Children raised in trauma are marvelous in their ability to cope. Even if their world is a tumultuous, spinning gyroscope, their emotions fight to create balance in their center. They normalize their traumatic experiences so they can manage the pain, abandonment, and fear. For the most part, children can make up a world where everybody is essentially the same and everybody survives equally. As a child, I certainly thought everybody lived just like me. Weren’t everybody’s parents delightful in public, but angry and explosive at home? Didn’t all kids hide bruises, handprints and bloody whip marks with a shame that wasn’t even theirs to carry? I had no idea this wasn’t every child’s experience and had no reason to compare or investigate whether or not my truth was every child’s reality. My childhood egocentrism kept me blessedly focused on my life only.
The Comparison Game
However, as children age, they begin to lift their eyes up from their own environment and start to observe others’ lives and experiences. For me, it wasn’t until high school that I truly became aware of familial differences. In the 10th grade, the realization that everybody’s home life wasn’t like mine began to dawn. When I discovered that my two best girlfriends didn’t live like I did, I was truly shocked. And then the comparison game began. They had more money than I had. They were allowed to use the telephone and talk to their friends. They felt comfortable having friends over to their houses to just “hang out.” Most importantly they didn’t live fearfully. They didn’t walk terrified on eggshells around their parents, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Afraid for their physical safety. They weren’t paranoid about someone un-intentionally mentioning an imperceptible infraction to their mother that may set off a tirade or worse.
The more I observed, the more I compared. And the more I compared the more depressed and desperate I became about my own situation. Absorbing the unfairness of it all was too much and I began a dark and downward spiral to depression, suicidality and homicidal fantasy.
The Process of Healing
As an adult, I am now able to work through my trauma. I have resources at my disposal to unpack the craziness of my childhood; intensive inpatient treatment, a trauma therapist, psychiatrist, meds for my C-PTSD, depressive disorder, anxieties and insecurities. Most important, I have faith that reassures me that I am eternally loved. But I still compare.
I have an unhealthy obsession with books about children that are abused, women that are kidnapped and brutalized, and incestuous relationships. I am alternatingly appalled and engrossed in these survival stories. I applaud a victim’s ability to overcome. With every story, I say, “See. They had it MUCH worse than I did and they are just fine so you should be too.” By allowing their story to overshadow my own I secretly hope I can shame myself into feeling better about my struggles and my mental illness. To nobody’s surprise but my own, it doesn’t work.
Comparison Doesn’t Bring Healing
There is no value to be found in comparing trauma. How one addresses and handles their trauma is as individual as the DNA of the survivor. There is no template, formula or prescription that is suitable for instructing someone to walk through trauma. It is a graciously individualized journey. My comfort is in the fact that I do not journey alone.
Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NLT)
- If you’ve faced trauma in your life, we encourage you to reach out to a local counselor.
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