Comparing Trauma

“She was molested by her father,” I said. “And he would beat her. It was violent. Mine wasn’t that bad.”

“We don’t compare trauma,” my therapist said. “We each have our own valid experiences.”

I’ve used this refrain many times while women have disclosed their story of sexual violence to me and then follow it up with, “but it wasn’t as bad as others have had it.” Or, if I’ve shared my own experience of childhood sexual abuse they say, “oh wow mine was nothing compared to what you went through.”

On the other hand, Dr. Vincent Felitti, creator of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), survey does just that. A point is given for each traumatic category that has occurred before the age of 18, and one receives a score of 0 to 10. His research showed that individuals with a score of 6+ have a 20 year reduction in life expectancy compared with those who are zero.

So, do we compare trauma or not? The answer lies in what results from the comparison. If through comparing we minimize our own experience, or that of another, this can impede healing. If quantifying our trauma allows us to stand in the full truth of what we’ve experienced, including the negative impact on our biology and overall health outcomes, this can move healing forward.