Many people with lived experience of complex trauma spend a lifetime being consistently misdiagnosed, collecting all kinds of labels along the way.

I now realise I’ve had emotional flashbacks in front of all kinds of professionals – police officers, paramedics, A&E staff, GPs, therapists, counsellors, psychiatrists, community mental health workers – and not once, did somebody recognise the emotional flashback for what it was, or saw it as a sign of trauma.

Now I know all of this, and see how simple it is, I’m shocked that it’s so often missed and misdiagnosed. Sadly, it can take decades to validate experiences for the abuse it was.

If trauma informed care and practice was prevalent, then all it would take is a simple question – “What happened to you?” – to reach the proper explanation of complex trauma quickly and compassionately. I can’t help but be angry about how simple it seems, and yet how wrong western biomedical mental health systems get it.

Three years ago, if I was taking part in the survey for a research project, I would have answered ‘no’ to questions about a traumatic or abusive childhood. The shame I felt from my experience was so great that I was still trying to blame myself for it and dismiss what had happened, as the adults around me had done. 


Trauma Explains Everything

When we begin to understand the full breadth and depth of trauma, we begin to see it connects with so many aspects of our personalities, our lives and our distress. It can explain everything – from emotional distress, to suicidal thoughts, to addiction, to anxiety, social problems, etc.

Given the interpersonal nature of complex trauma, anything involving people can potentially replicate our trauma and re-traumatise us. This ends up happening so often, in so many otherwise normal everyday situations, that daily life can become impossible. Our lives become dominated by everything that feels completely related and intertwined with our trauma. Our lived experiences of trauma explains everything we struggle with.

Borderline Personality Disorder

The worst is the ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ label. It is no different to the horrific labelling of women in the Victorian era as ‘hysterical’; they were in fact also trauma survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Individuals displaying ‘Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms’ are in fact survivors of trauma, who need to be treated compassionately, rather than stigmatised as patients with an inherent personality disorder. Viewed with a compassionate, trauma-informed lens, these ‘symptoms’ are in fact perfectly reasonable behaviours attributed to unvalidated past trauma still stuck in the body.

Instead of recognising this and helping a survivor heal, labels such as Borderline Personality Disorder can shame an already shamed individual even further. It is time to abolish the continued abuse of trauma survivors specifically with the Borderline Personality Disorder label.

Depression and Anxiety

It is time to acknowledge that labels such as ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ are not without cause; they are in fact reasonable responses to stuck traumas within the body.

Depression and anxiety are not medical disorders, illnesses or diseases in themselves. They are symptoms, or manifestations, of unprocessed trauma held within the body. When we ask the question ‘What happened to you?’, depressive and anxious responses suddenly make a lot of sense.

We need to view depression and anxiety through this trauma-informed lens to find the root causes of people’s distress, and help them in the right way. We need to stop referring to the chemical imbalance myth, which has now been disproven, with scientists admitting they have no idea how anti-depressant medication works. (Evidence suggests it is likely no more effective than a placebo.)

End Misdiagnosis

It is time to stop misdiagnosing survivors of complex trauma, thereby continuing to invalidate their experiences and continue their pattern of abuse.