On the Weirdness of Trauma

The more I study the trauma response, the more questions I have

Anna Mercury
14 min readMay 26


Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

This is a story about trauma, but more “trauma as a topic of study” than any overview of traumatic experiences. Still, if discussion of trauma is emotionally difficult for you, please only engage with this story according to your comfort level. As a note, an emotional response along the lines of “People need to shut up about trauma and content warnings are dumb” is, itself, a reaction to feeling triggered, and I invite you to probe it and care for yourself accordingly.

I am not an expert on trauma, not by any stretch of the imagination. To say anyone really has expertise in trauma is a bit of a strange statement on its own. How can you have expertise in a personal experience, in a subjective feeling, in a vast and diverse process encompassing innumerable realms of experience with as many different manifestations as there are moments of subjective life?

When we talk about trauma, just like when we talk about any experience, we invariably make assumptions about what that experience is for others. How do we know that my trauma feels anything like yours? How do we know my happiness is the same sensation as yours, that it’s even similar? These are words that denote categories that have conceptual meaning, and we take as a matter of pure faith that we’re talking about the same concept.

The more I learn about trauma, as a topic of study rather than as an internal experience, the less clear it becomes. This is a deeply subjective and varied experience, emerging from any manner of life events and relationships to them, that expresses in a near-infinite number of ways. The best we have to go on is a combination of self-reports and brain scans, and even those can pose more questions than they answer.

The thing I’ve learned is: trauma is kind of weird. It’s amorphous and subjective, systemic and interpersonal, mental and physical, tying together past, present and future in intricate patterns that reverberate across time and space.

I sometimes think that the more I learn about trauma, the less I even understand what it is.

Even as a topic of study, I’m still not an expert on trauma, but I’m intending to become one. I’m treating…