Social Question

Demosthenes's avatar

Do you think there is too much societal emphasis on trauma?

Asked by Demosthenes (15041points) January 12th, 2022

I recently read an interesting article in the New Yorker about the preponderance of trauma narratives in fiction, i.e. a character always has a traumatic backstory that explains who they are and why they do what they do and they need to work through the trauma and often come to the conclusion that they can’t ever fully escape it. The criticism is the complex character motivations are often eschewed in favor of chalking everything up to trauma; the article cited a recent adaptation of The Turn of the Screw which inserts a rape into the governess’ past that explains everything she does. In the original story, we don’t know why she is the way she is; the appeal is the enigma.

PTSD is the most rapidly-growing psychological diagnosis, in part because the definition has broadened. That’s not to say trauma isn’t real or as common as it seems to be. But I’m wondering if all the emphasis on it is healthy. There’s often a sense, as I said above, that trauma can’t ever be fully overcome and requires regular therapy. The cynical part of me sees the profit motive there. And it’s not just personal trauma; collective trauma of an entire demographic is often cited as the reason for certain societal problems.

Can someone every truly overcome trauma? Or are they just lying to themselves? Do you think trauma can explain all our motivations and actions (not just in fiction)? Is having been traumatized a significant part of who you are and your relationships with others?

This is a complex and broad topic. Any answers welcome. You do not have to answer the specific questions I asked.

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37 Answers

janbb's avatar

No, I think there is too much trauma in society.

product's avatar

^ this

@Demosthenes – Other than nature and nurture, what could possibly be influence behavior, motivations, emotions, etc? Are you proposing something supernatural here? This question is confusing.

ragingloli's avatar

There is no such thing as “trauma” or “ptsd”.
Anyone claiming to suffer from that is just a weakling snowflake that needs to grow some balls, stop whining, and man up!
Let’s Go Brandon!

janbb's avatar

^^ Oh you kid!

Demosthenes's avatar

@product Well, if you’d read the question, you’d see I’m talking about trauma specifically. Do you see how that works? Where did I suggest that nature and nurture don’t exist?

product's avatar

@Demosthenes: “Well, if you’d read the question, you’d see I’m talking about trauma specifically.”

Yep. Trauma – as in the nurture part of nature/nurture.

@Demosthenes: “Where did I suggest that nature and nurture don’t exist?”

The question itself. Other than nature and nurture, what else explains human emotions and behavior?

Demosthenes's avatar

It’s not that I’m looking for an additional explanation for behavior, but questioning why trauma, the negative aspect of nurture, is front and center to the exclusion of anything else and wondering to what extent trauma can be overcome.

product's avatar

^ What scientific discipline can explain human behavior, emotions, etc in a way that excludes negative experience? You are suggesting a rejection of science or the insertion of something supernatural.

I understand that conservative though is rooted in a rejection of history and science. But if you’re going to propose a rejection of these things, you need to replace it with something. What is it you’re suggesting?

Demosthenes's avatar

I don’t understand why you seem to think “too much emphasis” means “we should disregard it entirely”. Can you explain your thinking?

Your interpretation of this question is that I am saying “trauma doesn’t exist and has no effect on anyone ever”. Except I did not say that. At all. Can you explain why you think that is what I am implying?

product's avatar

@Demosthenes: “I don’t understand why you seem to think “too much emphasis” means “we should disregard it entirely”. Can you explain your thinking?”

Let’s take an example. A real one. Back in the 90s, I worked for a residential school for kids with developmental disabilities in Santa Barbara. These kids were wards of the state, had various diagnoses, and almost all of them had serious documented history of severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. There was a girl whose skin on her hand was completely scarred from her mother forcing her hand into a pot of boiling water. There was another girl whose mother and father had both repeatedly sexually abused her for many years.

Whatever “positive” or neutral experiences these kids (they were 11–15 years old) had, their entire existence was altered because of their “trauma”. How they regulate emotions, their ability to trust and be trusted, their understanding of sexuality, etc could only be understood through the lens of their experience . This negative experience was something that doomed these kids to lives of institutional living at best.

You might be thinking that it’s absurd for me to bring up extreme examples of people who have had negative experiences. And you may be wondering what this has to do with the “average” person. The fact is, negative experiences of varying degrees are so common that it would be completely ignorant to ignore them. From physical, emotional, sexual abuse, rape, assault, bullying, family instability, food insecurity, poverty, racism, etc – peoples whole experience is what creates who they are.

Are negative experiences more important than positive ones. Yes, I actually think they are, or can be. You can’t offset a rape with x number of non-rapes. You can’t offset a police beating with x non-beatings. This is important. We know that negative traumatic experiences have significant impacts on the human being.

The fact that you’re asking this implies that you are unfamiliar with what humans go through, are unfamiliar that there is a science that deals with such things, and have other ideas that reject the notion that negative experiences are more important.

So… what is the basis of your new theory of human experience? Scientology? Or are you going to lecture me on how to offset childhood rape with balancing one’s chi?

Demosthenes's avatar

@product I’ll single out the one paragraph that had anything to do with what I was asking:

Are negative experiences more important than positive ones. Yes, I actually think they are, or can be. You can’t offset a rape with x number of non-rapes. You can’t offset a police beating with x non-beatings. This is important. We know that negative traumatic experiences have significant impacts on the human being.

Thanks for that. That is the kind of answer I was looking for. I knew you could do it. You have to be poked and prodded and it can be excruciating, but eventually you come through.

product's avatar

^ You’re welcome. Please elaborate on what might be out of balance in the traumatized. Or if this is just a reformulated “fuck off snowflakes” question, try being more honest about it.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I am a trauma survivor. My childhood experiences led to extreme misery. I became an alcoholic as a maladaptive coping mechanism in response to childhood trauma. My personal opinion is the traumatic experiences of my childhood directly caused my mental illness.

I now work in mental health. The idea that trauma cannot be recovered from is a myth the media and Hollywood believe and propagate. They think they can tell better stories that way. They are dead wrong.

I recovered. I work with individuals who are solidly on the path of recovery. I see it every day.

Is trauma over-representated? Absolutely not. It is nearly universal. Is recovery under-representated? Absolutely yes. Happy endings don’t sell as many books or movies tickets.

The way this question is presented belies an attitude that trauma survivors are given too much attention. What’s happening is actually that we now know how harmful trauma is and are giving it voice that it has never had.

Demosthenes's avatar

@product I find it disappointing that you would think a message of mine would be “fuck off snowflakes”. I think I deserve more credit than that given the kind of questions and answers I post here. And that is all I will say on that matter.

@Hawaii_Jake Thanks for your answer. I am inclined to agree that trauma can be recovered from as well.

product's avatar

@Demosthenes: “I find it disappointing that you would think a message of mine would be “fuck off snowflakes”. I think I deserve more credit than that given the kind of questions and answers I post here. And that is all I will say on that matter.”

Fair enough. But I’ve been begging you to elaborate on why you felt it necessary to reinvent human psychology. And to be fair, you do tend to lean towards issues/questions that are alt-right. They usually don’t come out of nowhere. Much of conservative thought for decades has been to discount personal and societal negative experiences and invoke a magical anti-scientific “get over it” approach. For me to assume that this question is not related to this isn’t too unreasonable, is it?

JLeslie's avatar

Not sure how to answer this. It really bothers me how much abuse and trauma is out there. We need to be aware of it to combat against it.

We need to support people who have been through trauma and give them help.

Anyone who feels traumatized should have their feelings acknowledged in my opinion.

I do believe people can overcome trauma, but of course depending on the degree of the trauma, it might take a very long time, and getting over it doesn’t mean you never are affected by it again, I think it means you are able to move forward and it isn’t ever present daily.

I have always been appreciative that in the USA we are are able to reveal trauma and discuss mental illness relatively speaking. I know we could and should be much better, but it is so much better than so many other countries.

I do worry that too much coddling for minor things reduces people’s resilience. Resilience is incredibly important. I acknowledge what is minor is subjective. I’m pretty traumatized by how I’ve been treated by doctors. I’ve worked through some of it, but still can get paralyzed and triggered. I feel like I have a form of “PTSD” from it, or if I don’t fit the clinical definition I at least have some features of it. I’ve never looked it up, and I wouldn’t compare myself to someone in combat for instance, although my nightmares from it are someone coming after me with a knife or gun, chasing me, and sometimes I am caught and shot or stabbed.

It also really bothers me that there is sometimes leading or pushing in the psych field for people to feel traumatized and even to the extent of planting false memories, although I think that extreme is less common. I’ve experienced a counselor trying to lead me, not accepting my answers.

I have a friend who spent years in therapy and that’s her therapist’s schtick to keep patients in therapy for years. My friend really didn’t have that much trauma, and wasn’t “traumatized” until she started seeing this therapist. She has told me some of what happened as a kid, and her reaction is way beyond normal for what happened. This one therapist reinforces her feelings, encouraged her to cut off her family, does nothing to give her tools to reframe or overcome her anxiety or sadness, it’s really not good. It’s malpractice in my opinion.

Misery loves company, and I see a trend in the country for people who feel traumatized to tell others who have been through similar situations that they should be traumatized too. This really bothers me. People react differently.

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jellyjellyjelly's avatar

Can someone every truly overcome trauma?

What do you mean by “overcome”? Do you mean that they stop being affected by it entirely? Probably not. I would imagine that trauma tends to be a defining experience that shapes you permanently. Then again, so do non-traumatic experiences.

Do you mean that someone stops suffering? I think so. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl puts forth a pretty convincing argument that trauma can be a source of positive growth, and may even be necessary for it: “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Do you think trauma can explain all our motivations and actions (not just in fiction)?

That seems hyperbolic.

Is having been traumatized a significant part of who you are and your relationships with others?

No. I’ve had challenges in my life and my therapist has diagnosed me with complex PTSD. Yet, I am not convinced it is a “real” diagnosis. Like others mentioned, I think society is diluting the term “trauma” by applying it to every papercut.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well welcome to Fluther @jellyjellyjelly. Although I suspect you’re a returning member. In which case, “Welcome home!”

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SergeantQueen's avatar


…But what @JLeslie said is valid…

I know I talk about this a lot here, but I have had a rough few years. I was in an abusive relationship for almost 2 years, and I grew up in a screwed up dysfunctional home.

I do not believe my childhood has “traumatized” me. There are a lot of people who have gone through similar, and are absolutely traumatized. I do not need to be told by that person, that I should also feel traumatized.

With the abusive relationship, some aspects of it, in my mind, are worse than others. Some have fucked me up more than others. And those things that have messed me up, may seem super trivial to other people compared to the other shit that I went through.

I have been told certain things by people who think those things should have bothered me way more than they did, that they should have traumatized me. But they didn’t. Why? I have no idea.

Everyone’s brain is wired differently, and everyone responds differently to trauma. Not everyone is going to be traumatized by the same event, and not everyone gets traumatized in the same way, by the same event.

Mimishu1995's avatar

I recently read… the appeal is the enigma.

Um… Could it just be because the stories are… well… badly written?

It takes a certain kind of writer to write a character with traumatic experience that can resonate with the audience well. Otherwise you just end up with the “hardened character with dark backstory” stereotype that is so prevalent in fiction it has become a meme. Usually it happens because the writer tries too hard to make the story more interesting/darker, but has no experience with actual hardship or trauma hence the “certain kind of writer”. And writers are always writing about fictional situations, which sometimes cross over territory that they haven’t experienced. Also a more cynical explanation to why that happens is that the writer just wants to artificially make the story more interesting with a fake “hook” that is the trauma which could be what is happening with the adaption. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case, since adding dark elements to old stories has become a trend nowadays.

I kind of suspect that the article you read is looking at the wrong situation and make a mountain out of a molehill. The problem here isn’t really the emphasis of trauma, it’s the number of bad writers who don’t understand trauma but try to insert it into their work in a bad taste.

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Forever_Free's avatar

Trauma in your life is not an excuse to act a certain way. This is no disregard for neurological medical conditions that have you react a certain way.

I agree that there is way to much focus on the trauma versus the treatment to find help.

We all have things that occur in our life that may be considered traumatic. While it may be a explanation of the path you take, it is not an excuse.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I agree with @Hawaii_Jake 100%. I’m not sure you can truly have an idea of how many people this affects if you haven’t been involved in mental health.

Nomore_Tantrums's avatar

Trauma and drama make better copy in the news. Who wants to hear about good people doing kind things, as in a video I saw recently where motorists stopped their cars on a cold snowy day, and pulled together to help another motorist whose vehicle stalled, to push him off of the road and out of danger? Or the guy who stopped his car in the rain and helped two boys fix a tire on their bike? More interesting to hear about the guy who assaulted a soccer coach over a bad call, or people slapping teachers for encouraging school kids to wear masks. And trauma can be a result of individual life experience, as in a case I read about a WWII vet, who would at times wake up his wife, screaming at night, thinking he was still at Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge. Not all PTSD stems from ‘Nam, or even from war at all. Great Q, difficult to really come to grips with.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Mimishu1995 Here is the original article

This article inspired the question, but the author is a literary critic, not a psychologist, and I wanted to go beyond the literary world for the scope of this question. (Particularly poignant is the bit about “A Little Life”, a book that’s quite popular in the BookTube world that I follow, but some accuse of being “misery porn” due to the excessive non-stop abuse and trauma that the main characters suffer).

Thanks for all your answers.

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Zaku's avatar

I think there’s too much low-quality fiction in general, and that one of the common forms of that, yes, is lazy simplistic characterization of trauma effects, and various forms of hand-waving explanations and justifications of terrible behavior.

It’s not that there’s too much trauma in fiction, but that too often, it’s done very superficially, along with many other poor representations of how people actually behave.

Oh, and:

Can someone every truly overcome trauma?
– Depends on what you mean by overcome, but yes.

Or are they just lying to themselves?
– No.

Do you think trauma can explain all our motivations and actions (not just in fiction)?
– No.

Is having been traumatized a significant part of who you are and your relationships with others?
– Eh. Pretty much everyone experiences major things they can’t handle when they are young, and the general reaction is to survive it by setting aside some of it to be processed later, and that usually involves making up a way to cope, which starts to form how we are/think/behave. Pretty much everyone does this, and it’s usually very worthwhile to bring some adult attention to this as an adult.

But that’s NOT the same as the typical inept/lazy fiction writer deciding to write a story where normal people don’t have that, but some characters had one thing happen to them and that means that character is now a psychopath.

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Blackberry's avatar

I think the focus on trauma is happening for a reason. People barely understood trauma during WW2….and during the iraq war more people died from suicide than actual combat at one point.

There’s a saying that “everyone is broken” for a reason.

If you’re wealthy and you get cheated on, you’re still gonna be devastated.

I think we’ve all been burying trauma because there’s no time to process anything. By the time you’re 16 your whole life is already planned for you: get to work and fall in line.

JLeslie's avatar

@Blackberry I really like your answer.

So true everyone goes through traumas or difficulties in life.

kruger_d's avatar

My sister works with vets with PTSD. Beyond the emotional trauma there can be many physical symptoms that accompany it, a fight or flight response, anxiety, panic,hypertension, sweating, breathing issues. She works with them to process traumatic memories repeatedly so that those physical symptoms diminish over time. So that they are remembering, but not reliving the event.

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