The world has wised up to how our past affects our present. But I know that labelling ourselves as ‘traumatised’ holds us back
Trauma as a medical phenomenon has its roots in the late 19th century, when it was known as “railway spine”, a condition suffered by survivors of railway accidents (a new phenomenon at the time) and believed to be caused by microscopic lesions in the body. It arose in tandem with the insurance industry; people seeking compensation needed evidence to back up their claims, particularly if they hadn’t been visibly injured. During the first world war, it was recognised but afforded little sympathy: traumatised soldiers were seen as unpatriotic, cowardly and lazy.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” came into use. But to begin with, the diagnosis was limited to military veterans. Eventually, the concept of trauma was expanded to include survivors of sexual violence, familial abuse and other catastrophes – a positive development.
When the trauma narrative becomes the go-to explanation for unhappiness, it may distract us from what’s making us miserable in the here and now