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Not a Life Sentence – Transforming Trauma with Treatment

By Ann Horton, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC

In the introduction to his book Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine writes: “… trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. Not only can trauma be healed but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative.”

Our Childhood Experiences Shape Our Lives

ANNLHO-6151466225_389089da22_bWe are all the sum of our experiences, as well as of the memories of those experiences. If we are lucky enough to have been born into a loving and nurturing family, we probably have a treasure trove of pleasant memories. If we were not so lucky, or were born to abusive or addicted parents, our memories are far less pleasant. And even in idyllic childhoods, there may have been frightening or disturbing experiences that have stuck in our memories and have colored our world view, or our opinion of ourselves. Childhood humiliations and misunderstandings can lead to lingering disappointment and all of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives.

If we grew up in an abusive family, we most likely suffered physical, mental, and/or emotional pain at the hands of family members, and those memories tend to define our relationships throughout life. We may have been sexually abused or physically assaulted. We may have been neglected as a child—and when we reached out, there was no one there to help.

What is Trauma and How Do We Deal with It?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines trauma as “an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person, often leading to neurosis.”

How we handle trauma is different for everyone. We have all experienced events that have left us shaken. Sometimes, just by talking with others and dreaming about the event can enable us to put it behind us and move on. The incidents become something we remember, but without feeling threatened or fearful. While it was scary at the time, we have made sense of it and so it no longer has power in our memory. Narrowly avoiding a car accident, losing a job, an unexpected breakup, the end of a marriage, or a humiliation on the job can be traumatic—but not necessarily life threatening. This is sometimes called a “small T” trauma.

When Trauma Controls Our Lives

However, some traumatic events result in actual or imagined outcomes that are not processed in a healthy way. We keep thinking about the incident, reliving it over and over in our minds. We blame ourselves, and feel guilty because we could not prevent it from happening. Or maybe we think that it was our fault, and the feeling of blame for what happened, or our helplessness at being unable to stop it, takes its toll. We look at it from all angles and go through the “if only” stages—“If only I hadn’t looked the other way,” “If only I had been there a second later,” or “If only I had responded in a different way.” We second-guess ourselves to the point of distraction, and drive ourselves crazy with thoughts of how it should have been … “if only.” After a while, it becomes easier to deal with these kinds of thoughts if we seek escape in drugs, alcohol, and other self-destructive behavior that we think “takes the edge off it.”

People who have experienced repeated childhood abuse suffer from developmental trauma. Even if they were helpless to stop it, it is common for those abused as children to feel guilt about what happened to them. They come to believe that it was their own fault —often because their abuser told them so. They believe that if they had been different, those horrible things would not have happened to them.

Where was God in My Suffering?

ANNLHO-6200337830_bf2139c53e_bAnd where was God when all this was happening? We question why God allowed such evil in our lives and let us suffer so much. Where was God when our parents, or others in our lives, were causing us so much pain and suffering, and there was nothing we could do about it? It is difficult to believe in a loving God when we feel that He wasn’t there to help us.  As a Christian counselor, my goal is to help you have a fulfilling and fulfilled life, and to help you recognize that God wants His best for your life.

Christian Counseling to Transform Trauma

Therapy can help.Just as there are all kinds of trauma, so there are all kinds of therapies. One effective therapy in healing traumatic wounds is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This is a proven method for treating the fallout from trauma and abuse. Through a series of sessions, the client and therapist identify specific problems and target each one with EMDR. The goal is to make the problem or memory less disturbing, and to change your unhealthy beliefs about yourself.

As a Christian counselor, I am convinced that with therapy you can transform “a traumatic fact of life” from a prison sentence to an opportunity to find healthier, happier ways of living.

Photos
“Dicky Days,” courtesy of Samuel Sharpe, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Unpredictability,” courtesy of Samuel Sharpe, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)
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