Trauma does not build character. Your trauma depleted your strength, robbed you of your dreams and opportunities, destroyed your trust in yourself and self-image, and left you with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Stop praising what has hurt and continues to poison you.
Nearly everyone alive today has heard the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But how many of us actually stop to think about what this is actually saying? Being hit by a speeding car and surviving has never made anyone stronger. Neither has being shot, stabbed, or surviving an explosion. There are millions of people still suffering chronic pain from sports injuries years and even decades after the fact. With the best of odds, complete healing is possible, but never increased strength. So why do so many people just thoughtlessly accept the idea that emotional pain and trauma will somehow magically make them stronger? Is it because trauma so often renders a person cold, distrusting, angry, or calculating? Why would we associate any of these characteristics with strength?
Worse still, our society reinforces the insidious message that trauma is necessary in order for a person to grow into a fully actualized adult, that without some sort of deep pain, a person is too naive to be truly considered an adult. It is truly a world of hurt people hurting people for this sentiment to be such a major part of the collective psyche. Trauma hurts people. Traumatized people who can function well are doing so in spite of that trauma, similar to a person working through a migraine or after a sleepless night. Their subsequent low self-esteem, trust issues, loneliness, and mental health issues are not strength. Unresolved trauma doesn’t just hurt the individual, but almost everyone who comes into contact with them, from lovers, to their children, to their colleagues, because it manifests in countless ways. Navigating our own hurts as well as that of others has not make us stronger as individuals or as a collective. If anything, trauma has deteriorated the quality of relationships across the board.
So why do so many people associate strength with deep, emotional wounds? Because unpacking our traumas is hard. Sometimes, it can be a job that is ongoing, for the rest of our lives. And therefore, many people can’t or won’t do that work and instead opt to see their pain as an extension of themselves. Many others don’t even realize that their very way of being is a trauma response because trauma was their norm from their formative years and has always surrounded their lives. They don’t recognize themselves without their trauma, and guard it fiercely, even going so far as to give it praise for making them “strong” when this couldn’t be further from the truth. Those wounds are still bleeding rather than being tended to and given the time and space to heal. But we must do the work of allowing our wounds to heal rather than being continuously re-opened and allowed to fester. Once we are are wounded, scars are inevitable. But a scar is a mark of an injury that has been mended, rather than a wound that still needs attention. When we do not deal with our traumas, they will continue to deal with us.