Is the term "trauma" too widely used?

In today’s paper, speaking about the Smith/Rock slap, Wanda Sykes is reported as saying, “I physically felt ill, and I’m still a little traumatized by it.” In the same article, Amy Schumer is quoted as having said she was “triggered and traumatized by it.”

Does anyone else feel that people are overly using forms of the word “trauma” to describe less profound emotions/feelings/reactions?

I am not denying that PTSD CAN be a legitimate condition, and pets CAN make people feel better. But I think the current usage of the term “trauma” and claims of experiencing PTSD as a result of relatively minor experiences is troublesome and undesirable.

Quick APA def for reference:

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an addict, rape, or natural disaster.

There’s no clear, bright line for what events are or are not “terrible,” so there is no clear line for what is or is not “trauma.”

Without knowing Ms. Sykes or Ms. Schumer’s feelings or experiences, I can’t judge whether what they experienced deserved the term “traumatized.”

Hard to say in general, but in the context of the Smith / Rock spectacle, I’d say traumatized is a little dramatic. It was ugly to see and it made me a little sick(ish) but I wouldn’t classify that as trauma.
Chris Rock can certainly use the term in this case. Even Will and Jada could (though I hold them responsible and don’t really give a fat rat’s ass how they feel) but not just someone who witnessed it.

Yes, I think the term is overused. Just like “mental anguish” is.

If you were a past victim of violent assault, don’t you think it’s possible to feel trauma from an event like this? I don’t know if Sykes or Schumer are victims, so I’m not going to question their reaction to it.

In my opinion, the thing that is “too widely used” is people taking their own circumstances and figuring those should apply to everyone else.

A friend of mine grew up with an extremely violent and unpredictable father, and now in his forties he’s still pretty fucked up by the experiences. He wrote that watching the slap had really uncomfortable connotations for him. I believe him.

Another…acquaintance who loves to get on a soapbox about how violence in entertainment is immoral mentioned seeing Clockwork Orange when it came out in the theatre. This 70-year-old woman said, with a smug/wry grin, “I still have PTSD over that movie!” I don’t believe her.


Not that you would / should know it but I am a victim of a pretty violent assault. FAR more violent than this.

Certainly I can’t know how either of them felt and I’m not saying how they should feel ; just that in my opinion using the word trauma is overdoing it.

First, I apologize that I personalized this. I meant the generic “you”, but that was not clear, particularly since my post was responding to you.

I’m unsure about the rest of your response. It sounds like in your case, using the word “trauma” for your reaction would be excessive. Is your opinion that it is overdoing it for you, or is it also overdoing it for Schumer and Sykes? I’m trying to reconcile your statement that you don’t know how they feel or should feel, with an opinion that “trauma” is an overreaction.

No apology necessary (but thank you). I probably should not have brought my experience into it; I guess I was reacting to what you said (which is a perfectly cromulent question).

I guess I’m trying to say that inside the head of WOOKINPANUB, the concept of trauma is something quite a bit darker than what I can imagine feeling after this incident. At the same time, I do not want to presume how Wanda and Amy feel about it. That’s probably not any clearer, I apologize. I’mma shut up now :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth:

I can understand Wanda Sykes as an example, feeling traumatized. She is a performer and often alone onstage, it can certainly be traumatizing in her position to see a previously admired and respected audience member walk up onto the stage and strike a performer like herself with no intervention by security or anyone else before, during, and after the event, apparently all because of a joke. She probably did not consider that to be a realistic threat previously but now it will weigh on her life, adding a level of anxiety that she shouldn’t have to deal with. It’s certainly less trauma than if she had been the victim of Smith’s violent outburst herself but she is not a complete outsider witnessing this event. She has been in the same position as Chris Rock in the past, and presumably will be in the future, a future where the chance of being attacked like that seems much greater than before.

This is an extreme example of what I perceive. I regularly see folk complaining of PTSD over the death of a pet, or other unfortunate/sad/upsetting events. I perceive people using terms like trauma which exaggerate the impact of an event, and make the event about THEM - exaggerating how they personally were affected.

In some (pretty attenuated) ways, it reminds me of when something horrible happens - say a shooting in a store in another city - and so many people want to explain how THEY have relatives in that city, or some other personal connection.

And terms like trauma and triggering (IMO) portray people as more sensitive and more easily harmed than most people are.

And I’m waiting to hear CR say how HE was traumatized. I doubt he was (tho time will tell.). But these other fragile flowers claim THEY were. As tho it is about them.

I don’t understand how these two statements relate to each other. In your opinion using the word trauma is overdoing it, even though you can’t know how either of them felt. Are you saying that the word trauma should, in your opinion, only be used by people whose past experience publicly and obviously justifies the term?

I’m really not trying to grind on this point, but for me, if someone I don’t know says they have or had trauma, I’m going to at least suspend judgment pending further input, or else just give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that’s what they feel.

Of course there are people, some of whom I know personally, who over-dramatize their own difficulties for lulz or whatever they get out of it, but such people have always existed, and I don’t think that’s a great reason for denigrating the general use of the terms du jour that they are gratuitously applying to themselves.

Witnessing an event can certainly call up very unpleasant memories (this one did for me), making one re-visit those ugly emotions from that time. That is about the witness, and it doesn’t make them a fragile flower trying to grab some of the spotlight.

You are conflating two separate things: exaggerating the personal impact of an event, and centering themselves in the event. After this post, I’m not really sure which one you’re complaining about.

Sure, some people exaggerate. But your standard for when other people should feel trauma holds no water. I believe you when you say that you wouldn’t feel traumatized by something. I give no weight to your opinion about when other people should be traumatized, when you have no knowledge of their circumstances.

As for people who explain why something affected them personally, that can be really annoying if it’s done at the expense of the victim. I’m right there with you in criticizing the person who complains that the suicidal person on the overpass caused them to be late to their hair appointment.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Schumer and Sykes are trying to point out that this event is a big deal, despite everyone trying to downplay it as “just a little slap” or “Rock deserved it.” By talking about their experience and reaction, they are saying this is a bigger thing that affects many people besides Rock. As Roderick_Femm says, they aren’t trying to grab the spotlight.

Charlize Theron was hit twice by Smith (goofing on the set of Bagger Vance while Smith was also prepping for Ali, and while making Hancock), and she knows real trauma from being present at her mother’s killing of her father in self defense. He opinion would be of value.


Very few people these days witness any sort of violence, dirtiness, or sickness that used to be utterly commonplace for everybody hundreds of years ago. Even language–the choice of words–used to be far rougher and sterner hundreds of years ago. Learned, educated people who wrote the equivalent of “position papers” wrote in such a way that would shock a lot of people today. When the butchering of one’s own animals was commonplace; when you had no idea if a simple scratch would heal ok, or if it would kill you through infection; when the richest and most beautiful cities had piles of animal dung all over the streets; even the most intelligent and educated people necessarily had a different outlook on life.

People like Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer genuinely have no idea how sheltered and coddled they are by society and civilization. Thus, they wildly over-react to very low-level, minor things like a simple slap. They are so extremely ignorant of the human condition, that they think it’s somehow a major issue.