How Experiencing Trauma Made me More Empathetic

I know what you’re thinking upon reading the title of this post – duh, trauma will make any person more empathetic. I get it. It seems like such an obvious revelation, but it wasn’t so obvious to me. In fact, it didn’t hit me until I was 7 months out from my traumatic experience.

Here’s the thing; I have always been naturally sympathetic. I don’t know if it’s just my genetic makeup, my upbringing, both, or something else entirely, but I have always identified sympathy as one of my strengths.

Empathetic The Blissful Elefante

Before I move on I should probably mention that I was never a “crier.” My family will probably read this and laugh, but please, hear me out.

Conflict has always resulted in tears. Always. I have never identified as a people pleaser or as being co-dependent, but several self revelations this year have lead me to believe I probably have tendencies of both. Everything I strive for in life is to help others, so the thought of disappointing someone can be soul crushing. Therefor, arguments and lack of understanding often ends in tears. I also recall crying as a child if I felt anxious, but that’s a whole other thing entirely.

That being said, you know the person who cries when they see a baby smile, or snow fall for the first time? Not me. My earliest memory of crying at anything outside of myself was watching Marley and Me in theaters. I love dogs, so that hit me hard. Right in the jugular. But other than that, stone cold. I tend to keep my emotions to myself because the thought of that emotion spilling out into someone else’s life is uncomfortable for me (Rewind: people pleaser.)

Now, here’s where the whole “obvious revelation” thing comes into play. So okay, I’ve always considered myself a bit of an empath. As I have grown and become more aware of myself, I have had to learn to shut that off. In the past I would let the bad day of someone else ruin my own day. Same goes for heartbreak. When someone passes away I find myself down in the dumps for days, regardless of if I knew them personally or not. My mind immediately goes to the place of oh man, that poor mother.

Long story short, I’ve definitely lived my days with the thought process of approach every single person you meet with kindness. You have no idea the struggles they have faced that day. So with that I just assumed I was empathetic. But oooooh boy, I had no idea just how deep it would get.

Approach every single person you meet with kindness. You have no idea the struggles they have faced that day.

Part of what has made trauma such a struggle for me is that it has made me reevaluate every single aspect of my life and it hits me when I least expect it. I can go a week without any major mental hurdle and suddenly a song comes on in the car and the pain of the trauma comes flooding back, hitting me like a semi truck, as if the trauma just occurred. As someone who makes a conscious effort to grow from every experience in life, that’s hard, because I want to be able to turn a painful experience into a positive one.

So in the past when I thought about approaching each person with kindness, I kind of just … thought it. Of course I acted on it, and I understood it, but I didn’t REALLY understand it. As privileged as it sounds, up until this point the most difficult thing I’ve experienced in my life was sending my husband off to war, twice.

It wasn’t until I had to be an adult and continue about my day despite the pain in my heart that I truly grasped what it meant. There are times when I am speaking to someone with a smile on my face but that person would have absolutely no way of knowing that all I want to do is lay in bed all day, detached from the world outside of my home.

Now when I’m listening to a podcast in the car and an individual is speaking about a painful experience in their past, I cry. When I’m listening to a song I’ve heard 1,000 times, I cry. When I’m reading a book, or watching a movie, or writing a song … I cry.

To be clear, none of these things have to be particularly heartbreaking. Sometimes I cry simply because I hear the passion behind a songwriter’s voice when referencing their most powerful work. I even cry if a person is talking about their success, because I can’t help but to think of what they had to endure to get there.

Anything we are passionate about requires a level of belief and a level of doubt. And sometimes just knowing that a person overcame the doubt leads me to drown in my own tears.

These days it doesn’t take much for me to cry. I imagine there are a lot of people who grew up learning to maintain a tough exterior who are reading this and rolling their eyes. I get it. It can be massively uncomfortable to experience someone crying over seemingly nothing. At times I myself have felt weak due to my sudden emotional outburst. But the more I learn and the more I grow, the more I realize that my newfound empathy will play an important role in the way I give back to the world.

I hope that this post serves as a reminder that every person you encounter is fighting a battle you are completely unaware of. Whether it’s the woman who is suffering from abuse at the hands of a man who claims to love her, or a father who has tragically lost his child, or even something as simple as the coworker who got a flat tire on their morning commute.

Sometimes all it takes is one person being kind… one person being understanding, to save a life.

Thank you for walking with me through my own journey,

xx tara


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