Archive for March 3rd, 2009

Today’s blog entry is a rant, and this is something that (unfortunately) happens a lot. I really, really hate it when people apply the word “trauma” to trivial crap that people will get over in a few hours or days. Let me give you an example.

One person told me about a woman who had trouble ordering a cake. The person in the bakery was asking a bunch of questions, such as whether she wanted to order a quarter sheet or half sheet cake. The woman who was ordering the cake did not know the answers and got upset. The bakery worker lost her patience and snapped at the customer. The person relaying story said that this woman was “traumatized” by that phone call.

Oh, really? You mean that she had nightmares on a regular basis that caused her to awaken in a cold sweat with her heart pounding? She had regular panic attacks, shaking uncontrollably and hyperventilating? She was filled with guilt and shame, self-injured, and battled suicidal urges over her “traumatizing” phone call? Give me a break.

Yes, I am sure the call was upsetting to her. Maybe she even cried about it afterward. But traumatizing? No.

When people apply the word “trauma” to a situation that is “upsetting,” it waters down and trivializes true traumatizing experiences that are anything but trivial. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes about from experiencing a severely traumatizing experience (or many severely traumatizing experiences), such as being raped or watching your buddy getting his head blown off in a war. To take the same word that we use to describe these severely emotionally disturbing events and apply them to frustrations with ordering a cake is ludicrous.

Everyone goes through upsetting moments in his or her life. While you are in them, it might feel like the end of the world. For example, your first break up as a teenager might feel like the most painful experience ever and impossible to live through in the moment. However, we have all been there, and we all survived it without experiencing PTSD symptoms.

Call those experiences frustrating, upsetting, or even disturbing, but let’s reserve the word “trauma” for experiences that are severe enough to rock your world permanently.

Related Topic:

PTSD and Cycles of Emotions

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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