The effects of trauma can be obvious or subtle, or even unknown to the sufferer. Sometimes it feels like life has stopped, and you are rooted in the past amongst painful or frightening memories. Perhaps you feel the world is unsafe and unpredictable, and you feel extremely vulnerable.
“Crying Eye”, Courtesy of Anemone123, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; You may feel it is impossible to move forward in life. Christian counseling can help you to regain perspective as you work through your trauma in a safe environment and begin the healing process.
What is trauma?Trauma is a response to a stressful incident that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm. The person experiencing the stressful event may feel threatened, anxious, or frightened; sometimes they don’t know how to respond or may be in denial about the effect of the trauma.
Examples of trauma vary in intensity. Symptoms of trauma may follow events such as moving home, changing jobs, or becoming unemployed, divorce, adultery, death of a loved one, miscarriage or infant loss, emotional abuse, financial stress, legal battles, etc. Trauma can also involve a threat to a person’s life or safety, (e.g. – sexual abuse, domestic violence, crime, natural disaster, war, or terrorism).
There are three main types of trauma. Acute trauma results from a single stressful or dangerous event, while chronic trauma results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events, such as child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence. Complex trauma results from exposure to multiple traumatic events.
Effects of trauma
Initially, after a traumatic event, you are likely to have strong feelings of fear, sadness, guilt, anger, or grief. Everyday life can feel unreal. These feelings usually begin to fade as you begin to make sense of what has happened to you. For some people, a traumatic event can lead to mental health concerns such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, dissociative disorders, and the dependence or abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
Traumatic reactions often include behavioral changes (e.g., avoiding reminders of trauma, hypervigilance), difficulties with self-regulation (e.g., emotional outbursts) or paying attention, and the loss of known skills. Nightmares, flashbacks, and sleep disturbances are common.
Physical symptoms may include nausea, dizziness, appetite changes, headaches, and stomachaches. Physical trauma, such as a head injury or stroke, can affect a person’s memory and personality and may require assessment by a neuropsychologist before starting counseling.
While the exact effects of trauma will vary from person to person, their common denominator is a type of loss:
- You may feel a loss of safety, where the world feels unpredictable in a negative way.
- You may experience a loss of danger cues when you are no longer certain what actions may be dangerous.
- You may feel a loss of trust, especially if the trauma was caused by someone who should have been trustworthy (e.g. – a parent, family member, friend, or person in authority).
- You may experience a loss of connection to your body, feeling as if it let you down. You may “distance” yourself from or ignore bodily sensations, such as going a long time before realizing you need to use the bathroom.
- You may feel a loss of sense of self, where you feel as if you don’t know who you are anymore. Trauma can leave our sense of self in pieces, rather than solid and known.
- You may feel a loss of self-worth, especially if you were a victim of sexual abuse. You may feel bad or dirty, or unworthy of love.
Depending on the type of trauma, you might feel a significant sense of shame that can be overwhelming and debilitating. You may notice that you dissociate your mind from what is happening or has happened to your body, which may become a coping strategy for whenever you feel overwhelmed.
You might try to re-enact some of the circumstances surrounding the trauma to try to “solve” or “fix” what happened in the past, which is impossible. Re-enactment can also place a great burden on current relationships, as you set them up for failure. Avoidance of certain places or situations that trigger unpleasant memories is another coping mechanism.
Though these reactions are understandable, they are likely to cause you further suffering. Trauma involves deep hurt that needs to be worked through carefully, and healing may take a long time.
If trauma is left untreated, you could worsen physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, rapid heartbeat, or extreme fatigue. Trauma counseling will help you to identify and come to terms with what you have suffered and the emotions you feel.
Treating trauma through counseling
Victims of trauma need a counseling relationship where the injustice they have suffered is acknowledged. A good counselor is thus one who will listen well and help you to articulate what you’ve been through.
It is common for a trauma victim to move between desiring protection and fearing abandonment, and a good counselor will help you to establish an honest, evolving, and safe relationship with them. Out of this relationship, you and the counselor together can think through how to create a safe living environment if you are still in any danger.
Once you feel safe, you and your counselor will carefully explore details of what happened to you, to try to re-assemble the broken pieces of the past into a more meaningful story. Part of a counselor’s trauma treatment plan should include helping you to develop adequate coping strategies (e.g. – prayerful relaxation training), before asking you to revisit the trauma in sessions.
How does a Christian counselor treat the effects of trauma?
A Christian counselor should bring a biblical perspective to the mess that trauma leaves behind. He or she will comfort you with God’s truths:
- That we are both sinners and sufferers, living in a broken, unpredictable world where injustices abound.
- That the Lord draws near to us and loves us; and though he may not always shield us from suffering, walks with us through our darkest times.
- That our God defends the cause of the oppressed and will one day make all things right and new.
- That our powerful, compassionate God, through Jesus Christ, gives us the grace we need today, and the strength we need to get through tomorrow.
- That the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us can transform shattered lives into full and fruitful ones, as we reflect Jesus, who himself suffered trauma in body, soul, and mind.
These are promises that secular counseling has no power to make. Christian counseling that rests on Christ’s wisdom goes beyond superficial self-management techniques to begin healing at the soul-level, providing a foundation for sustainable and long-term change.
Counselor and author Ed Welch says “…trauma breaks life into pieces. When those pieces become reorganized around the person and work of Jesus, a new story begins to emerge that can ground survivors during the inevitable times of emotional chaos. … [W]hat we have that is unique is the personal God, revealed in weakness, who comes close to victims, judges perpetrators, and is making all things new. We have “the secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor 2:7). Supremely, we have Jesus, a Savior who has overcome all the evils of the world.”
The wonderful news for trauma victims is that today, God gives us the grace and courage to face our past with faith and discernment. Scripture is full of promises from God that are deeply relevant and life-giving to those who feel fearful, broken, or dead inside.
Trauma counseling with a Christian counselor who is familiar with God’s promises can help you to grow through your pain and help you to integrate seemingly senseless suffering into a rich and meaningful life of purpose as you enfold your life story into God’s bigger story.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
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