We filter our world through the traumas of our past. Our traumas build the lenses through which we view everything in our life. These aren’t rose-colored glasses we are wearing. No, these glasses are made of our past hurt, pain, betrayals, abandonment, loss, shame, and failures. We see the world in black and white, we do not see the nuances of color – of reality.
During my journey of healing, I have realized how much I view the world through my “trauma glasses”. I have been viewing recent events through the lens of the painful betrayals I experienced in high school, seeing only black and white; (See Journey of Healing – Part 1.) Oh no, it’s happening again. If I could see in color, I’d see that it’s NOT the same. It’s a completely different situation, with different people, and I am much older and wiser now.
I was sitting at my desk at work when a message popped up on the screen from my boss. “Do you have a minute to talk?” I thought, Oh no! What did I do?! I was instantly anxious. Wearing my trauma glasses, I went to my boss’s office and closed the door. In my mind, I am transported back to the day I was called to the principal’s office where I experienced humiliation and my character was torn to shreds. My boss just needed clarification on something about me that had come up in a meeting. I reacted defensively and was a bit angry and irritated. My boss looked puzzled. It wasn’t a situation that warranted that kind of reaction from me. It was a simple question. I didn’t know why I was reacting that way. Later when I removed the trauma glasses, I could see that my defensive reaction was really present-day me defending the defenseless 18-yr-old me in the principal’s office that had no voice.
In another situation, a friend sent me a text message that (unknowingly to her) struck that tender nerve of my high school trauma. I wrestled with my past and the ambiguous tone of that text message. What does she mean? I wondered. When I’m wearing the trauma glasses, I see her as one of the people in that principal’s office telling me that I am bothersome and a burden, and I can’t do anything right despite my best efforts. However, this view does not match my friend’s character or the past communication we have had. What is the truth? When I removed my trauma glasses, I saw a friend in pain trying to gain control of her out-of-control situation. What she said doesn’t have much to do with me.
When we go through life wearing our trauma glasses, we relive the past and perceive repeats of our traumas in new situations. If we filter our world through the traumas of our past, we risk experiencing the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon. Our anticipation that our trauma is reoccurring and our subsequent reaction, can result in our originally false expectation to become true. This confirmation bias only strengthens our traumas further.
How do we break this cycle? When we are triggered, we need to be aware that we are wearing our trauma glasses and acknowledge our past selves. For example, I need to tell my 18-yr-old self, Sit down, I got this. It will be okay. The next time my boss asks to talk to me, I need to leave my trauma glasses behind. The next time I speak with my friend, I need to respond with compassion for her situation, and not with my altered perception while wearing the glasses. It is imperative that we recognize the reality of the present instead of reacting to the past. If we filter our world through the traumas of our past, we run the risk of damaging our current relationships and sabotaging potential new ones.