6 Popular Phrases Translated for Trauma Survivors
In this work, I have met people who have tried many healing modalities. Let’s face it. We are all looking for a way to feel better. We are tired of the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion coming from complex trauma. But there is a problem. Traditional self-help concepts were not written for us. In some cases, I am not sure who they were written for. And while they sound good on the surface, they can make us feel bad about ourselves, causing us to take on masks because the concepts seem out of our reach.
For this reason, I tend to stay away from the phrases that are used in main stream self-help. I don’t use them. I don’t want to confuse folks, and I certainly don’t want to trigger them. But I am going to say something a bit shocking right now. These phrases are right. Yes. I said it. The over-used, over-clichéd phrases are actually on to something. But they are being used in very simplified ways that will never bring deep healing to anyone, let alone trauma survivors. So today I am going to continue my tradition of translation by giving you my perspective on how these common self-help phrases are actually true. And before you yell at me, hear me out. There will be time to yell at me later.
“Positive thoughts will create positive manifestations. Think positive.” This statement can trigger the hell out of survivors. We immediately think, “If I could think positive, I would think positive, damn it!” What good is it going to do to think positive while swimming in negativity in the unconscious? The answer? Not much. But I interpret this a little differently. It isn’t about covering up negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It is about having a conversation with self. If our inner parts are responding to the world with negativity, we can answer them with something different.
“Don’t trust anyone.” “What if there were some trustworthy people in the world?”
“The world is a dangerous place so stay inside.” “What if there were some safe places to go?”
This is very difficult to do when we are enmeshed with our inner parts, but this is exactly how we re-wire the brain. Little by little, it makes a difference.
“Reject, oppose or ignore your inner critic.” This approach won’t work in its simplest form. Our inner critic is an inner part (or a conglomeration of them). If we reject or invalidate this inner part, it only grows stronger. It gains strength when we try to push it back in to the shadows. But when we approach this phrase differently, it has some merit. Instead of rejecting the part as a whole, we reject what they say as the truth (without invalidating the part).
“I am ugly.” “What if that was something I was told by mean people who were jealous of me?”
“I will never be worthy of a good life.” “What if that was projected on to me by people who were drowning in their own unworthiness?”
When we reject the part, it runs our life. But when we reject the validity of the statements, we begin to heal our lack of worthiness.
“Let your inner child play.” Mainstream psychology does a pretty good job of acknowledging the inner child. And they do tell us we must let them play. And that’s a great start. But when our inner children are inundated with trauma, that isn’t the only thing they need to do. As a matter of a fact, we may not even be able to let them play or access them at all until we allow them to do something else. They need to feel. They need to share memories and emotions and trauma. They need to be heard and validated. Only when we begin to meet their other needs can we open up to play as a healing modality.
“Be at peace.” There are very few people who would not invite a life of peace. We all want it. It sounds great. The problem is that life is not peaceful. Life is messy. And for those of us who have been through trauma, our inner world is even messier. So when we are encouraged to be peaceful, we tend to put on our peaceful mask. We can even fool ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, peace is a great thing to strive for. But the way to peace is by embracing the mess. We must embrace all that is the opposite of peace. We need to feel the worst of it. We need to process the worst of our narrative. After that, we can be at peace. The external mess no longer matters.
“Forgiveness is the way to healing.” or “Just let it go.” These phrases may be some of the worst triggers in the recovery world. There are meanings attached to these statements that invalidate our pain in so many ways. But forgiveness was never meant to be about the abuser. It wasn’t even meant to be about our relationship with the abuser. It was never meant to be a way out of responsibility for the abuser or a reason to continue abusive relationships. And it was certainly never meant to encourage us to honor our abusers above ourselves. It was meant to be about us. It was meant to be about processing all those emotions so we could heal ourselves. It isn’t even something we can consciously do. It happens organically as we process our pain and memories from our trauma.
“Our emotional state is a conscious choice.” Let me be clear. Our emotional state is NOT a conscious choice. Our traumatic emotions show up when they want. They don’t even need a trigger. It is like a baseball from left field sometimes. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. This is why so many of us are frustrated with this statement. We can’t choose to be happy when we are riddled with painful emotions from the past. It just doesn’t work like that. But there is one aspect of emotional work that is a choice. We do get to choose how long we let our mind feed the emotions in our body. It is easy? Absolutely not. But when we are able to quiet the conscious mind and sit with the emotion, it passes much more quickly.
These are a few of those phrases that get thrown around in self-help work. In their cliché form, they aren’t all that helpful to trauma survivors. But when we can dig beneath the surface, we can acknowledge the value that comes from them when doing the deep healing work necessary for trauma recovery. The next time you hear one of these phrases and roll your eyes, remember there is truth in there somewhere. And maybe this can provide a little bit of solace as you listen to those well-meaning and invalidating self-help gurus that seem to show up on your Facebook feed at the wrong moment.
I know you will be shocked to know that I had more, so there may just be a second part to this blog post. If you have a self-help phrase you want me to include, please write it in the comments.