Some days you might look at your symptoms and triggers and think to yourself, “I’ve been through so much it’s overwhelming!”

Trauma feels like the perfect word to describe it. But then the next day or even the next hour rolls around, and you find yourself thinking the total opposite: “I’m making a big deal out of nothing.” After all, you can easily point to someone else who’s had it worse.  

You feel like a ping pong ball, going back and forth about what happened to you. At this point, you may assume that if you can’t settle on whether your experience was that bad, it must not be. Wouldn’t someone with real trauma feel certain about what happened to them?

Actually, no.

It’s very common for people who have experienced trauma – whether mild, moderate, or severe – to question whether anything significant really happened to them. Even those who have endured years of violence and abuse find themselves discounting their experiences.

In some ways, this is highly adaptive. Sometimes people develop a part of themselves that pretends nothing occurred so they can go on with normal life for a time. It’s too hard to feel grief, shame, or fear while you’re trying to work or study in school. Denying the trauma helps.

However, usually the person has another part of themselves that still feels all those difficult emotions, and even if that part is hidden away for a time, it never really goes away. The result can feel like an inner battle. One part of you functions well in day-to-day life by ignoring the trauma, and the other part feels crushed by the trauma and invalidated by your refusal to acknowledge it.

Whenever you’re feeling divided like that, take a moment to notice which side seems to be winning out and which side is getting stifled.

Try not to judge either one. Remind yourself that both parts have helped you in the past and it’s normal to have doubts. What feelings might you be avoiding? Are there other ways you can get through the day without invalidating the hurt you still feel? Lean into your support network while you focus on bridging the gap between the two sides.  

If you want to read more about how reconcile different parts of yourself in the aftermath of trauma, check out Janina Fisher’s book: “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation.”