Don’t Call Me Broken: A Personal Reflection on Trauma and Words

Tanya Winje, FCNI Supervisor
December, 18, 2019

I get irritated when I hear the word "broken" used to describe kids and families who are struggling. Although I hear it less often than I once did--hopefully this indicates that people are becoming more informed--I still hear it used to describe individuals in our world who have behavioral challenges, difficulty coping, poor family dynamics, troubles in their relationships with others, and/or are just suffering with their overall life functions.

When I hear the word “broken” used to describe a person or family, I get a sinking feeling they can be discarded, dismissed, or that they are beyond hope. The other thought I have is that if a person or family is “broken,” they obviously need “fixed.” And this phrase makes me cringe. Yikes! Do we need to “fix” a person? The short answer is no. 

I think of individuals and families who have functional problems as “wounded with the capacity to heal.” Unhealed wounds can impact a person deeply, and manifest in ways that are maladaptive, painful and just plain challenging for the individual and for those who love and care for them. Often these wounds stem from traumatic experiences which create brain changes and stressors on the body and can have lasting impacts on a person’s health and social wellbeing.

If you are not familiar with the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) screening, I encourage you to read more about it or even take an assessment for yourself (just Google ACEs). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention describes Adverse Childhood Experiences as “Potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years) such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home, and; having a family member attempt or die by suicide. Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding such as growing up in a household with substance misuse, mental health problems, or instability due to parental separation or incarceration of a parent, sibling, or other member of the household.” 

As someone who scores a 9 out of 10 on this screening tool, I might have been labeled as “broken” by service providers and/or my friends and family. Thankfully, I have been able to turn the “lemons” given to me in my life into “lemonade”, if you will. By taking my life experiences and using them as fuel to power my personal life mission to end suffering, promote prevention and help others to heal in the small atmosphere I orbit. I know hurt. I know pain. I also know that these nine areas of trauma that I have been been touched by don’t define my destiny--I am not bound to be “wounded” for the rest of my life. The mantra I’ve chosen to adopt is, “Trauma Is Not My Fault, But Healing Is My Responsibility”- Unknown

I feel strongly that we need to be honoring of the individuals who have experienced trauma, and provide hope in their healing of the wounds that they carry. These wounds can manifest in ways that impact them personally, can impact their families, and even the community at large. To help others heal, we must be inclusive of them, we should aim to delight in them and believe in them, and provide them ways in which they feel safe and want to engage.  I believe that these people are warriors--the “underdogs,” the “adaptors,” the “overcomers” and, God willing, the “thrivers.”  And there is nothing “broken” about them.