma is relative. What is traumatic to me, may be laughable to another and vice versa.
Here’s what I mean:
In 2012 I was living in Cairo, Egypt. The January 25th revolution was still ongoing, and things were not always as safe as they could’ve been. One of my closest friends and I - admittedly without much thought - decided to head to the other side of Cairo to meet up with friends at 2 AM in the morning (a little over an hour drive without daytime traffic). Long story short, we got a bit turned around on the way there, and pulled off beneath an underpass - where it was well lit - to figure out what road we needed to be on.
As we sat there trying to get in touch with the party we were supposed to meet up with, munching on Cheetos, we noticed a light coming down the road, opposite the flow of traffic. Which, in and of itself is no cause for alarm in Cairo - this is a normal occurrence. As the light drew closer, we realized it was coming from a dirt bike, which was getting oddly close to where we were parked. The crunching of Cheetos slowed and we froze for a moment when a blue and white dirt bike with a skull painted on the front stopped directly in front of the car. A man got off, and started walking towards us. At this point, we thought he may still just want to make sure we were okay...we were, after all, pulled under an overpass at 3 AM. We quickly decided to lock the doors and not roll down the windows - my friend motioned to the man we were okay and didn’t need his help. However, he kept insisting we roll down the window. At this point, something clicked in our heads, and the situation suddenly felt extremely off. My friend then decided to take off and drive, but the moment we started moving forward, two more men came out from the side of the road, yelling and throwing bricks at the car. Thankfully her tiny little Fiat had sports mode and as I yelled at her to go, she hit that little red button and we took off. I recognized an exit ahead and we jumped on it - but not before a brick narrowly missed the passenger window by less than a centimeter, denting the door in at least an inch.
We were fine. We lost them at the exit, and drove right back home. We may have smoked a whole pack of cigarettes on the way back, but we made it out of a sticky situation with only a dented car and adrenaline rushed nerves to show.
For me, this situation didn’t exactly phase me past the evening. In fact I laughed about it and had retold the story numerous times - both as a tale of caution but also as what I chalked up to nothing more than a “crazy event”. It dawned on me though, weeks later, that she was still carrying that night with her when she told me of becoming anxiety ridden upon seeing a dirt bike, or someone walking towards the car (which in Cairo, both scenarios happen constantly throughout the day). For her, what happened, was traumatic.
We experienced the same event that evening. We were in the same car, doing the same thing. However, due to the way my life had been verse hers - we both held very different feelings on what happened.
Trauma. Is. Relative.
Not everyone experiences or sees things through the same lens. When any event happens, the way someone perceives it will depend on just about every aspect you could think of; childhood, prior trauma, fears, hopes, career path, education, etc.
What is traumatic for one, may not be traumatic for another - and vice versa. However, the feelings followed by trauma - are the same.
If we stop comparing trauma, trying to win some sort of twisted contest, we would see we hold a lot in common. Like emotions. Emotions following a traumatic event range far and wide - however, this is where we can find common ground and understanding. While we may not understand how the event is traumatic through our view, we can understand the attached emotions. Emotions of; hopelessness, detachment, fearfulness, numbness, shock, irritability, distrust, abandonment, anxiety, and depression - to name a few.
It is in these emotions we may find commonalities - and while we may not completely comprehend another’s view - we can better understand each other.
When we understand one another (even a little bit), we can stop arguing about who had it worse and start focusing on helping one another heal.