Why Some Traumas Hurt Worse: Wounded Values

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I was enjoying some coffee talk last weekend with a dear friend, we were talking about the nature of trauma (yes, I talk about trauma in my free time too). In particular why some traumas hurt a lot worse, when on paper they don’t seem as “bad” as others. This is something that I’ve thought a lot about and made some janky hypotheses based on both personal and professional experiences. After thinking about this for the last 17 years and really exploring it more intimately the last two months, the most fitting and congruent hypothesis has to do with values. The more cut and damaged our values are as a result of the trauma and the aftermath, the worse the traumatic injury wounds.

Let’s embrace it, at the end of the day, trauma almost always goes against our value system. However, some traumas feel more close at home and cause such a deep wounding to our core values that there is more pain and a very difficult time finding meaning and healing from them. Our values act like a protective barrier to our soul and authentic self and when they are betrayed, it devistates us to the core.

For example allow me to use someone I work with (with permission) to illustrate this concept. To give some background…she has extreme childhood trauma including molestation, physical and emotional abuse, is a police officer who has been in for decades (in varying squads and capacities). Based on her trauma timeline there are over 50 events that could easily qualify her for the diagnosis of PTSD. A lot of these events still shake her and bring up immense emotion, however there are just a few that rise to the top, that at times seem hauntingly unshakable. The ones that cause the deepest pain all are rooted in a total betrayal of values both during the event and the aftermath that followed. She has been involved with several officer involved shootings…these are not the ones that bother her because she is able to reconcile that what was done needed to be done, was done following protocol, and were much in part natural consequence based on the situation. And all congruent with her value system. These were difficult for her, however the level of emotional pain, very different.

With that said, now enter a significantly lingering traumatic injury that went against her values having to do with a fallen brother. She was with him on patrol and he was hurt in a hit and run while on pursuit. She was one of the first to arrive at the hospital. She saw him lying on the gurney in the trauma room with pools of blood collecting on the shiny, white floor. She heard the doctors yelling and the machines beeping frantically. He was pronounced shortly thereafter. Those images feel as if they are burned into her memory. They however are not the trauma. Where the trauma comes in is when her Sgt. orders her to go into the trauma room and remove her friend and brother’s badge and gun. The reason this stung so badly is because she felt as though she were dishonoring him and robbing him of his identity. This went against the grain of two of her core values of honor and integrity. She felt as though she betrayed him. She also felt betrayed, hurt and disappointed by her leadership whose job it should have been to remove personal belongings. This too went against her values of honor and integrity. She and her values struggled to make sense of this. And as a result, to this day, she feels it would have been better if it were her. We’re working diligently and she is reconciling the incongruence this trauma has caused between her values and soul. She is progressing beautifully and with courage. Her values remain connected and she’s stepping into her story.

While we were in this deep, caffeine inspired conversation, my friend and I had one major point of contention. There are some traumas she will not talk about and states she never will. Naturally, I simply see this as nothing more than a glorious challenge, but I digress. The reason she mentioned they will go to the grave is because of the gaping hole they have caused and the belief this hole will never be filled again. The secondary reason I believe has to do with the battle between shame and how damaged the values were as a result of the trauma. I always hear this; “oh, I will never talk about that one.” This is the world’s most brilliant excuse to stay silent, not step into our stories and lets the wound linger. By refusing to honor our experiences and stay silent, we’re further betraying our values and our authentic self. These gaping holes DO get filled again. I am very blessed to see it happen all the time. They get filled by courageously sharing our stories and embracing our values. Our values (and a few other things that I will discuss in a future post) start the process of refilling. There’s accuracy, you will never be the same person as you were before your traumas, that part is true. I can promise, the holes can and do get filled and usually with more rich material.

Although our values get temporarily misplaced as a result of trauma, they don’t ever leave, betray or deny us. They’re always there and continue to act like a protective shield, once we have the trust to rely upon them again. I believe we often confuse matters and think it was our values that betrayed us, when in reality, our values also got betrayed. It was the trauma that caused a betrayal and crisis amongst our values and soul. We get into secret fight with our values due to this confusion and ignore them and allow them to get dusty. When in all reality, they’re what have protected us, allowed for survival and are a critical key to healing from traumatic injury and thriving thereafter. Once we have the courage to speak and share our stories of emotional, physical, spiritual and value betrayal, that gives us the power to assimilate meaning, fill the holes and live fully.