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The question no one wants to ask

Updated: Feb 26

I’d like to share a tool that I consistently use to help people work through trauma in my practice. I will borrow from the framework of EMDR, which is an effective treatment in trauma reprocessing. The first question I ask is what was the worst part of the experience? Why? We have to be able to name certain aspects of the experience in order to sufficiently process it.


The Trauma and the Body

The worst part is usually what triggers the response in the body. The body is a message center, and if there’s any hope in recovering from trauma you are going to have to connect with your body. When we think about the worst part, we will be able to identify some kind of feeling in the body. When we locate that feeling, we have to scale it. So, on a scale of one to ten how overwhelming is the feeling in your body when you think about the worst part? I would say anything over a six is considered “flooded” according to the research conducted by John Gottman. (For more information go to the John Gottman Institute)


What we run from

The worst is also the most difficult to face head on. We avoid, detour, manipulate, blameshift, or distract from the overwhelming feelings associated with the trauma. People go years, decades running from the most intense part of what they lack skills in facing. Most times we simply don’t have the resourcing or distress tolerance to stay in the feeling long enough in order to effectively reprocess it. In other words, we need help from others facing our traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, trauma creates isolation in a relational sense.


So how do you actually do it?

When I ask people what was the worst part, people tend to respond very well actually. In most conversations, we don’t usually ask about the worst part because that might come across as invasive. We focus on helping people to feel better instead helping to bolster them while they confront the painful stuff.


Discipling Relationships

In discipling relationships, we can run out of tools fairly quickly, especially when our aim is to help the person behave differently. Discipleship is about becoming more human not less. Christ is the firstborn of a new humanity that will one day be fully glorified. In many discipling relationships we can unintentionally sanitize the process of spiritual formation. I would even say many discipling relationships have had a tendency to pathologize emotions. One of my favorite scriptures that speaks directly to this issue is Proverbs 17:17:


“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity”.


Our discipling relationships should have a resiliency to them. When sitting with a fellow-Christian who is speaking about their trauma, we can courageously ask “what was the worst part”. In doing so, we allow ourselves a place in their process versus treating them as a person who needs to get over it. When we ask our sister or brother this question it opens endless possibilities that neither you or the other person is likely expecting. You will find that the person will begin to open up about other hurts or wounds as well.


Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out”.


“It much easier to disciple sin when we understand the wound”. I would add that we are most effective when we understand the worst part of their experience.

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