Without a doubt, there are few people who annoy me more than trauma validators. What is a “trauma validator”? Well, in the simplest terms, they are well-meaning people who say really gross things that validate the horrible experiences that happen around them. It’s not really their fault. They’re trying to reframe painful experiences and shine a “new light” on them, but their good intentions go too far.
You know these people when you hear them say things like, “Your trauma is a gift,” or “Your trauma made you strong…kind…empathic…etc.”
Here’s why it’s a problem.
When someone says that “trauma is a gift” they encourage magical thinking and push victims to rationalize what happened to them and gaslight themselves. Think about it.
What is the first picture that comes to mind when you say the word “gift” to yourself? Chances are you think of smiling people, shining paper and bows, holiday trees, or moments of cheer and joy. Right? You wouldn’t be wrong and you wouldn’t be alone.
That is the power of language.
The words we use come with real meaning, and that meaning changes the way we relate both to the world and ourselves. When you say that something bad is a gift, you confuse your subconscious and set unrealistic standards both of understanding and of healing.
For us to move forward and into a better reality in terms of healing, we have to start small - with the words that we use. There’s no better beginning than trauma and the trauma validators who create mythological silver linings that set us back more than they help us to heal.
There are a lot of implications.
There are a lot of implications when someone uses the word “gift”.
For the giftee, the word implies something thoughtful. “Gift” implies that they are receiving something good, wanted, and/or needed. If you give a gift to someone, you surprise them, lift them up, or help them in some way. When a giftee receives a gift, they are given something without strings or fallout. It’s a positive thing all around.
Likewise, for the gifter, the word “gift” comes with a lot of inescapable implications.
If your “trauma is a gift” then the person who traumatized you is a gifter. If you are a gifter, then you are seen to be giving something from a place of purpose. You are seen to be someone who thought about the other person, who carefully chose something that was needed, wanted, and helpful in some way.
Trauma is anything but that.
Our trauma (childhood or otherwise) seriously disrupts the flow of our lives. It damages the way we perceive ourselves, it changes the we perceive others. Every corner of life is touched by trauma, from the nervous system to the relationships you form with others. Everything is changed by traumatization. In no way, shape, or form can it be a gift.
Trauma is the monster under the bed.
There’s no purpose to trauma. It’s not a “gift” and it doesn’t serve a higher purpose. It’s the monster under the bed, keeping us small, scared, and hidden away from meaningful and beautiful lives.
The true story is that trauma is harm caused by emotionally immature and harmful people. It’s pain put onto others when we are hurting and when we don’t have the skills and the tools to face ourselves (and that pain that we’re in). The pattern will continue to repeat until we face the reality of trauma and the human condition.
The reality is this: trauma is pointless. It doesn’t have to exist. It doesn’t need to exist. It exists because we have not done the job (yet) of resolving our patterns, of increasing our consciousness and awareness as a species. We are still scared of the monster under the bed and tell ourselves stories rather than confronting it for what it is.
We tell ourselves our trauma is needed because we don’t want to do the work of creating a world without it. We tell ourselves our trauma is good because that’s easier to say that, “Someone I trusted hurt me when I was a child because that felt better than working on themselves.”
Just as trauma exists, it could not exist. We could strive for a world where children don’t suffer, where partners don’t harm each other, and we don’t seek to hurt the people we feel entitled to hurt.
We could still know the highs and lows of life - a brutal experience in the best of times - without needing to damage one another’s nervous systems. Without changing DNA and creating generations of people who are emotionally stunted, disingenuous, or otherwise short of real change.
Where does the change happen?
As with any major transformation, healing ourselves of trauma (individually and as a species) takes time. It happens in drips and drops. First here a little, then there a lot. Most of all, this kind of transformation starts small. It begins with the words we use, the way we talk to one another, and about one another in terms of trauma.
Change starts in all cases with a dialogue. Someone says something different and discussions take shape. Actions and behaviors change on the other side.
Instead of telling one another that trauma is a “gift” it is more helpful to say, “That never should have happened to you,” or “I understand.” It is more helpful to point ire toward abusers, instead of encouraging the abused to see their pain as a gift deserved.
A more accurate understanding for trauma validators of this type to adopt would be something like:
If someone makes it 5 miles ahead despite the trauma, they would have been 25 miles ahead without it.
This change in language creates a tidal wave of change in understanding. When the understanding changes, the beliefs change. As beliefs are transformed, behaviors change. Suddenly, there’s no room to gaslight those with trauma. There’s no space to dismiss and deny them.
Instead of putting the sheer burden of healing on survivors alone we, as survivors ourselves, could start looking toward the root of trauma - toward those who inflict it. If trauma is seen as a poison, as a curse, then we are more inclined to stamp it out where it starts instead of sadly turning our backs on those who are struggling with the pain inflicted onto them.
The human subconscious is a powerful thing. That’s why the words we use matter so much. The subconscious mind of a survivor shifts the way they react to their healing. Being told that trauma is a “gift” pushes them to swallow it down, to accept it as a “necessary” thing, and to give excuses to those who harmed them.
The same applies to the “gifters”. If the harm we inflict is a “gift” that makes someone “better” than we avoid accountability when we unload serious harm on others.
In that regard alone, it is time to change the way we speak about trauma. It’s time for us to stop validating it and excusing it with careless language that weaponizes compassion and empowers abusers.
That starts here. Right now. With each and every person who reads this, who passes it on, who chooses to see their trauma for what it is: a mess. A pointless delay, an exercise in wasting human potential.
Because that’s what trauma really is. That’s what it does to us. It sets us back, it tells us that we must play small. Trauma robs us of our full potential and prevents us from showing up fully as ourselves in the world.
There’s no more time for that. Now, more than ever, we need each of us to be wholly who we are; to stand in the light of our personal truth and abilities. Is that a place you have the courage to put yourself? Is that a stand you’re willing to make?
Here’s your chance. Start now with the language you use and the truth you choose.
© E.B. Johnson 2023
E.B. Johnson is a top writer in mental health, relationships, and narcissistic abuse. Through her coaching, writing, and podcasting, she helps women lead meaningful and peaceful lives after a lifetime of childhood trauma and narcissistic entanglement.