Join us for Sunday service at 10:00 a.m. at 629 Middle Country Rd in Middle Island, NY.
This is a link to the prayer that was prayed on Ash Wednesday. See below as well.
“Trauma is the response to any event that shatters your safe world so that it is no longer a place of refuge. Trauma is an event that we should never have to experience.”
As we proceed now as the people of God during this Lenten Season, the days leading up to our celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, we think of the trauma everyone in the Easter story endured.
The above is a quote from the book by H. Norman Wright entitled, “Recovering From Losses in Life.” This book is partly the reason we as Pastors decided to spend this Lenten Season seeking God to bring healing into the lives of so many of us that have been touched by traumas of all kinds. We will continue to discuss and have prayer this Lenten Season for this topic.
Perhaps you never thought to use that word in reference to your own experience. Or, because you compared your experience with the pain you saw others endure, you minimized your own. In any event, as our brother stated above, we were never intended to experience many of the things that affect us in this fallen world.
As you continue to read Norman’s observations about trauma, please do not consider that because you did not experience an event quite as debilitating as some he describes, your story is undeserving of the word. Trauma comes in many forms and today there is much research attesting to this. Yes, there are so many ways in which we are touched by our just living in this fallen world. Unfortunately, enduring traumatic events is one of the most devastating.
“The word trauma comes from a Greek word that means “wound.” It’s a condition characterized by the phrase, “I just can’t seem to get over it.”
What we used to see as a safe world is no longer safe. What we used to see as a predictable world is no longer predictable.
If you are like most people, you overestimate the likelihood that your life is going to be relatively free from major crises or traumas and you underestimate the possibility of negative events happening to you. We never dreamed that some things that happen to us were ever going to happen. Perhaps that’s why we’re so devastated when they do.
If you’ve been living with a feeling of invulnerability—the “It can’t happen to me” mentality—not only will trauma wound you and destroy this belief, it will fill your life with fear. Invulnerability is an illusion.
You can experience a loss and not end up traumatized. There are also people walking around today who think and feel that the state of trauma they’re in is just the way life is meant to be lived. But it’s not. Even if you’re not a traumatized person, someone you know may be. What you understand about trauma could enable you to be a healing, supportive element in that person’s life.
Perhaps not as obvious is the emotional wounding of trauma. Your psyche can be so assaulted that your beliefs about yourself, your life, your will to grow, your spirit, your dignity, and your sense of security are damaged. Feeling helpless is the result. To some degree you can experience loss and still bounce back. In trauma you have difficulty bouncing back, because you feel re-realization (Is this really happening?) and depersonalization (I don’t know what I really stand for anymore). Trauma is indescribable.
As the result of trauma, something happens in your brain that affects the way you process information. It affects how you interpret and store the event you experienced. In effect it overrides your alarm system. Trauma has the power to disrupt how you process information. When you can’t handle the stress, you activate your survival techniques. Most of us aren’t aware of what happens to our brain. There’s an alarm portion of the brain. It controls our behavior. For example, it sees a large person and feels, He’s going to hurt me. On no! But another part of the brain is analytical and calms down the emotional part of the brain. It analyzes things and puts things in perspective—No, just because he’s a large person doesn’t mean he’ll hurt me. He’s large and eats a lot. That’s normal.
Trauma, however, makes us hypersensitive. The brain overreacts. It seems to get stuck like a car alarm. It’s as though the left side of the brain (the thinking side) and the right side (the emotional side) are disconnected from one another. Usually our body, emotions, and thoughts are all connected. They work in harmony together. Trauma separates the two sides of the brain from one another. It splits them up. You may have vivid graphic thoughts about what happened but no emotion. Or you could experience intense emotions but without the thoughts or actual memories. As one man said, “I feel like my brain was disrupted and one part is transmitting the AM and the other the FM.
Sometimes there are holes in my memory like a slice was taken out. Other times I can’t get those intrusive unwanted memories to stop. I want them evicted! I can’t remember what I want to remember and I can’t forget what I want erased.” This struggle is shared by many. Are some people more susceptible to being traumatized than others? If I’m emotionally healthy, if I came from a “healthy home,” if I’m a strong Christian, will I be immune to PTSD? We’re all susceptible to trauma; we’re all at risk. Your previous mental stability, race, gender, level of education, previous emotional disorders, or lack of emotional disorders seem to make no difference, although your ability to handle life’s ordinary stresses and your personally developed coping skills can help. But trauma overwhelms all of us.
What does make a difference, more than anything else, is the intensity and degree of stress. If you end up traumatized, it’s not because of a defect in you. Your reactions are normal in response to an abnormal event. Your personality doesn’t alter the outcome of experiencing trauma, but trauma does impact your personality.
Any situation in which you feel that you or another family member could be killed or hurt may cause you trauma.
And keep in mind that sometimes what is traumatic to one person may not be to another. Trauma has many effects. It changes our grief response. It also shatters our beliefs and assumptions about life, challenges our assurance that we have the ability to handle life, and tears apart our understanding that the world is a just and orderly place to live. Trauma leads to silence: “I don’t have the words to describe it.” Trauma leads to isolation: “No one seems to understand or enters into the experience I had.” Trauma leads to feelings of hopelessness: “There was no way to stop what happened or the memories of what happened.”
Robert Hicks, in his book, Failure to Scream, wrote: When trauma hits, our rationality becomes a curse. We are not like an animal that, after sniffing a dead carcass, can walk off with no apparent feelings of remorse, anger or regret. Humans are more complex. We are Homo sapiens (Latin for “thinking man”). We think about our tragedy, and our thinking can drive us crazy. The replay of the event, the flashbacks, even the smells, bring up reminders of the trauma. As rational beings we seek the rationale in the trauma. When none is found, the traumatic blow is heightened. The meaninglessness of the event can drive one into despair, compulsive activities, or addictive relationships, which are all possible quick fixes for the pain. All of these feelings illustrate the depth to which our rationality has been attacked and how shattered our world has become.
We all want a reason for what happens to us. We want to know why, so that we can once again have a sense of order and predictability about life. But sometimes we must live our lives with unanswered questions. If you believe in a morality that says that right will always prevail and so will justice, what do you do when traumatic events that seem unfair creep into your life? What do you do when you expect the good guys to always win and the bad guys to always lose, and it doesn’t turn out that way? You won’t be the first or the last to cry out against injustice. Listen to Job: “If I cry out concerning wrong, I am not heard. If I cry aloud, there is no justice” (Job 19: 7 NKJV). We want answers, we expect answers, we plead for answers, but sometimes heaven remains silent. That’s when our faith undergoes a crisis in addition to whatever else is impacting us.
Reminders, or triggers, can include the anniversary of the event. As the date draws near, the intensity of the actual trauma can intensify. Holidays and other family events can create strong emotional responses. It’s possible for a traumatized person to be set off by something he or she sees, hears, smells, or tastes. In the case of abuse, a confrontation with the abuser may bring back emotional or physical reactions associated with the abuse.
In a flashback it’s as though you leave the present and travel back in time to the original event. It seems so real. You see it, hear it, and smell it. Sometimes a person begins to react as if he or she were there. Often a person is hesitant to admit this to others for fear of their reaction. A flashback is like a cry of something that needs to come out and does so in the only way it knows how. When survivors can talk about the trauma, write about it, and bring it to God in a very honest and real way through worship, there isn’t as great a need for this memory to be so intrusive in nightmares, images, or flashbacks. Sometimes a person reexperiences trauma not through memories or images but through painful and angry feelings that seem to come out of nowhere. These feelings occur because they were repressed at an earlier time. Now the emotions are simply crying out for release.
Another way people reexperience trauma is through numbing and avoidance. It’s painful to reexperience trauma. For some, it’s agonizing. They want it to go away and disappear forever, but it doesn’t. And so the body and the mind take over to protect against the pain. The defense system kicks into gear to help the person adjust. This is emotional numbing. When numbing occurs, it can create a diminished interest in all areas of life. You could feel detached from others around you, even the ones you love the most. Often there is no emotional expression because you’ve shut down everything. You tend to reduce your involvement with life. When you reexperience trauma, sometimes you end up feeling some of the emotion you didn’t experience at the time of the event because of the numbing that took place. Now when feelings of rage, anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, or sadness emerge, you wonder, ‘Where did these come from? They hurt! I don’t want them!’ You shut down again so you won’t feel as if you’re going through a series of out-of-control mood swings. And then you begin to avoid situations you feel may trigger this condition. You retreat from other people, from family, and even from life. You do this mentally, socially, physically, and often spiritually. You find yourself staying away from places where the occurred. If a person was robbed in a restaurant, he or she may avoid restaurants. People who have experienced trauma have their own set of triggers that can activate the memories of what they experienced. The effort to avoid these situations can make a person a prisoner as well as create difficulty in interpersonal relationships.
Another characteristic of trauma involves a person’s increased alertness, usually referred to as hyperalertness or hyperarousal. The strong emotions you experience—fear, anxiety, anger—affect your body, particularly your adrenaline output. When people say they are pumped up, it’s usually because of an adrenaline rush that puts the body into a state of hyperalertness. Adrenaline increases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, bloodsugar level, and pupil dilation. Because the blood flow decreases to your arms and legs and increases to your trunk and head, you can think and move better. There’s a name for this condition; it’s called the “fight or flight” reaction. The fight occurs because of the increase of adrenaline. But if the adrenaline pumps in even more, you end up in the freeze response. You end up moving and thinking in slow motion. Everything seems to have shut down. This condition is often evidenced by symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, periods of irritability for unknown reasons, difficulty concentrating, anxiety over crowds, and being easily startled.
During a traumatic event, when your heart begins to race, breathing is difficult, and muscles tighten. You may label these responses as catastrophic! Some, in their attempt to make sense of what is happening to them, mislabel their bodily responses. They say, “I’m going crazy”; “I’m going to collapse”; “I’m going to have a heart attack”; “I’m dying.” Some never correct the way they label these bodily responses. So anytime their heart pounds or it’s hard to breathe, they misinterpret what is happening and end up with a panic attack. 15 Sometimes emotions—like fear—feel as though a dam has collapsed and the raging waters are totally out of control. I work with many people who are paralyzed by fear. Sometimes they fear making a decision, gaining another’s disapproval, or taking a stand. They may fear that other people don’t like them. And even worse, they fear breaking out of this pattern they are trapped in. Others are paralyzed in other ways by their trauma. Physical paralysis is a terrible thing. To be locked up, immobilized, so that your body can’t function and respond to the messages of your mind, is frustrating. But it is even more frustrating when the paralysis is the limitation or immobilization of the mind.
Many who have been traumatized feel the same way. The intensity and duration of their symptoms seem to close any door to the hope of recovery. This chapter on trauma is basic. It’s overly simplified. The information is meant to alert you to the fact that trauma exists and is perhaps closer to you than you realize. If you identify yourself as one of those experiencing any degree of PTSD, or you know someone who fits the characteristics, remember this: There is another side to trauma. The current research on those traumatized indicates the majority of victims say they eventually benefited from the trauma in some way. And these are people who experienced as much pain as those who didn’t fully recover. How did they benefit? There was a change of values, a greater appreciation for life, a deepening of spiritual beliefs, a feeling of greater strength and appreciation and building relationships. The most important element in recovering is to remain connected to other people.
There are three stages in trauma recovery—the thought stage, the emotional stage, and the mastery stage. The thought stage is when you fully face your trauma, remembering it, and even reconstructing it mentally. This isn’t a matter of dwelling in the past but of taking fragmented and disconnected memories and pulling them together so that you can make sense of the present. Sometimes this stage involves talking with others, re-creating the scene, or reading any written accounts of it. When this is accomplished, you will be able to view what happened from a new perspective—an objective view rather than a judgmental view. In the thought stage you need to look at what happened to you as a detached observer (even though it may be difficult) rather than as an emotionally involved participant. If you’re able to work through this, you’ll acquire a new assessment of what your actual choices were during your traumatic experience. You’ll have a better understanding of how the event has impacted the totality of your life and be able to reduce the self-blame that most of us experience. Finally, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of who or what you are angry at. This stage deals with the mental area, but healing and recovery must also involve the emotional.
This second stage will necessitate facing any of the feelings you may have repressed because of the trauma. It is important to experience these emotions at the gut level. This can be difficult, because many have a fear of feeling in this manner, as well as hurting even worse and losing control. You don’t have to act on the feelings, nor will they take over your life. But you do need to face them. These emotions could include anything from anger to anxiety to grief to fear to sadness—the list goes on and on.
The final stage is the mastery stage. This is when you find new meaning through what you have experienced and develop a survivor perspective, rather than continue to see yourself as a victim. A person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ and a biblical worldview has the greatest potential to become a healthy survivor.
This chapter on trauma is basic. It’s overly simplified. The information is meant to alert you to the fact that trauma exists and is perhaps closer to you than you realize. If you identify yourself as one of those experiencing any degree of PTSD, or you know someone who fits the characteristics, remember this: There is another side to trauma.
The current research on those traumatized indicates the majority of victims say they eventually benefited from the trauma in some way. And these are people who experienced as much pain as those who didn’t fully recover. How did they benefit? There was a change of values, a greater appreciation for life, a deepening of spiritual beliefs, a feeling of greater strength and appreciation and building relationships. The most important element in recovering is to remain connected to other people.
1. Being traumatized is not incurable; recovery is possible, but it is a slow process.
2. You will need to work with a professional, someone who is equipped to assist those experiencing trauma. This could include a highly trained minister, chaplain, or therapist.
3. You can promote healing through understanding. The more you learn about trauma, the more you will feel in control of your life.
Aphrodite Matsakis, author of I Can’t Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors, has done extensive research work with those suffering from PTSD. She takes a very positive approach to the healing process. For healing to occur she says you need to stop seeing yourself as a person who is diseased or deficient. It isn’t you as a person who is abnormal because of your trauma symptoms, rather the event or events that you experienced are abnormal.
Mastering the trauma involves making your own decisions instead of allowing experiences, memories, or other people to make decisions for you. This is a time of growth, change, and new direction in your life. What you learn through a trauma you probably could not have learned any other way. Look at what Scripture says about this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.”
God IS WITH US saints to heal us, restore us, and allow our wounds to bring understanding and help to others who need our Jesus and our embrace!
God Bless you, Pastors