There Is No Such Thing As “Small Trauma”, and Abuse is Really Common

I’ve noticed that some people downplay their trauma quite a lot if they didn’t experience “big” trauma like physical abuse or sexual abuse. They might say that their traumas are “small” in comparison to “big” traumas like physical or sexual abuse. It’s understandable why they would do this, but trauma is not a competition! Trauma is trauma.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about trauma. They were talking about how even “minor” things that don’t qualify as abuse can cause trauma. As an example the one person recalled a situation where a mother and daughter were walking in the street, and the little girl tripped and hurt her knee pretty badly. It was cut open and bleeding. So the mother said she’d take the girl to the doctor, which was just around the corner, and she said the doctor will stitch up her leg. The daughter was terrified of this idea – because she had seen her mother doing embroidery as a hobby, she thought of needles as huge scary things and didn’t want something like that going in her leg. So she freaked out, and refused. The mother tried to drag the daughter to the doctor with force, but eventually gave up because the girl was just too persistent.

Eventually, the mother said something like: “you were so beautiful but now you’ll be scarred forever because of this.”

The people on the podcast were saying “that’s not abuse”…

  • It’s invalidation, which is a form of emotional abuse. The mother invalidated the daughter’s fear by trying to make her go anyway with force.
  • She then also implied that the daughter will no longer be beautiful, which is also emotional abuse, and is honestly a pretty nasty thing to say to a little girl who has just tripped and fell and is in pain and also scared.
  • It’s also physical abuse because the mother was trying to physically drag the child to the doctor against her will.
  • And, most of all, it’s emotional neglect because the mother didn’t try to find out why the daughter was so scared in the first place! Instead of comforting her daughter, she ended up making her feel far, far worse.

They were saying “it’s not a big deal”…

That kid was terrified! Not only was she scared she was going to be poked with a huge needle, she was even more scared that her mother didn’t care about this and thought that her feelings didn’t matter to her mother. She felt alone, unprotected and unsupported, which are absolutely traumatic feelings for a small child who is dependent on her parents for survival.

Pete Walker says that emotional neglect is at the core of all forms of abuse. He’s right. Emotional neglect is part of physical abuse, because if the abuser cared about the child’s feelings they wouldn’t be hitting them. It’s also part of sexual abuse, because if the abuser cared about the child’s feelings they wouldn’t be doing whatever sick depraved shit they’re doing.

A lot more things count as abuse than what most people think. I wish more people knew how much of a big deal emotional neglect is.

Saying that someone’s trauma is smaller or less significant than someone else’s is invalidating toward the very real effects that trauma has in the human body and mind, regardless of what caused the trauma.

Just because very few parents know how to be emotionally supportive enough does NOT mean that what they’re doing is not neglectful or abusive. Being abusive and emotionally neglectful has been a huge part of parenting for so long that people literally think it’s just the way things are, and don’t even question it. That’s why they have a hard time thinking of these things as abuse, because it’s so common. Well, guess what… abuse is really common! Yeah, that’s how fucked up our culture is and has been for a long time. So technically you could say it’s nobody’s fault because people have been this way culturally for so long. But someone has to take responsibility for doing better, and the people in the best position to do this are parents. Bringing a child into the world is a huge responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly.

A lot more parents are abusive than people are willing to admit. In many cases, they don’t know better, and obviously wouldn’t like to be called abusive… but what they’re doing still counts as abuse – even if it’s unintentional, and even if they think they’re doing a good thing for their child.

An analogy: it’s really hard for a white person to not be racist because the culture they grew up in normalizes and encourages racism… but just because it’s been normalized doesn’t mean it isn’t still racist. It’s difficult for white people to even see that they’re being racist from their position, and they don’t like to be accused of being racist even if it’s true.

In a similar way, it is also very hard for a parent to not be abusive, because the culture they grew up in normalizes and encourages abuse. Just because it’s normalized, doesn’t mean it isn’t still abuse. It’s difficult for parents to see that they’re being abusive from their position, and they don’t like to be accused of being abusive even if it’s true.

Let’s not sugar-coat and downplay things – let’s call it what it is, and educate people on how to do better.

Resources for learning more:

Invalidation page on EQI
EQ for everybody ebook
Karla McLaren’s site about empathy and emotions
Pete Walker’s emotional neglect PDF
Taking Children Seriously

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