As mental health language continues to creep into our daily lives, the concept of trauma appears to have gone mainstream. While a few decades ago the idea of talking openly about trauma may have been taboo, now traumatic events and survivors’ attempt to heal from them are the subject of news headlines, television shows and therapy TikTok.
Prince Harry said in his docuseries with Oprah Winfrey that addressing the trauma of his mother’s death was essential for his own well-being as well as the health of his marriage. Earlier this year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke about the way the trauma she’s lived through as a survivor of sexual assault and the Capitol riot “compounds on each other.” People of color are demanding greater recognition for the mental and physical toll racial trauma takes on their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a series of traumatic events.
“It is a political act to talk about trauma because for so long so much exploitation and perpetration and victimization was hidden and not acknowledged,” said Emily Sachs, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma. “People who were the subject of that were blamed for their problems. And that still goes on today.”
While some people are working to raise awareness about the prevalence of trauma, others are inadvertently diluting the term, often by using it hyperbolically: “I’m traumatized by what I ate last night” or “I accidentally killed my plant and now I’m traumatized.”
Many trauma experts define the term broadly in their work as a way of offering patients agency in identifying the trauma in their own lives.
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