Trauma is defined as ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’ and the ‘emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis’ (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2023).
In today’s meme-infested world, even the most noble and well-meaning of terms can become casualties of widespread popularisation and ubiquitous overuse. So much so, that it desensitises us to the richness, intensity and magnitude of a specific word – like ‘trauma’.
The phenomenon of trauma in psychology and clinical practice, and the reality of its incredibly high and frequent incidence which research has shed light on, is rather recent. For example, even though we had cultural terms prior to the coining of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) for the symptoms that manifest, such as shellshock, the term PTSD itself only came into common clinical parlours in the nineteen eighties – less than two generations ago. Further ground-breaking research has also shed light on the nefarious causal links between the ubiquitous affliction of addiction – as well as anxiety and depression – with trauma. Even the research into, and the reporting on, adverse childhood experiences is a fairly recent scientific development. So, despite the term ‘trauma’ seemingly being thrown around with relentless zeal, in most, if not near all, occasions it can be understood to be more than warranted. Nevertheless, when any word becomes obnoxiously pervasive to the point of being almost divorced from its fundamental meaning, we can tire of it quickly and seek to minimise or trivialise its significance and effects.
Whether you’re talking about other people’s traumas or your own, there is still a rich and varied vocabulary that can be used instead of relying solely on the word ‘trauma’. There are interchangeable terms such as ‘injury’ (also, ‘being injured’) or the often preferred substitute ‘wound’ (along with its derivatives of ‘wounding’ and ‘wounded’). Even the lay word ‘hurt’ – as in a ‘big hurt’, being ‘badly hurt’ or feeling ‘deeply hurt’. This is my favourite. The term ‘violation’, related to the concept of having been violated, can be a potent and available alternative – particularly when trying to indicate a sexual nature to the trauma. These terms, along with other descriptive alternatives or more specific synonyms, can prove to be effective substitutes for the term ‘trauma’ that also avoid the minimisation or trivialisation of the impact of an experience or event.
Expressions like ‘shredded’, ‘cut up’, ‘smashed’ or ‘pulverised’ that demonstrate the infliction of severe damage to the person and their psyche can also be effective replacements. Colloquialisms and vernacular phrases may also be drawn on: phrases such as ‘they did a real number on him/her’ could serve as an adequate substitute that simplifies the message while not diluting the severity of the event or experience.
Whatever alternative word or interchangeable term you choose for trauma, compiling a few options that you can use interchangeably to fully encapsulate the depth of the experience and its effect, and to successfully communicate this to others, would be most prudent. When talking with others about their trauma, or trauma generally, it can also prove a very helpful service to the wider cultural vocabulary to apply different descriptive words and phrases to find which best indicates the trauma and which best suits the other person. This way, not only does our private vocabulary regarding trauma expand and deepen, but also our understanding develops and enrichens along with our consciousness and the collective consciousness around trauma itself.
Emanuel Perdis is a Trauma-informed Recovery therapist who administers therapeutic counselling for individuals as well as couples. His key specialties for counselling are Trauma, Anger, Relationships and Anxiety. All therapy is delivered online, via Zoom, and enquiries are taken via https://www.emanuelperdis.com/let-s-talk or directly to cell phone on 0412 288 081 (+61 412 288 081)