Why don’t you ever write about trauma?

A reader asks:

I’ve been a reader of yours for a few years now. It’s incredible how many different topics you write about but I’ve noticed that you almost never write about or even mention trauma. Why is that?

Wow, thanks for hanging in there with me for so long. A few years is a long time—that’s 156 Monday emails from me! I very much appreciate it :)

As for trauma, you’re absolutely correct that I rarely write about it. There are three main reasons for this, I think:

First, I have somewhat unorthodox views on trauma and haven’t figured how to write about it in a helpful way.

My experience is that—probably for good reason—people seem especially sensitive around this topic of trauma. And in the past, when I’ve tried to explore the topic of trauma with people in writing, it seems to provoke a lot of defensiveness and unhelpful responses.

Again, I think this makes sense. Trauma is, by definition, an injury. And if you’ve been injured, it makes complete sense that you would want to defend yourself against future injuries—including emotional injuries to your sense of self or an identity which is strongly tied to your trauma.

Ideally, I’d like to write in such a way that it invites people to think differently about the whole concept of trauma but in a way that feels gentle and supportive. I just haven’t figured out a good way to do that yet.

Second, trauma has become an incredibly broad concept, to the point where it’s exhausting just getting to the stage in a conversation (or essay) where everyone has defined their terms clearly and is on the same page about what we mean when we say, for example: trauma vs traumatic event vs trauma reaction vs traumatic experience vs PTSD vs complex trauma etc.

This phenomenon is called concept creep, by the way. The basic idea is that when new concepts are first introduced, they tend to have narrow, technical definitions. But as they enter mainstream culture, their meaning becomes increasingly broad and diverse. In short, I usually find the concept of trauma too unwieldy to discuss productively.

Finally—and I’m going to be totally candid here—trauma simply doesn’t interest me on a personal level as much as many of the other topics I write about. I’m a firm believer in working on things that are intrinsically motivating. And for whatever reason, trauma just doesn’t pique my curiosity as much as, say, resilience or assertiveness or chronic worry.