“What happened to you?”

Instead of “What’s wrong with you?”, we should be asking, “What happened to you?”


It’s time for a paradigm shift away from individualised concepts of mental illness. The problem is never solely within the individual. It is within the family, interpersonal relationships, communities and society.

Friends, family & professionals always asked what was wrong with me. If one person had instead asked what happened, I could have found the help I needed and been saved from a lot of unnecessary pain. 

I’ve struggled my whole life with “severe ill mental health” & chronic suicidal feelings. I’ve sought help from medical & mental health professionals over my lifetime. Sadly, as these services aren’t trauma-informed, this caused me more harm. I’ve since found many others with lived experience of complex trauma who have also felt this.

Still desperate for answers, I took my healing journey into my own hands. I finally discovered that my experiences can be explained by the complex trauma that began in my very early childhood.

I realise that my “mental health symptoms”, “personality disorder”, and “unacceptable behaviour” are in fact reasonable expressions of the trauma still painfully held within my body. 

In hindsight, many of these obvious warning signs have been missed since my early childhood. Instead, the people supposed to help made it worse. A trauma-informed approach is what’s missing, and something we are finally beginning to work towards.

Asking “what’s wrong with you?” implies the problem is with you, adding to the overwhelming sense of shame and guilt many people with lived experience of complex trauma already feel. Instead, “what happened to you?”, can begin to validate our experiences compassionately and help us heal. 

The next time you see someone in distress, instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?”, try “what happened to you?”. It might be the first time they’ve ever heard that question.

Originally posted by Eleanor on the @EyesOnTrauma Instagram page on 04/05/2021.

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