Trauma is Trauma: Why Comparing Hurts Survivors

Trauma is Trauma: Why Comparing Hurts Survivors

“At least it wasn’t something more serious.”

“What happened to me was so much worse than what happened to you. I don’t even think you can call your experience trauma.”

“Sure, I had some rough times, but it’s nothing compared to what she went through.”

“Other people have gone through this, and they seem fine, so I should be able to get over it, too.”

“I feel silly for even talking about it because what happened to me wasn’t that severe.”

For survivors of trauma, these phrases probably sound familiar. Every person is different, and everyone experiences trauma differently. But comparing one trauma to another isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s downright hurtful.

Comparing One Trauma to Another is Unhelpful

When someone experiences trauma, it can be difficult and downright frightening to speak up, share their story, and ask for help. Having that trauma compared to another’s punishes the traumatized for sharing and belittles their experience, feelings, and needs.

Imagine, for instance, that you get a flat tire. Obviously, you cannot continue driving on a flat tire and need to repair or replace it. Then, imagine getting to the auto repair shop, where there are three other people. You tell them about your flat tire.

The first says, “well, my transmission went out last week, but do you hear me complaining? Yours is just a flat tire!”

The second says, “I changed my flat tire all by myself and didn’t need any help.” 

And the third says, “it’s not that bad; it’s just a flat tire. Quit being dramatic.”

Then imagine the mechanic walks out and says, “I don’t even think you need to repair this tire. Get over it and move on.” That wouldn’t make any sense, would it? Even though your flat tire experience isn’t the same as the person who got into an accident, your car is still undrivable. The experience is still unpleasant, and you cannot get to where you want to go on a flat tire.

That analogy applies to trauma as well. Comparing one person’s experiences and feelings to another is unhelpful and unfair. Saying it’s “not that bad” or “it could be worse” belittles the trauma, which only makes the person feel worse. It doesn’t fix anything, and it doesn’t help overcome the trauma and get “back on the road” to recovery. 

Comparison as a Coping Strategy

In the examples above, outsiders are the ones comparing traumas. But in many cases, it’s the trauma survivors themselves who do the comparing.

Trauma survivors sometimes dismiss or minimize their experiences as a way to cope with what happened to them. In many cases, they made excuses for their abuse – or even for the abuser’s behavior – so saying the experience was “not that big of a deal” feels natural.

In some ways, admitting to the trauma means acknowledging that it happened. More than that, it means accepting how that trauma has impacted all the other parts of our lives. 

Acknowledging the trauma isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary part of healing. 

Trauma is Trauma

Trauma is trauma, period. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t share our stories. Talking about trauma can be healing. We can connect with others who have been through similar experiences, which helps us feel less alone. And talking about the pain often takes away its power and diminishes the sting.

Talking about our trauma is a way to make all survivors stronger.

But comparing trauma does just the opposite. Telling someone that their experience isn’t worthy of the pain they feel only makes them feel more alone.

Comparison is a breeding ground for shame and fear. When survivors cannot be open and honest about their experiences and the results of that trauma, they hold it inside, where it festers.

Less Competition, More Compassion

Compassion is the antidote to trauma. We should always – always – listen to others when they say they’ve experienced trauma. We should believe them when they say what they feel. And we should encourage them to seek help and find healthy ways to cope with traumatic experiences in their lives.

What we shouldn’t do is compare. Trauma is not a competition. It’s not a race. 

If someone you love shares their story with you, be affirming. Let them know you believe them. Do not belittle or minimize their experience.

And if you are someone with trauma in your past, be compassionate toward yourself. Comparing your experience with others only masks your pain and makes you feel guilty about your feelings. 

You are loved, you are important, and your feelings and experiences are valid. With more compassion and less competition, we can help one another confront and overcome traumatic experiences.

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