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How We Give Language to Traumatic Events Changes How We Heal

For a while now, the terminology of both “victim” and “survivor” has sat uneasily with me.

Both terms center the traumatic experience as part of a person’s identity. Although (and please hear me on this) we can do real harm by minimizing someone’s trauma, one way we can support people in maintaining or building an identity that doesn’t centralize trauma is by using person-first language (example: “people who have experienced trauma”). Image may not be published, presented, or duplicated without permission
How we think about traumatic events changes how we heal. Like carrying a heavy backpack, trauma impacts us, our body, and our experience of the world, but it is not who we are.
Image description for screen readers:
Image  is a  green background with two hand drawn people.

The first person has a darker green blob drawn around them. They have an uncertain look on their face.

The second person is facing the other person and is wearing a green backpack that is dripping green liquid.

Image text: When trauma is held as central to identity, people have more post-traumatic mental health symptoms. People able to frame trauma as something that happened to them, part of their story but not part of their core identity, have less post-traumatic mental health symptoms. Like carrying a heavy backpack, trauma impacts us, our needs, our body, and our experience of the world, but it is not who we are.

Research: George Park and Chaudoir (2016)

Visually translated by: Lindsay Braman.

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Source: Examining the Relationship Between Trauma Centrality and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms: A Moderated Mediation Approach doi: 10.1037/trm0000063 L. George, C. Park, and S. Chaudoir. Findings: Findings highlight the importance of considering individual differences and trauma appraisals in understanding the relationship between trauma centrality and PTSD — trauma centrality may be related to PTSD symptoms more so among people with poorer coping ability who appraise a trauma as violating their core beliefs and goals.

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