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Comparing Trauma: Playing With Fire

“Trauma is trauma.” This is a phrase that has been floating around our circles for a while now, but what does it really mean? It sounds fleeting on the surface, but there is a lot more nuance to this phrase than meets the eye.

1. Trauma Is Not Exclusive

Stories extend far beyond our service experiences. There is a long list of events in life that pre-date the first time a veteran or first responder ever stepped off the bus at basic training, crawled through a burning building, strapped on a duty belt, or slung a medic bag over their shoulder. Acute issues related to service can be a magnifying glass, compounding earlier memories and experiences and exponentially increase the negative effects. Those that have been around Project Refit for a while usually do a good job to caution against comparing stories, but it is vitally important that it stays top-of-mind when participating in group sessions, or even a one-on-one conversation. One thing that can really help is exploring those early memories and thinking critically about what happened, how we felt, and how it could be connected to our current state. Think of pulling weeds out of the garden...if we don't remove the roots, they will quickly grow back. There is less of a chance of them coming back when we get down below the surface, and understand that the majority of the problem often lies buried well beneath the surface. Writing about childhood and early adulthood can bring up a lot of repressed events that we have buried deep within our consciousness. It can be an extremely challenging but rewarding experience.

2. Trauma Is Not Always Obvious

Expanding on the idea of repressed experiences, healing can sometimes be found in some very unexpected places. Thinking about our past can enable us to discover hidden areas of worry and allow us to begin the process of dealing with them. Some things that we may not view as trauma may actually be undermining our progress. But like we say here at PR, trauma is trauma. The little things in our mind sometimes have a cumulative effect on the big things, and the big issues may sometimes serve as a distraction and muddy the waters, making it nearly impossible for us to notice the little things to do something about them.

3. Trauma Is Relative

We all have triggers. What may make a person spiral may make someone else laugh or what may be a throw-away comment for someone else might bring up something troubling for another person. This is another pitfall in the dangerous act of comparing traumas with one-another. The human mind is too complex to map out all the variables that contribute to our reactions, influences, and overall mental health. It is important to push against the fear of not having a similar experience to someone else when speaking. Not doing this could result in someone staying silent and not saying something that otherwise could have led to a massive breakthrough. This may be easier for some and harder for others, but it’s important for us to encourage the people around us to share what’s on their mind, no matter how small they think it is.

If you are struggling with a mental health issue, the "Let's Chat" feature at is an excellent resource, and our team can help get you pointed in the right direction.


Casey is a staff writer for Project Refit, and is a firefighter/EMT in New Jersey. Together with the rest of the PR team, Casey strives to authentically and effectively tell the stories of vets and first responders. Casey believes that a story told is a life extended, and is helping to empower many other vets and first responders to share their stories.

The views expressed in this blog post are not medical advice and should not replace the care of a licensed mental health professional.


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