by Christine Anderson
When tragedy strikes, no one can tell you how you should feel.
Don’t get me wrong—they may try. They might tell you that you should hate your sexual assaulter or feel broken in the wake of a break-in. Sometimes people will make you think that if you don’t feel the way you should, maybe your trauma isn’t as real or you are just in denial.
Last year, when I went through a personal trauma, I was constantly afraid that I was feeling or thinking the wrong things. Should I be angry? Broken? Does the fact that I am still able to function mean that it didn’t really happen? Does my ability to move on discount the gravity of what occurred?
I didn’t tell anyone that anything out of the ordinary had happened in my life because I was afraid they would expect me to fall apart or take action, but I was even more afraid that they would tell me that it obviously didn’t matter because I wasn’t reacting “correctly.”
In a world saturated with information, we have so much access to stories of people who have gone through whatever it is we’re going through. Their stories tell us how others just like us have felt or what they have thought about situations just like ours. Sometimes, in some situations, this is a huge blessing—finally, I’ve found someone who understands! But other times, it becomes restricting, trapping you in a specific range of responses that are deemed acceptable.
The truth is that people connect through personal experience. My range of experience and emotion is what I use to connect to someone else’s experiences and emotions. As a result, sometimes it can feel like people are telling you how to feel when in reality they are just trying to understand.
More importantly, even when people really do tell you outright that you’re feeling the wrong things, it doesn’t mean that they are correct and you aren’t. You have the right to feel heartbroken or indifferent or joyous in the face of tragedy. You have the right to move on quickly or take your time. As long as you are safe and healthy, you have the right to respond to tragedy in whatever way works for you.
If I had shared my trauma when it occurred and felt safe doing so, I might have been able to recover more quickly, but I was too afraid of being told I was wrong. It took me a long time to realize that my range of emotions is actually valid and true to me—and your range of emotions is valid and true to you.
Instead of sharing, I wrote about my trauma (a lot) and tried to leave it all on the page. While that helped over time, I wish I had been brave enough to use the resources available to me—my friends, family, and Agora—all of which were just waiting to support me through it.
Maybe not everyone would have understood what I was going through, but that wouldn’t have changed what happened. Today I know that what I went through was traumatic, and it hurt, and I responded in a way that made sense to me. And now, over a year later, I’m still moving forward.
What is Agora Crisis Center?
“Sometimes it’s hard to talk about our problems with family and friends. As trained crisis hotline specialists, our volunteers are ready to provide compassionate, non-judgmental help for anyone in need of emotional support. Anyone is welcome to use our service, and you do not need to be “in crisis” to call or chat with us.” – www.agoracares.org