The 3 Pieces of a Traumatic Event

Expectations and perceptions are so important. They can lift us up or hold us back, and we’re creating them all the time as we go through life.

I talk to my clients a lot about specific events that have affected their perceptions and expectations of themselves and the world around them. What I see so often is that there are three pieces to any event: there’s what happened, what we tell ourselves happened, and how we talk to ourselves about our story of what happened.

Let’s look at this a little more closely; you may find that you’ve been telling yourself a story about a particular event in your life.

Piece 1: What Happened

The 3 Pieces of a Traumatic EventThis is the specific event. This part is really quite simple: it’s only the facts about what occurred in life with no emotional overlay. For example, let’s say that you ran a marketing campaign to launch a new product for your business. Instead of the 500 sales you were expecting, you only made 250.

That’s it. Simple.

Piece 2: What You Told Yourself Happened

It’s during this second piece that the story begins to build. So, although the only thing that happened is that not as many people purchased the product as you would have liked, now your mind jumps to, “My product didn’t sell as well as I wanted it to because my marketing sucks. Nobody likes what I’m offering! Nobody pays attention to me… it doesn’t matter what I do…

And this thinking can launch you into a downward, disempowering spiral.

Piece 3: How You Talk to Yourself about what Happened

At this point, you may segue into judging yourself for the judgmental thoughts. That usually sounds something like, “I can’t believe I’m beating myself up about this again. I always get into these spirals!”

The shame and guilt that come up aren’t just about the event, but now the feelings are coming up around the way you’re treating yourself as a result of how you’re feeling about the story of the event!

In psychology, this is called metacognition or metathought. It is the thought that you’re thinking about the thought. But often, this process is completely unconscious – it’s just what we do.

Building awareness to this process is the key to getting out of the cycle, because you can’t change what you don’t even know you’re doing. An important aspect of it is not beating yourself up for having beaten yourself up for what happened.

Notice the Little Voice

For many people, these metathoughts may occur as little voices in your head. They may sound like one of your parents or a teacher you used to have or a bully on the playground. In reality, all that’s happening is more and more layers are being added on top of the first event.

Noticing that those little voices are jabbering away is the first step to making a different choice. Then, next time you launch a product, you can say, “Hmm, I wonder if I need to adjust my marketing strategy so I can make more sales.”

Think of it this way: if you make brownies and they taste bitter but you keep making them the same way, they will continue to taste bitter. At some point, you have to look and see what’s going on. Is an ingredient missing? Are the proportions off?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. When you look at the baking process, you may discover that your recipe didn’t have any sugar or sweetener of any kind. This new awareness will give you the option of stopping and saying, “Oh, can I make a different choice here?”

Where in your life do you keep seeing the same frustrating or disempowering results? Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

Comments 2

  1. Sara, Thank you for this. Such clarity about how traumatic events happens. Making it easier for me to be cognizant next time the “stories” start up that I am in charge of what is written in my brain about the event.
    Thank you again!
    Karen Pierce

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