First, What Is Trauma?
Trauma is any experience that overwhelms your thoughts, emotions, or body.
We may assume that trauma is a result of a life-threatening situation (i.e. a car accident or experiencing an assault). These events can certainly be traumatizing and have come to be referred to as capital ‘T’ trauma. We can also experience what is referred to as small ‘t’ trauma, where we are experiencing things that are out of control and overwhelming our coping capacities. Both types of trauma can have a tremendous impact on us.
We know that trauma lives in the body, it changes the way we think, feel, and experience life on a daily basis. So regardless of how long ago were the actual traumatic events, our nervous system is not aware of the passage of time. When we find ourselves in circumstances that trigger those feelings of being overwhelmed or unable to cope, our body responds as if we are still living in the traumatic event itself.
Our definition for spiritual trauma then is trauma as a result of events that threaten and damage our core spiritual values and goals. It can happen when someone uses God’s authority to manipulate or control you, often for their own gain. It can also happen just because those that lead you are not trauma aware. It’s common to feel abandoned, followed by a loss of trust – both in the systems we relied on to nourish us and in ourselves for falling victim to the abuse or manipulation. This can leave us feeling unmoored, unanchored, and lonely in the world.
Trauma alters our biological stress response system …
You can’t out think it!
The Healing Process.
There are many things we coach people through as they begin to identify and heal from spiritual trauma. Some key topics to address are forgiveness, finding your voice, the development of boundaries, and putting shame into it’s place. Here we want to offer you three of the first steps to guide you on your journey.
1. Face what happened to you: We must face our disappointment, rejection, fear, or anger. We may have to face the fact that we were duped, manipulated, or taken advantage of. One of our favorite sayings is by Fred Rogers, who said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”
2. Grieve what happened in you: You may have lost relationships, your church community, or your connection to God. There is a process by which you must travel to release your biological response system from the triggers, the hesitations and resistance, from the anxiety, depression or loneliness that you feel. It’s okay to grieve what you lost or the lack of caring you did not receive. This process of tears, where you feel the futility of what you cannot change is very vulnerable to enter into, but essential for your healing.
3. Heal from what didn’t happen: Just as a cut heals from the inside out, so does the healing of your soul. Depending on how early in your life the trauma occurred, there are emotional capacities that may need to develop or at least be reestablished. You may have limitations to what you can do at this moment, and this process can be slow and filled with setbacks. However even the setbacks are opportunities to grow. Just like in physical therapy, we may need some assistance in life until our emotional capacity has had a chance to heal and grow.
These three steps are intentionally placed in this order: face it, grieve it, and heal it, because all too often we want to jump to the last step – because it seems godly. It’s an admirable goal. But the truth is we can’t skip a needed surgery and expect to heal, we must have the feeling and the grieving so as the defenses no longer impede the healing.
All of these 3 steps require us to have a very strong supporting cast – people in our lives who invite us in, even with all our messiness. As necessary, professional support to assist these processes.
A supporting cast promotes healing by adopting practices such as:
- Prioritizing the importance of safety
- Affirming our God-given agency
- Focusing on validating dignity rather than trying to “fix” someone in pain
- Giving survivors agency over when and to whom to open up to and tell their story.
- Offering an invitation for feelings of futility and the expressing negative emotions rather than suppressing them (emotions such as anger, betrayal, grief, confusion are all normal in the wake of abuse)
- Avoiding spiritual platitudes to minimize or move on quick from pain
- Avoiding any form of minimizing abuse or blaming victims
- Encouraging the setting of boundaries
Perhaps you are just starting to see the trauma within you and you need someone to help you begin to make sense of it all. Maybe the tears are stuck and you are uncertain how to move forward. Maybe you would like to learn more about this healing processes, what to look for when building a supporting cast, or perhaps you are wondering what are some of the emotional capacities that are foundational for our healing.
As peer support, we are happy to support you during your time of healing and growth. We are here to listen as you process where you are at and help you build your supporting cast. We also have various tools and insights we have learned along the way, that we are happy to share and walk with you through.
Our trauma support calls are supported by various church and para-church organizations, so we can offer this service for FREE. We normally use zoom to connect, and once you register you will be given the link. Book a call with Kent or Jen (or both of us for couples).