Part 1 of Making Marriage Work Series
Webster’s dictionary defines trauma as, “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury,” or, “an emotional upset.”
In her book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman defines trauma this way, “Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings, we speak of atrocities.”
In a sinful and fallen world, innocent people fall victims of atrocities. Rape. Violence. Murder. Concentration camps. War. Orphans. Crimes. Abuse. The list can go on and on. As much as we would like to prevent trauma, the reality of life is that traumatic events happen and we are left with the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical wounds of our experiences. We gather the broken pieces left and continue to live life with the impact of the emotional stress, yet those experiences carry on within us.
Herman gives us some background on trauma, “In 1980 when post-traumatic stress disorder was firs included in the diagnostic manual, the American Psychiatric Association described traumatic events as “outside the range of unusual human experience.” Sadly, this definition has proved to be inaccurate. Rape, battery, and other forms of sexual and domestic violence are so common a part of women’s lives that they can hardly be described as outside the range of ordinary experience. Because of the number of people killed in war over the past century, military trauma, too, must be considered a common part of the human experience; only the fortunate find it unusual.”
Let’s take sexual assault as an example. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) 44% of the victims are under the age of 18, and 80% under the age of 30. Every 2 minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted, and each year approximately 207,754 people become victims. 54% of these crimes are not reported to the police, and 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
These events are more common that we think.
Herman calls these traumatic events extraordinary, and not because they occur rarely, but because they overwhelm our human experience and coping because extremely difficult. This is because, “traumatic events generally involve threats to life or bodily integrity, or a close personal encounter with violence and death. They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror and evoke the responses of catastrophe. According to the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the common denominator of psychological trauma is feeling of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation.””
We cannot quantify trauma. There is no meaning to compare one horror to another. There is no scale to measure what event is more traumatic than another. We are all individual, with different sets of experiences, and we all process life in different ways. An event that might be traumatic for me, might not evoke the same response and feelings on another. The impact of trauma has nothing to do with “being strong” or “being weak.” It is a natural response to an event that hurts us, wounds us, and impact our emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being.
Herman offers examples of experiences that commonly lead to trauma:
- being taken by surprise
- exposed to the point of exhaustion.
She points out that the likelihood of the harm also increases when:
- the traumatic events include physical violation or injury
- there is exposure to extreme violence
- witnessing grotesque death.
All these, Herman says, “have the power to inspire helplessness and terror.”
If you have experienced trauma, it is likely that you live with feelings of helplessness and terror. Christian counseling can help you cope with those feelings, and find hope and healing. In part 2, we will address our brain’s natural response to trauma and how important it is to work through those experiences so that we can create new pathways and connections in our thought processes and our feelings.
freedigitalphotos.net – “Depressed Teenage Girl Sitting” by Ambro
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