In my days as a novice therapist, I was terrified to work with trauma survivors. I had been given tools and plenty of support from supervisors, sure. But as a trauma survivor myself, I worried I wouldn’t support them adequately. My greatest fear was to re-traumatize people. Graciously, in the decade since, God has utilized therapy, relationships and His goodness to mend me and grow my confidence to walk with the wounded.
Lately, there is no shortage of news regarding survivors of trauma and abuse. Just recently Time magazine named the “silence breakers” of the #MeToo movement as their person of the year, and as I write, fires plague Southern California. While sexual assault is finally making headlines, it’s not new, nor are the multiple ways people can be traumatized.
But what exactly do we mean when we say trauma, or more accurately, traumatic stress? According to leading researchers like Bessel van der Kolk and Peter Levine, it’s when a person’s natural threat response is activated in their body, but their ability to cope becomes overwhelmed and ultimately stuck in a hyper/hypo vigilant mode.
Thus, the traumatic event(s) become “stuck” in a person’s body instead of being stored as a normal memory. This inability to properly integrate the event into the narrative of their life is what results in symptoms such as flashbacks, disturbing thoughts, physical ailments or emotional volatility.
According to The Sidran Institute, 70 percent of Americans will experience at least one major trauma in their life and 20 percent of those folks will go on to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As Christians who want to love well, it’s vital we recognize our role in supporting the hurting within and without our walls.