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We all need resources! My goal is to provide a brief discussion of trauma and spirituality.


Two Obstacles to Resolving Trauma

How do we fix trauma?

One of the biggest questions people have who acknowledge their trauma is, how do I fix it? We know we cannot change the past and yet we find ourselves living in it. When we experience trauma, we become desperate for relief at almost any cost. If we have tried different things, we can fall into hopelessness and despair. Does a person ever get over trauma?

A Lack of Understanding

Let’s take the 9/11 attacks in New York for example. It was shown in a research study that those directly affected by the attacks were more likely to have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Response) symptoms after 6 months. Additionally, those who had not been directly affected by the attacks also showed PTSD symptoms. Having an accurate definition of trauma is crucial in being able to heal from an overwhelming experience. The guidelines for how trauma is defined is now including indirect exposure for reasons seen in the study. Someone who wasn’t directly affected may not think they have trauma, however their lives may become hindered, nonetheless. The DSM-5 is the official manual for diagnosing trauma-related disorders however I think WebMD has a simplified version that works well for most people.

WebMD reports the symptoms of PTSD often are grouped into four main categories, including:

  • Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event.

  • Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind them of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.

  • Increased arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being "jumpy" or easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea.

  • Negative cognitions and mood: This refers to thoughts and feelings related to blame, estrangement, and memories of the traumatic event.

It is important that people do not discount the possibility of trauma because they were only indirectly affected.

Complex Trauma

A research study of mostly women, showed that those who had depression before 9/11 were 10 times more likely to have PTSD four years after the attacks. In my clinical practice, I find that people are unaware of how previous life experiences have negatively affected their resilience in overcoming current traumas. Part of why people struggle to heal is because there are previous traumatic experiences that are often undetected.

How can you hit a target you do not have? Trauma plays unfair as it disguises itself throughout our stories. Oftentimes the worst part about trauma is not simply the experience, but right after the trauma. In my clinical work I find the trauma is centered around the lack of triage to the internal emotional injuries experienced during the event and after. In other words, trauma is about what happens next. In previous decades especially, people who disclosed abuse have been shunned, shut down, or ignored. Even to this day, most of us don't get what we need after a traumatic experience.

Complex trauma will be referenced in increasing fashion as research progresses. Complex trauma is essentially when your trauma has trauma! We experience a series of traumatic events and those experiences stack on top of the other. Ultimately, by the time someone comes into my office the traumas are lifelong.

A Plan for the Pain

Again, helping people to accurately define trauma is the first barrier. If we accept the reality of the trauma, it can shatter the world that has been built around us. This is not easy stuff!

There is incredible hope in what God says in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

God has a plan for our pain and yet I know many people are struggling to see the plan. Scripture does not wipe away the process, which is part of the real issue for many people who become Christians.

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