I often receive apologies from clients or hospital patients who feel uneasy for feeling their emotional pain, for feeling dejected or depressed. They tend to compare their personal situation with the patient in the next room or with a friend in crisis, or someone who they have seen on television or learned of while viewing social media. When set side by side and the comparison is made, they are somehow convinced their situation doesn’t merit the same level of compassion or complaint. While post-traumatic stress (PTSD) has become common parlance many people equate it with serious exposure to traumatic events like war, genocide, plane crashes, or large natural disasters. Individuals for many reasons have been made to feel "less than" and therefore are reluctant to consult with a therapist or counselor thinking their pain pales when compared with that of others and are embarrassed to share their "petty" suffering. Even when they summon the will to seek counseling, they often remain reluctant to share an event that they feel they have no business complaining about. They hear the old tapes playing in their heads… “quit complaining”, “don’t be a crybaby”, "quit bellyaching", “I’ll give you something to complain about”. While this is all too common, it is undeniable, and the voices on these old tapes which have morphed into currently held beliefs then become an impediment to healing because of this cognitive shame.
Casey Rose a contributor to the forum Tiny Buddha writes: “Someone who drowns in 7 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, stop belittling your or anyone else’s trauma because it wasn’t “as bad” as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition, we all deserve support and recovery.”
Therapists have unintentionally contributed to this thinking by speaking of big "T" and little "t" trauma, this terminology implies that certain traumas are more or less damaging. For some people, this can reinforce the idea that they "shouldn't" be upset by their "little issues." Physician and trauma expert Gabor Mate, also reminds us that trauma is not just what happens to us but how we interpret the event. He also points out that sometimes trauma isn't simply the bad things that happen to us, but the good things that did not. Shame in one form or another is often an unfortunate result of a traumatic experience, so minimizing the pain of that experience by labeling it with a small "t" may just make the experience more shameful. Thereby making it all the more difficult to speak about it.
Professional help and counseling can help tease through these resistances and the false beliefs about the merit of one’s feelings as well as identify the origins of the message “Don’t be a cry baby.” Therapy can offer techniques to strengthen resilience and further develop coping skills that aid in becoming unstuck. Clinical EFT or “tapping” is one modality that is very effective in reducing the intensity of traumatic events and has been used therapeutically in a variety of applications with children, teens, and even veterans with PTSD. It is a form of “exposure therapy,” which can restore balance to a dysregulated system. It is gentle, effective, and easily applied and practiced outside a therapy session.