What is Trauma and How Do We Heal It?

More and more people are experiencing some level of trauma through recent events. The sudden losses that come from hurricanes, lock-downs, loss of jobs/wages, and lack of access to high-integrity health care are just some of the recent situations that are creating trauma responses in people. It grieves my heart to hear of all the suicides that have occurred over some of these losses (and other types of losses not mentioned above).

I want to begin a series about trauma, what it is and how to begin to heal it. I will be attempting to deal with this subject from a Biblical perspective so that we can see what God has to say about healing. In addition, I will be bringing some of my experience as a therapist who "accidentally" specialized in trauma work after realizing pretty much everyone I saw had unresolved trauma of some sort.

Let's start with a brief definition of "trauma". The term "trauma" comes from the Greek word meaning "wound", and in its most general sense, it can be defined as any unhealed wound of a physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or spiritual nature. Just like physical wounds, other types of trauma can be experienced in various degrees and levels of intensity. If left unhealed or unprocessed, problems can result that impair an individual's lifestyle or way of being in the world.

Most of us have heard the term "PTSD" as one of the most common trauma-related diagnoses, but other clinical diagnoses such as adjustment disorders, reactive attachment disorder, personality disorders, and addictions, can all have a root in in unhealed trauma. Brain research has also shown that some people actually possess genetic predispositions to being more intensely effected by traumatic events than others.

When a person goes through a traumatic event, physical reactions occur rapidly inside the brain and body. The fight, flight, or freeze reactions can occur creating different chemical cascades in the body and mind that allow you to focus on survival.

It is interesting to note that your body will put all it's energy and resources into surviving the traumatic situation which means your heart rate speeds up, your vision becomes more narrow (peripheral vision is lost), your breathing speeds up, digestion stops, and your limbs tremble as your body is prepared to fight or to flee. Your body can stay in the fight or flight mode for 20-60 minutes after the threat is gone.

When we go through a threatening situation of any kind, we are experiencing some of these fight or flight responses. Our brain can record this event with a high degree of memory, little degree of memory, or it can file it away as a repressed memory (depends on several factors). The important thing for us to know here is that in order to avoid long-term negative effects, we must learn how to get our body and mind out of the trauma loop.

There are many ways to work on healing trauma and it can be fairly complicated but I want to wrap up this newsletter with a couple of tips to help us avoid creating long-term challenges from unresolved trauma.

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you experienced something traumatic (it doesn't have to actually be life threatening). Some examples of traumatic events are as follows: automobile accident, an injury of any kind, a loss of a loved one, physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, or spiritual abuse, being shamed in public, being bullied, loss of a job, loss of a way of life, being betrayed, injuring or hurting someone else.

The important aspect of acknowledging the traumatic event(s) is reminding yourself that God knows and cares deeply. God will listen to you as you tell Him about it and pour out your heart to Him. You can ask God to help you find an emotionally intelligent person who will be able to listen to your story so that you can begin to process what happened. Processing what happened with God and with a compassionate human being is a very good first step to healing a trauma.

  1. Create a good support system and focus on "safety" before charging ahead with other trauma-healing measures. Find a support group, a compassionate person who will listen with empathy and care, make sure you have physical safety by leaving an unsafe home where abuse continues. Create emotional safety so that your system can begin to be calmed by avoiding verbally or psychologically abusive relationships. Until you have had time to heal, avoid people or "friends" who constantly put you down or dictate how you live, who you can see or who you cannot see. If it is a spouse that is abusive, try to get some separation until you can get a little stronger.

In addition to the above, I would like to suggest trying to find believers in Jesus Christ who have an authentic relationship with God. They can listen to you, love on you, help you with prayer and appropriate Scriptures that will bolster and strengthen you when you are ready. When you have fellowship with other believers who love Jesus with all their hearts, they can be part of the solution. I would avoid people who are too quick to give advice and who try to make you feel guilty or shamed.

Where there is a true relationship with Jesus, there is no need for shame. Jesus provides us with unconditional love and tenderness when we are hurting. He provides us with the most loving truths that help us to see things as they truly are, which can help us overcome effects of trauma that are related to the lies we believe after a traumatic event.

I'll continue with these healing steps in the next newsletter as this one is getting long. I want to leave you with a couple of Scriptures that relate to all of this.

Lamentations 3:21-23 says, "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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