Trauma & Transformation

Psychologists like to talk about trauma. If you have experienced X, then it must have been a traumatic experience. But, this is a function of the lens with which they view the world.

Our experience of the world tends to form a lens of interpretation. An emergency room physician — who, by definition, sees emergencies in their community — will think emergencies are normal. It will shape they way they view the world.

The same is true of every line of work. If you are a police officer, you will have developed a heightened sense of whether a situation matches a pattern where people are likely to be breaking the law. If you are an insurance claims adjuster, you will have seen a lot more outlier events and might view certain activities as more risky than others, when they might not be.

The same phenomena applies to psychologists and psychiatrists. They have seen people in their worst psychological condition, and they know to what depths we can all sink. But, the selection bias is such that the people that don’t need their help might be viewed as damaged people that just don’t know that they need their help. But, how often, in most circumstances in life, do we need help and not know it? This situation is unusual, not commonplace.

The problem is that trauma is just one story. We have the ability to overlay onto our experience a whole host of manufactured fictions. And while trauma may have a time and a place, I’d argue that trauma as a primary narrative should be reserved for experiences and situations which truly require assistance from a professional. Most situations don’t.

One person’s apocalypse is another’s day-to-day. If you need help, by all means, get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting it from psychologists or most any other place, if it benefits you. However, I’d argue that we are all much more resilient than we know, that trauma below most thresholds is the means through which we trigger the adaptation response and become stronger – mentally, physically, etc. – in response to our environment. This is not a negative nor should the focus be on the trauma, but in the adaptive response to it.

Of course, there’s taking it to the level of Neitzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” If you have had a limb cut off, it is unlikely you will become “stronger” in any meaningful sense of the term. But, on the other side, painful experiences do help to build psychic muscles. Doesn’t it make more sense to view most negative experiences as positive forces driving our development over the narrative of trauma?