Mark Epstein, writing in the Sunday NYT:
Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence. I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder.Every part of this seems right to me: that we bear the marks of past losses and disappointments, however seemingly minor (one-off rejections or misunderstandings or fights that get patched up); that we're also shaped by our anticipated losses; and that, as Epstein goes on to say, "closure," and the desire to impose a timetable upon grief (or even just mild melancholy or nostalgia) are bullshit.
As Epstein writes,
My mother's knee-jerk reaction, "Shouldn’t I be over this by now?" is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others.It's a pity that the word "trauma" is so linked in most people's minds to major disasters. We may be willing to apply the term to private, undramatic sorrows, like the peaceful death of a sick family member--but the death of a pet? the end of a three-month relationship? a negative encounter with your boss? Surely those are the upsetting events of an hour or a week or a month. But trauma only means wound, and those come in all sizes. It's not easy to know in advance what will leave a scar or ache every time the weather turns damp.
When disasters strike we may have an immediate empathic response, but underneath we are often conditioned to believe that "normal" is where we all should be.
But although the past marks us, often permanently, being marked by the past is perfectly compatible with moving on. Sometimes life's traumas leave us in howling, incoherent grief, but not always. Not even usually. And even when they do, that stage passes. But the wound remains, throbbing a bit, tender to the touch, but capable of being forgotten.
Until, suddenly, it isn't.