Over the past several decades more people have been talking about trauma than ever before. We know this from the sheer number of articles and books published about the topic—evident in the substantial spike of English language books containing mentions of the word.
To date there are over 5,500 podcasts whose title contains “trauma.” Social media engagement (likes, shares, reactions) ranks in the hundreds of thousands for posts containing the word “trauma.” The term has skyrocketed in popularity as a Google search term over the past two decades. And the TikTok hashtag #Trauma alone has over 6.2 billion views.
Despite its increasing popularity as a topic, however, many people still hold some serious misconceptions about what trauma actually is. Here are five of the most pervasive myths about trauma—and what research has to say about them.
Myth: Trauma is a one-off, horrific event that changes you forever
An isolated event that severely violates a person’s physical and psychological safety can significantly alter that person’s mental (and physical) health. But trauma isn’t always a distinct and horrifying event. Many people’s experiences of trauma are chronic (think: growing up in a chaotic living situation or being repeatedly exposed to domestic violence, residing in a community with high crime rates, or experiencing emotional neglect throughout childhood). Trauma can also result from social and systemic factors, like poverty and racism. Additionally, some research suggests that trauma can be transmitted intergenerationally—from parents to offspring, possibly through mechanisms that influence how DNA is expressed. Trauma is not, therefore, always one single event that changes you forever. It can manifest in different ways for different people, with vastly different outcomes and effects.
Myth: Trauma always leads to PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating outcome of exposure to trauma(s) that entails intrusive and distressing memories of the traumatic event(s), avoidance of things associated with the traumatic event(s), impairments in memory and distorted thoughts or beliefs about one’s self or others (think: “I’m a bad person” or “Safety in this world is an illusion; everyone will hurt you if given the chance”). Persistently depressed or agitated mood states, feeling keyed up or on edge, and not being able to sleep or concentrate are other hallmarks of PTSD. So too is engaging in reckless or self-harming behavior.
Research tells us, however, that only a small proportion of people exposed to traumatic events (including the unexpected death of a loved one, violence, sexual assault, natural disasters, or vehicular accidents) go on to develop PTSD. In fact, it’s estimated that just around six to eight percent of the population experiences PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives. While we should never discount the severity of PTSD and its risk factors, it’s important to keep in mind that experiencing a trauma does not always lead to PTSD.
Myth: Trauma is always a disorder
Experiencing trauma can lead to or exacerbate a range of emotional, behavioral and physical health issues. Disorders other than PTSD can result from exposure to trauma—including acute stress disorder, whose symptoms mirror those of PTSD but typically arise immediately after trauma exposure and last up to one month; some personality disorders; eating disorders; anxiety, and depression. But this isn’t always the case. Many factors influence whether and how someone recovers from traumatic events, including their age at the time of the trauma, their personal coping skills and access to resources, what supports they have in place around the time(s) the trauma occurs, and whether they can access timely and effective interventions (like psychotherapy) that promote recovery.
Approximately half of all people exposed to trauma actually go on to experience “post traumatic growth”—a transformative and positive psychological experience in the wake of adversity that protects people from trauma’s negative effects. So while traumatic events can be life-altering or effect significant and long-lasting changes in one’s emotional and behavioral health, this isn’t the case for everyone exposed to trauma—nor true of every traumatic experience.
Myth: Trauma has to happen to you directly
You don’t have to be directly experience one or more traumatic incidents yourself in order to be negatively affected by them. “Vicarious trauma” (also known as “secondary trauma”) refers to a profound shift in one’s worldview and sense of safety resulting from repeated exposures to other people’s trauma—say, by witnessing the aftermath of a disaster or hearing about vivid details of someone else’s trauma. Mental health professionals, health care professionals, emergency responders as well as clergy members who minister to people suffering from trauma’s long reaching effects are at higher risk of vicarious trauma than the general public.
Myth: Trauma changes your brain forever
Experiencing trauma can alter our nervous system’s threat detection capacities, keeping us constantly on edge and on high alert for danger. But there’s evidence that our brains remain “plastic” (that is: changeable) well into the latter years of our life. Effective interventions for trauma—including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), modified versions of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)--have each been shown to change neural activity, bringing about the positive emotional and behavioral changes observed in those who recover from trauma-related disorders.
Not all experiences of trauma lead to disorders and no two people’s responses to trauma are exactly the same. But even if your unique trauma response doesn't meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition, that doesn't mean you don't need support processing and healing from whatever has happened to you. And if your experience(s) of trauma have led to debilitating outcomes? All the more reason to reach out for help.
There’s a great deal of evidence that recovery from trauma of all kinds is very real and very possible—a reality that myths about trauma tend to obscure. What happened to you doesn’t need to keep you a prisoner forever. You can and deserve to feel okay again. Trauma recovery involves learning how to feel at peace in your skin again, developing trusting relationships with others, and making sense of and extracting meaning from your past so that it stops hijacking your present.
With the right kind of support many trauma survivors are able to rekindle a sense of physical and emotional safety, foster healthy and stable connections, and learn how to regulate the intense and overwhelming emotions resulting from prio adversity. All of this helps bring you back to the person you truly are or want to be, unfettered by the painful consequences of what others may have done to you or what you may have witnessed and experienced throughout your life.
If you feel ready to take the step of reaching out to a therapist for support healing from one or more traumatic experiences, we’re here to help. Here’s to making healing from trauma even more trendy than the often misconstrued term itself.
When we don’t consistently feel good about ourselves, we’re more likely to experience anxiety and depression, struggle with eating disorders and substance abuse, give up when faced with challenges, and struggle in friendships and romantic relationships. We’re also less likely to ask directly for needed support, relying instead on tactics like sulking or complaining that tend to dissuade others from lending an ear (or hand).
Negative self-talk (“I can’t possibly do this!” “I’m such a screw-up!”), which stems from and reinforces low self-esteem, can also severely impact our cognitive and motor performance, sapping our ability to focus and inclining us to make more mistakes.
Feeling badly about who we are does little to bolster our well-being and quality of life. If you’re ready to start feeling better about yourself, here are seven strategies to try today.
1. Write down the negative statements you say about yourself. Challenge each one
Often, negative self-statements are vague and extreme. Think: “I suck.” Or, "Nobody loves me."
For every negative self-statement, disprove it with a counter-statement or list one or more events where the negative self-statement wasn’t fulfilled.
Example: “I suck.”
Counter-statement: “My beloved grandmother thought highly of me and would be appalled to learn anyone thought I sucked.”
Contradicting event: “My coworker said I was really helpful last week.”
Example: “Nobody loves me.”
Counter-statement: “I can't prove or know how others feel about me." "I know at least [family member/friend] loves me."
Contradicting event: "X told me they loved me when I was Y years old." "I felt loved by an acquaintance's pet when I dog sat for them."
2. Make a personal "Greatest Hits" list.
Write down—in chronological order or from most to least meaningful—all your accomplishments to date. From these, generate fact-based affirmations.
Example: “I aced a test in college/high school”
Affirmation: “I’m capable of learning and demonstrating my knowledge about X subject.”
Example: “I landed a job at X company.”
Affirmation: “Other people recognized my talent and ability to do X”
Think, also, of setbacks you’ve recovered from. Generate affirmations from those, too.
Example: “I never thought I’d get over that breakup with Y. But eventually, I got on with my life.”
Affirmation: “I’m capable of healing from emotional pain.” “I didn’t let Y ruin my life.”
3. Learn about others' mistakes.
It’s helpful to realize how not alone we are in massively messing something up. Everyone has at least one major oops! moment (I’d venture most have multiple). Ask friends, colleagues or teachers you have a good rapport with, classmates, or family members what their biggest mistakes or failures have been—and what they learned from them. Or, search for public figures’ massive mess-ups in articles, books, and movies. (There’s no shortage.) You’ll quickly realize your biggest mistakes aren’t that bad by comparison—and you may get some helpful tips on how folks who screwed up big time built up their resilience.
4. Seek help from someone you feel safe with.
Sometimes negative self-statements (“I’ve never had a successful relationship,” “I can’t hold down a real job”) offer windows into characteristics or behavioral patterns you may benefit from shifting a bit. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person! It just means you and your quality of life might benefit from learning some extra skills or practicing some new behaviors—albeit with the guidance of someone who won’t shame you or act condescendingly when providing help.
If you feel you “can’t hack it” in relationships, seek a licensed mental healthcare professional who specializes in interpersonal challenges to strategize some self-improvement techniques (think: emotion regulation, communication, and active listening skills) that benefit both your romantic and platonic connections. If it’s not being able to hold down a job, consult a career counselor. You may also want to reach out to a trusted religious or community leader for guidance.
5. Do something that makes you feel better about yourself—daily.
Hold the door for someone. Compliment a friend or co-worker. Express gratitude to someone else. Help a friend, family member, or colleague in need of assistance with something. Often it's through helping others that we see our value reflected—and, as a result, feel better about who we are and how others see us.
You can also do something that makes you feel competent—a task you know you’re capable of doing well, that helps you feel like you’re good at something. Clean or organize an area in your home or office. Create a piece of art or poetry. Cook your favorite recipe. Put together a nice outfit for yourself or someone else. Do someone else’s hair or makeup. Keep a list of activities that increase your sense of competency and consult it when in doubt.
6. Spend more time with supportive others.
Spending time with people who criticize you or reinforce negative self-beliefs isn’t helpful. Make it a point to spend more time with friends, family, or colleagues who validate your perspective, respect your basic dignity, and encourage you to strive towards personal goals.
If you don’t have these people in your life, try meeting them through self-help or support groups; events or courses catered to specific interests and activities; or seek out a local religious or spiritual community that feels welcoming and aligns with your values.
Fostering positive connections also means setting boundaries with people who make you feel bad about yourself. Rehearse setting non-combative but firm boundaries with them. Think: “I appreciate your point but I’m not comfortable being spoken to with such disrespect.” “I’m going to leave/hang up if you continue to yell at me like that.” “I’m not available to do that favor for you but hopefully you can find someone else to help!”
Practicing at least one of these strategies each day can help you to start seeing yourself in a more favorable light. Don't be surprised if, when this happens, the world around you starts to seem a little bit brighter, too.
The term “quiet quitting” emerged early in 2022 on social media to describe the phenomenon of workers refusing to go above and beyond at their jobs and instead simply meeting those jobs’ basic requirements. Typically these workers hailed from fields known for under-compensating extra employee efforts and encouraging hustle cultures that left little time for finding meaning, purpose, or cultivating relationships outside of work. But as quiet quitting became increasingly popular, employees from practically every profession started taking notice—and wondering whether they should quietly quit, too.
Is quiet quitting a good idea? And what might its impacts be on workers’ mental health? Below, a closer look at what quiet quitting entails and how it might affect those who embrace its growing popularity.
What Quiet Quitting Really Means
Since it’s still such a new term, quiet quitting doesn’t yet have a standardized definition. But here’s how it’s being described on the Internet: Clocking in, completing the tasks assigned to you, and clocking out. That’s it. No taking on extra tasks beyond your job description—unless you’re compensated for doing so. Skeptics have termed this doing the bare minimum or phoning it in. Quiet quitting proponents counter that it’s actually just doing your job and setting firmer boundaries at work.
Why Employees Are Quietly Quitting
Many employees are fed up with not receiving wage increases or promotions congruent with the amount of effort they’re putting into their work. Others are tired of not having enough time and energy for non-work endeavors, like family, friends, hobbies, and other activities that improve their wellbeing. Many quiet quitters have personally experienced (or witnessed in others) the repercussions of skimping on sleep, exercise, and quality time with loved ones in order to “get ahead” at a job and they’re refusing to incur any further damages to their physical and mental health by repeatedly pushing themselves too hard.
Rather than putting in their resignation, though, these workers are standing up for their rights, their physical health, and their sanity by saying, “I’m not going to compromise my wellbeing by overextending myself—especially not without a significant pay raise or increased time off.” Or more simply, “I just want to do my job without being completely exhausted by it.”
The Upsides of Quiet Quitting
A substantial majority of workers in America (up to 84% according to one Deloitte survey) say they’ve experienced job-related burnout—that is: an emotional and/or physical exhaustion (often coupled with a loss of, or significant reduction in, motivation) brought about by prolonged work stress. Many quiet quitters claim that forgoing the extra mile(s) at their jobs is a means of offsetting or managing this burnout, since doing only what’s required is thought to lower the pressure to perform and prevent workers from taking it personally when they don’t get promoted or don’t get a raise.
Effectively setting boundaries at work—think: actually taking a lunch break or declining extra asks from higher ups and co-workers that exceed your job’s defined roles and responsibilities--is proven to help boost worker wellbeing and prevent burnout. Especially when it comes to safeguarding the distinction between work and non-work time. Not answering work emails, calls, or texts after a certain hour and not checking work messages during vacations and sick days are two very important strategies to help uphold this latter boundary. Protecting one’s wellbeing in this manner is a great way to balance the concerns of one’s work life with one’s non-work life and health, and if this is what quiet quitting entails, the trend certainly comes with benefits.
The Downsides of Quiet Quitting
Research has shown that when we put more effort into an endeavor, we value that endeavor more. Likewise, the more personal energy workers invest in their jobs and the more engaged they feel on those jobs, the more satisfaction they’ve been found to derive from them. Reducing your input at work (“phoning it in,” so to speak) could sap you of that crucial sense of engagement and purpose that contributes to job satisfaction—a measure which itself has been shown to positively impact our physical and mental wellbeing. Less effort, less engagement, and lower job satisfaction could leave some workers feeling like the majority of their days are futile, meaningless, and boring. These sentiments are known to negatively impact mental health and can contribute to depression, so it’s important to keep a pulse on how any changes in your efforts at work may be affecting your mental health.
Abruptly dialing back the effort you put into your work may also lead you to feel guilty about saying more “no’s” to coworkers or higher-ups, and this may increase your stress. Additionally, those whom you work with or for may not respond positively to changes in your professional behavior, and these reactions may make you feel uncomfortable on the job, increase your concern about being passed over for a promotion, or render you anxious about being fired.
All of these factors—the potential upsides and downsides of quiet quitting—are worth taking into account if you’re wondering whether quiet quitting is right for you. Regardless of your plans to quietly quit (or not), seeking support from a mental health professional around the stress you’re experiencing at work can help you gain insight into its sources and develop strategies to protect yourself from experiencing burnout. Talking through what’s led you to consider quiet quitting can also help you figure out where you may benefit from putting boundaries in place and how best to assert them—not just at your job but outside of work as well.
Katherine Cullen, MFA, LMSW, is a psychotherapist and writer based in New York City. Her work has been featured by Psychology Today, where she was previously an editor, Time, Cosmopolitan, Shape, Weight Watchers Magazine, Rehabs.com, mindbodygreen.com, PsychCentral.com, and Greatist.com. She has also appeared on ABC Nightline, NY1 News, and CBS.