The Flower of Pain

Diving into a Culture of Trauma

Is trauma losing its meaning? It seems that accounts of trauma are filling the news. Death and suffering in more than two years of a global pandemic has certainly been traumatic. So too is the toll of gun violence. With the return to more normal school operations, school shootings are once again popping up in our news feeds. But then there’s also the phenomenon of trauma creep. As we find ourselves thinking more about trauma, the definition in popular culture is expanding so that we begin to see trauma everywhere. A doctor and professor, Michael Scheeringa, explains:

“Trauma is one of those words that can mean anything. I was stuck in traffic: That was traumatic. My football team lost: That was traumatic. That’s the way it’s used in our culture.”

Real Trauma, More Present

Trauma is a diagnosis with a very specific definition. The DSM-5 specifies it, as Anushka Pai, Alina Suris, and Carol North explain:

“Not all stressful events involve trauma. The DSM-5 definition of trauma requires ‘actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.’ Stressful events not involving an immediate threat to life or physical injury such as psychosocial stressors (e.g., divorce or job loss) are not considered trauma in this definition.”

In the midst of a pandemic, real trauma – actual and threatened death – is very present. Even more so is our preoccupation with with the concept of trauma. Many thousands of podcasts include trauma in their title. The trauma plot has come to dominate literature and entertainment.

Harnessing Trauma for Politics and Advocacy

Trauma is a useful narrative for social and political causes, too. Politicians are scoring points with claims that teaching critical race theory will spread “mental and emotional trauma” in classrooms throughout the land.

Likewise, fat acceptance advocates are taking on what they describe as diet culture and the “science which props it up.” The definition of diet culture is a bit vague. But the message is clear. It’s toxic and it brings “deep trauma.”

Writing in the New York Times, Jessica Bennett sees overreach:

“Suddenly, Demi Lovato is not just annoyed by having to pass by sugar-free cookies in a frozen yogurt shop; the singer is a victim of diet culture’s ‘harmful messaging.’”

Spreading Trauma Wide and Thin

Bennett asks: When everything is trauma, is anything really trauma?

We do, indeed, have plenty of trauma to deal with. This might be a good time to dial down some of the hyperbole that equates every stressor with trauma. We can do this. Not everything is catastrophic – even if it deserves our attention.

Click here and here for further perspective on the exploitation of trauma to seize our attention.

The Flower of Pain, painting by Edvard Munch / WikiArt

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February 6, 2022

One Response to “Diving into a Culture of Trauma”

  1. February 06, 2022 at 8:12 am, Robyn Flipse said: