Are we strong or are we hiding behind a mask?
I have been privileged to participate in conversations about past hurt and lost hope because of things that happened or others’ responses to us. I thought I was alone in this struggle until I participated in these brutally honest conversations with others. I knew life experiences change us, but I had not noticed how far back they affected many of us.
We are the product of the environment we live in and the experiences we have been through. We also choose how we will deal with the circumstances of life so moving on is a choice.
I learnt that many of my responses were and still are trauma responses. I learned that my shows of strength were a trauma response. I learnt that certain phrases I use often were double-sided trigger words.
Here are some examples of things I said and I know many of you do too:
- I do not need people.
- I do not need help.
- I am good thanks; even when I am falling apart.
- I cannot afford to fail.
- I am stronger alone; I am better alone.
- I can do better than everyone else.
- I must be strong no matter what.
- I never cry because it is a sign of weakness.
All these and many more are trauma responses. We are cultured to be strong, stable, indestructible, and unshakable.
- Is that realistic?
- Can one perpetually be a strong and busy warrior?
- Can I always believe it will work on my own?
- Can I always stand on stage without the input of others?
- Am I a solo standing mountain, an island, a baobab tree that grew into a behemoth on its own? No!
This singular focus on being strong and always able has hampered my interactions with people. I could never understand how people were so indecisive or took so much time to think and make decisions. I fought the need to depend on anyone because others had disappointed my people and me more than once. I would assign tasks to people but always have a plan B so I could get the thing done.
Looking back, I see how I set people up to get away with a lot because I always picked up the slack. On the flip side, I was resentful when people around me could not keep their word and do their part of the deal for whatever reason.
Imagine my surprise when I realised, I had enabled this behaviour. I am a finisher and people around me know that. Whenever I am in a group or on a project, I always complete the task. People know I frequently take charge, accept it, and leave me to my devices. Yet I often stood in the corner complaining that people were unreliable. Now I know people are different and thus have different values, but could I help them grow? Not unless they want to grow.
I did not realise it yet, but I had internalised the situation, focused on being strong and accepting loads I did not need to carry. Sigh! All the unknown but deeply ingrained trauma responses seemed to make me stronger but also made me tougher to deal with. Externally, I was unshakable yet internally…it was a different story.
- I was raging mad one moment and utterly sad the next.
- I was happy and excited for a season and utterly lost for another.
- I learnt to shut down and never expect help.
- I gave off the energy that I didn’t need help,
- I got upset when no one stepped up.
- I lived with a deep fear of disappointment.
Often we don’t know how deeply scarred we are by life. Even more often, we lash out at people or are living with anxiety that this is from unresolved traumas from the past. I finally accepted that it is easy to look normal and still be dysfunctional because of what happened in the past.
I realised that trauma comes in different degrees depending on the causes. I learnt that I am likely as traumatised as the next person so I cannot judge them. I have learnt that I can no longer pretend that all is well. I have been affected by life’s circumstances. I need to heal. I can become more than I ever thought possible despite my past and the things that have scarred me.