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  • Writer's pictureHeatherCelestePhD


I worry about the words I use and how I use them. I worry I’m not going to use the right ones, or use them the wrong way. I worry a misspelling will get by me, I worry I’m going to accidentally plagiarize someone else’s words, I worry I’m going to offend or hurt someone by using a word that has a meaning I’m unaware of. Words can have such different meanings to different people personally, culturally, regionally, and linguistically.

James Hillman, in his book Re-visioning Psychology, talked about words having bits of our souls in them, that to give meaning to words and to transfer that meaning to others we have to infuse them with bits of ourselves, our images of what they mean to us, our beliefs in them.

In my lifetime words I grew up using I no longer use, their meanings changed for me when I became aware of their origins and/or their effects on others. It feels like in today’s world words can change their meaning so fast. It makes sense, with innumerable words being flung around at incomprehensible speeds on the internet these days. In a single social media thread you can have people using words from all over the planet at the same time.

Another aspect of my concern about words is that I am, at 54 years of age, still trying to find my voice. Academia has been both a help and a hindrance. It’s helped expand my knowledge base, broadened my thinking, and given pause to my automatic responses to new information. But it has also dulled my bravery in speaking my own mind, always feeling I can’t say anything without providing peer reviewed references, and always aware that so much has already been said, it’s hard to imagine I have anything to add that someone hasn’t said before.

An immediate personal point of this wordy musing is that I want to talk about and work with people, particularly nurses and other healthcare workers, concerning their trauma, but the word trauma feels tricky to me. I’m thinking if it feels tricky to me it might to others also. For me, even though I’ve been doing trauma work for…I guess I would say since I started my graduate program in 2013, that seems to be the time I really began to explore trauma from a psychological lens, so 10 years now and I still have not been able to hear or read the word trauma without literal emergency department trauma scenes (memories) flashing through my mind. This continues to have the effect for me of my mind downplaying my personal trauma, whatever that might be it’s not a gunshot wound to the chest - that’s “real” trauma!

The word trauma is being used more and more prevalently as our definition of trauma expands, research is done that exposes its far reaching effects, and in general the wounding many past and present societal norms cause is brought (dragged) into consciousness. The other day I was wondering about my reluctance to do something and a light bulb went on for me, “Oh! That’s a trauma response!” Even though I could identify it as such and knew it was accurate, it still sounded too much for me, too dramatic is what my critical mind told me. I started thinking what is a trauma response? Well, my understanding is it’s my mind’s way of recruiting my body into protecting me from something that was in the past traumatic, something it thinks is happening again or could happen again. So it’s a protective response. Protective response felt so much better to me than trauma response. So can I just start saying protective response instead of trauma response? I know, by how the words feel in my body, that I am going to respond differently, so I think I can.

And I think that is the key for me. I have to use words as I feel and experience them. I have to choose words by how they feel in my body, and be willing to change my words as their meanings change for me. Most importantly I have to take into consideration how the words I choose feel to those I am working with, and be willing to use words that resonate with them in their moment of understanding.

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Feb 16, 2023

Heather, I so enjoy your writing, your thoughts, thank you for sharing them. i have wearied of the umbrella of the word trauma and instantly changed to using 'protective response.' I am not careful with my words and admire those who are, i appreciate the redirection. LOVE


Feb 14, 2023

I noticed that I had a surprisingly strong protective response- I like that reframe, too- to seeing your word cloud in your blog today. it reminded me of the many clustered facets and reaches of trauma (and healing). And it also brought back vivid memories of writing my dissertation, which may be the last time I looked at word clouds. So interesting the bodily response to words...


Gary Glickman
Gary Glickman
Feb 14, 2023

I'm going to experiment with "protective response" as well. It's broader than the "T" word, in that PR might be a useful or a non-useful (obsolete) choice, even if both are meant to protect. Still, it does that magic you mention of avoiding an over-used term, and one that can be itself triggering. thanks!

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