Why It Can Be So Difficult to Come to Know Oneself

As a society, we turn a blind eye to obvious trauma, making one’s story more difficult.

Illustration of woman with flowers and butterflies

Boquet by Danny Neece

In previous issues of S&H I’ve written about my traumatic experience, or rather, about my responses to trauma. But what, readers asked, was the trauma itself? What am I holding back? We’re accustomed to wanting the full story. But part of what was difficult about my experience was that I didn’t know—and still don’t fully know—the details. I was very young. I had no language for what had happened. My parents did not know; they had not been trained to look for trauma or to recognize the symptoms. And so I had no trauma narrative. It was only in my mid-30s that I started to have physical memories and to understand that the symptoms I had been experiencing throughout much of my life but had been unable to name were symptoms of dissociation. And it was only by listening very closely to my body and connecting the dots of various occurrences in my life that I was first able to come to certainty that something had indeed happened. Then my mother went back in her memory and remembered a strange man who had babysat for me one night in Paris when I was very young. When she came home, I did not sleep …

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