“Misconceptions About Post-Traumatic Psychology”
Submitted by: Emily Falcon
Student, South Florida
The psychological effects of a post-traumatic experience can be just as damaging and hindering as physical effects. Severe post-traumatic conditions may develop as a result of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. However, individuals often neglect or invalidate mental struggles simply because they are not apparent to the naked eye. This kind of dismissive behavior can be severely damaging towards those who struggle internally because they wind up feeling alone and unheard. Unhealthy coping mechanisms may develop as a result and the risk of developing chronic illnesses and trauma will increase. Individuals tend to avoid, mistreat, and misunderstand those who have experienced trauma because they believe it doesn’t actually exist or those who have mental struggles are violent and incapable.
One of the biggest issues with understanding mental health struggles is derived from the fact that many individuals do not consider it to be an actual struggle or just invalidate it altogether. Lack of acknowledgement may often result in little to no effort to understand trauma, its roots, and effects. Thus, if one cannot understand something because it is not acknowledged, it would be impossible to offer any assistance or care. The preceding factors all contribute to popular misconceptions about mental illness and struggles that result from traumatic experiences.
Amongst the most common misconceptions regarding trauma is the belief that there are no severe effects after an abusive experience simply because the experience has passed and any lasting psychological effects are merely self inflicted. This notion perpetuates the myth that those with mental struggles just possess “character flaws” and if they wanted to, they can “snap out of it.” The reality of the matter is that healing is not simply “snapping out of it,” it is a very elaborate and thorough process to truly heal from a traumatizing experience especially when looked at through a scientific lens. The vast majority of misinformed individuals don’t understand or acknowledge that biological factors can play a significant role in the development of these issues. Oftentimes there is a genetic component in which trauma can be passed down through generations or worsened due to one’s genetic makeup or a chemical imbalance.
The misconception that the general public cannot support or care for those with mental struggles arises from the previous fact about their biology, thus assuming it is “simply in their nature” and they are beyond therapy and assistance. As a result, people wind up believing the only solution to trauma and mental struggles is medication. While medication is a potential solution for some individuals, healing may be better achieved when it is coupled with therapy and self-help either from professionals or trusted peers. Perpetuating these misconceptions will further alienate those with trauma and potentially cause their issues to worsen when instead they could be helped with peer support and healing services.
Generally, many individuals believe trauma doesn’t often occur within close and personal relationships. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Several forms of abuse occur very frequently within households or between familiar people. It is because of this that many victims cannot understand that they are being abused and therefore don’t know how to seek help. Moreover, many peers will not take a victim seriously in the given situation because they believe victims cannot possibly be harmed by those close to them even though statistics demonstrate 1 in 10 women are abused by their partners and over half of reported abuse allegations occur within the household. The rates of other kinds of domestic abuse such as emotional/verbal are relatively high as well.
The false idea that men and people with disabilities cannot be victims of abuse can be very dangerous to society. Though the percentage is smaller, men still experience forms of sexual and physical abuse and the misconception that they don’t because they are “strong men” is not only incorrect but psychologically harmful to male victims. Additionally, people with disabilities are twice as likely to experience sexual assault than those without disabilities. These misconceptions completely invalidate trauma experienced by these individuals and perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation will never result in help and guidance for those in need.
Many people believe that just because they are able to control their emotions and reactions accordingly, victims of trauma should be able to do the same. In reality, there is a reason trauma can be very harmful and hindering because a victims initial or long lasting response to it is essentially unpredictable. Contrary to some beliefs, this does not mean victims are beyond help, but that they may sometimes require a little extra comfort and support. For this reason, it is imperative that victims receive any kind of support they need because they may not be able to cope with some situations in the same manner that those without traumatic experiences can. It is also significantly important not to belittle or cast aside victims of trauma as it may perpetuate stereotypes and little to no healthy support mechanisms. Victims are just as equally deserving of support and acknowledgement as the next individual.
With that being said, many people are led to believe the extreme idea that everyone living with trauma is “weak”, has PTSD, and will suffer for the rest of their lives. Having PTSD symptoms surface after experiencing traumatic events is common, however this does not mean all traumatic experiences result in PTSD. Additionally, victims of any kind of abuse will respond differently and no individual should burden the “weak” label. This can be incredibly damaging and harmful to those who have experienced trauma especially because for some, the chances of full and complete recovery may be slim. However, this potential possibility does not mean that the vast majority of victims will suffer severely for the rest of their lives. Many victims are able to achieve great growth throughout their healing journey and experience little to no mental drawbacks during the remainder of their lives. It is crucial that all victims are treated with the same level of respect and support as any individual.
It has been made evident that invalidation and belittlement of trauma victims may worsen their mental health and hinder their healing process. As a community, we must all put forth effort to wholeheartedly support and comfort our fellow peers in need. Everyone deserves to be treated with the same level of respect regardless of their pasts or struggles. Our community must strive not only to raise awareness of the implications of traumatic events, but to properly educate individuals regarding these implications and how to provide support or seek help if needed. If we maintain these good habits, misconceptions regarding trauma will no longer stand the way and we can progress towards a future full of comfort, education, and compassion.