What we believe about repair may be one of the biggest issues in getting to the other side of trauma. What does it mean to repair? We usually think of an ACL surgery or making amends with a person with whom we have conflict. There are countless people who have prayed, read scripture, and participated in counseling or discipling. And yet they find their issues are still unresolved. For starters, we must check our initial assumptions about what repair actually means.
Trauma creates an issue with how things go together in the first place. Trauma gets things to go together that should not go together and takes things that should go together and breaks them apart. Trauma creates associations between two things in a heightened state that become pervasive throughout our lives. Our brains orient our attention towards the trigger and increase arousal in the body. When we see something that reminds us of the trauma, we become reactive. I would highly recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der kolk for anyone who wants to understand how trauma works.
When a person has PTSD, the trigger transports them back to the experience of the trauma as if they were there. Unfortunately, the way trauma pairs things together creates big problems. We would all agree that a red shirt is not a threat in general. However, if a perpetrator wore a red shirt during the traumatic episode, seeing a red shirt could cause a flashback to the moment. It is an overwhelming feeling to be thrown into a flashback by anything related to the trauma.
Repair = Right Pair
Most of us have it partially correct when we think about repair. It is essentially getting something to go back together that has been broken apart. However, if trauma is involved, the things that have been connected are problematic. The bigger challenge can be finding the things that should go together.
What things should go together instead? Truthfully, we need help finding the right associations. For example, the goal for a Christian is not to simply abstain from sex but instead develop a healthy perspective about it. For many people trauma creates an avoidance with the factors that are associated with the experience. There are many sexual survivors who have followed God's plan for marriage yet find themselves avoiding intimacy.
Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Our perspective about things is meant to evolve over time. A person's resilience is related to their ability to renew their mind, however trauma deeply compromises this resilience.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is a modality of therapy that addresses not only the content but also the intensity of how the trauma is stored. In my work with clients, I find that the first step is in naming the Negative Cognition associated with the traumatic experience. See my YouTube channel video of "4 Types of Negative Cognitions" for more information. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEbTto5fAHo&t
Let's say the negative cognition of the traumatic experience is "I am worthless". The positive cognition would be "I have value", but unfortunately saying "I have value" one hundred times doesn't unwire the feeling associated with the experience. This is where EMDR is profoundly helpful. It helps to reprocess how the pairing is connected thereby decreasing the reactivity that a person associates with the experience. Secondly, it assists with reinforcing the positive or adaptive conclusion that should be associated with the person's life in the present.
There are many Christians who are stuck in painful narratives related to the 4 Types of Cognitions. Even if we don't identify with experiencing trauma, naming the negative cognition is tremendously helpful for emotional intelligence. It is also essential in helping fellow Christians who are stuck or distressed.
Many people in churches try and get the same things to go back together and it creates stuckness. If you have been around any length of time, you have or will experience "church-hurts". Many Christians will deduce the way to get un-stuck is to simply go back to the "good old days" of zeal and simplicity. Zeal and simplicity are good, and so is growth and maturity. If a Christian finds themselves stuck in the pain of an experience, we should become curious about what the right association might be.
You are probably asking "how do know if I find the right pairing"? It always involves a both-and. When I work with clients it always involves facing the truth of the trauma then and the truth about reality now. Quite honestly, this is the most challenging part. Holding a both-and is at the core of what the trauma breaks down.
When we get to the other side of the trauma, we reprocess the experience with truth about what happened then and about what's true now.
"I was powerless during the abuse, and yet I have people who support me now"
"I was a victim of abusive mentorship, and yet now I am able to get healthy help"
"I was unfairly bullied, but now I am able to advocate righteously for myself"
"My addiction formed when I had unmet needs, but now I am able to get my needs met"
Biblical Example of Re-pair
One of the best examples of a both-and is Joseph in Genesis 50:19-20 when Joseph reassures his brothers who had severely traumatized him. I plan on writing more about Joseph as a model of trauma resilience. If we work to develop a both-and about what else was true during the trauma, we tend to get to the other side of it. In order to develop a both-and regarding the trauma, we will usually need counseling and discipling from others who understand trauma.