Archive for September, 2015

Tweets of the Week 9.30.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

A Full Week of Gospel-Centered Marriage Enrichment

On the week of October 5-9 I will be teaching the full Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series. You are welcome to attend one, two, three, four, or all five nights (RSVP link provided below). Below are answers to the most common FAQ we get asked when we offer seminar series in these intensive formats.

What will be covered, when, and how do we RSVP?

    • CGCM_foundations_smMonday, October 5 – Foundations
    • Tuesday, October 6 – Communication
    • Wednesday, October 7 – Finances
    • Thursday, October 8 – Decision Making
    • Friday, October 9 – Intimacy
    • RSVP for any / all of the seminars at this link
    • Time: 6:30 to 9:00 pm
    • Location: The Summit Church, Blue Ridge Campus
    • Address: 3249 Blue Ridge Road; Raleigh, NC 27612
    • Cost: Free

Where will these seminars be held?

The Summit Church, Blue Ridge Campus
3249 Blue Ridge Road; Raleigh, NC 27612

Do we have to come to all  five?

You can come to a single seminar, any combination of seminars, or all five.

Do we have to be a Summit member to come or is this for anyone?

We would love to have anyone from our community to attend these seminars. This includes members of other churches. We want resource other churches in a way that enhances the quality of pastoral counseling and one another care in their congregations. We make these events available free of charge to make it as easy as possible for anyone to attend.

We would encourage you to invite your non-Christian friends who are interested in exploring how embracing the gospel would impact their marriage.

Who are these seminars for?

  • Marriage Enrichment - For married couples looking to enhance the quality and depth of their relationship.
  • Marital Preparation - For engaged or seriously dating couples wanting equip themselves to launch a God-honoring marriage.
  • Marriage Restoration - (Not exactly) While couples in crisis would benefit from this material, it is recommended that counseling be sought in addition to these seminars (www.summitrdu.com/counseling).

What will be covered each night?

  1.  Foundations: Why is marriage hard? Why do so many marriages that begin in sincere love end in divorce? What are the essential things a couple should focus on in order to have a marriage that flourishes? What is a covenant, and why is marriage a covenant? Why do we have a marriage ceremony? What are the roles for a Christian husband and wife? What if I don’t “fit” the masculine-feminine stereotypes or don’t have the personality to match a “traditional” husband/wife?
  2. Communication: What does a couple talk about over a life time? What if I’m not good with words or listening? How do we maintain friendship when we’re having to keep up with so many logistics? How do we disagree and protect our marriage without losing what’s important to each of us individually? Why do words matter so much, and why can they hurt so badly? How do we make things right after they go wrong and not let negative momentum build?
  3. Finances: Why are money problems the number one cause of divorce? How do we maintain reasonable expectations for money in a debt-sick culture? How do two people manage their money together when it is hard enough to manage as a single person? Who should administrate the finances, and how involved should the other person be? How do we learn self-control and contentment as a couple? How can “budget” become an exciting or, at least, pleasant word?
  4. Decision Making: How do we manage our time? How do we navigate situations where we each want good things that cannot both happen? How do we determine God’s will for our personal and marital lives? How do we functionally express the biblical roles of headship and submission? How do we ensure that life’s tough decisions draw us closer to God and each other instead of creating distance? How do we respond when bad things happen to a good marriage?
  5. Intimacy: How do you maintain the “spark” of marriage over a lifetime? How do you continue learning each other without feeling like you know all there is to know? How do we protect our expectations from highly romanticized cultural ideals? How many ways are there to express love, and why are they all necessary? How do we enjoy a balance of both intimacy and intercourse? How do we grow as lovers throughout our marriage?

What’s up with the stuff I heard about getting some kind of certificate or graduate credit?

Information about that can be found at www.bradhambrick.com/sebts

Here is the syllabus for:

What’s the “big idea” for how these five seminars are meant to go together?

These seminars are built upon a central premise – God gave us marriage so that we would know the gospel more clearly and more personally. It is the gospel that gives us joy. Marriage is meant to be a living picture of the gospel-relationship between God and His bride, the church. For this reason, we have two goals for you as you go through them:

  1. That you would get to know and enjoy your spouse in exciting, new, and profoundly deeper ways, so that…
  2. … you would get to know and enjoy God in exciting, new, and profoundly deeper ways.

This series of seminars is arranged around five topics that represent the most common challenges that a marriage faces. While the difficulties of each area are acknowledged, the tone of these seminars is optimistic. We believe that those things that cause the greatest pain when done wrongly bring the fullest joy when done according to God’s design.

These seminars are both sequential and interdependent. Each seminar is meant to build upon the ones before it and lead into the ones after it. If you are going through these materials for general marital enrichment or pre-marital counseling, it is best to complete them in order. However, if you are looking for guidance in a particular area of need, it is possible to start with the subject of greatest urgency in your marriage.

Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Post-Traumatic Stress.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

STEP 1.
PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.

Trauma: Step One, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 2.
ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

Trauma: Step Two, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

On-Line Evaluation: Post-Traumatic Stress Evaluation

PDF Printable Evaluation: PTSD Assessment

Resource: PTSD Daily Symptom Chart

STEP 3.
UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

Trauma: Step Three, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 4.
LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I used to make sense of my experience.

Trauma: Step Four, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 5.
MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.

Trauma: Step Five, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 6.
LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

Trauma: Step Six, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 7.
IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

Trauma: Step Seven, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 8.
PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Trauma: Step Eight, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

STEP 9.
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Trauma: Step Nine, Brad Hambrick from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.


Understanding and Responding to Secondary Traumatic Stress

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is an appendix to the seminar manual.

To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

Secondary trauma is commonly referred to as “the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” Hearing of the trauma someone you care about experienced can have the effects of trauma in your own life. This is part of the sacrifice of love that is involved in this area of care. But it is something that is not well understood and results in a high rate of burnout amongst those who care for those who have experienced trauma.

This appendix is meant to provide guidance for those who would use this material in a counselor, mentor, group leader, or befriending role. Understanding secondary traumatic stress and countering its influence is an important part of you being a healthy, long-term asset in the life of those who have experienced trauma.

Begin with this realization: if you are going to provide care or counsel in the area of trauma, you will need to apply everything in this study in your own life. Usually this point is made to counter hypocrisy or a sense of superiority. While these are still valid points to make, they are not the emphasis of this appendix. Because to be exposed to trauma, even the story of trauma, is traumatic, you will face similar challenges as those for which you provide care as a result of caring.

Start by reviewing the trauma assessment tool in step two. Familiarize yourself with the kind of reactions that frequently emerge when we are exposed to trauma. Early detection is important for two reasons. First, it prevents inaccurate interpretations of these experiences (i.e., just a bad day, depressed, spiritual warfare, I’m doing something wrong, etc…). Second, it equips you to begin countering these influences before they get “that bad” in your own life.

Next, make sure your own base of care and healthy life practices are in place. Look at the suggestions from step one and identify the areas of your own life that need to be strengthened. Caring for yourself well is an important part of ensuring you are available to be an effective, healthy companion on someone else’s post-traumatic journey.

Here are some general recommendations:

  • Simplify life during this season. Do not add the stress of being over-scheduled to secondary traumatic stress.
  • Be disciplined in your sleeping and exercise routines. Remain physically strong during a time of emotional strain.
  • Stay engaged with your pleasurable interests. If you do not, then pain and suffering will dominate your world.
  • Read your Bible for you. Don’t lose the personal-ness of your relationship with God. You are not just God’s ambassador to the person(s) you care for, you are God’s child who he delights in and wants to know.
  • Have a friend or counselor who cares for you. You do not have to breach confidentiality to have relationships where you talk about your needs and interests. Seasons of giving more should also involve receiving more.

Resources:

If this is an area where you anticipate being involved in ministry for an extended period of time, then it would be recommended that you read whichever of the books below best fit your context / role.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.

Tweets of the Week 9.22.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Countering Trauma’s Impact (Part 3 of 3): Constrictive Symptoms

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 7: IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.”

To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

Decreasing constrictive symptoms is primarily about regaining a sense of freedom. Without a sense of freedom, our emotions either inflate (hyper-arousal) or deflate (constriction), and our willingness to trust is understandably undermined. In the early steps of this material, you worked hard to re-establish a sense of safety. Hopefully you have experienced a significant amount of relief from the efforts. In this step, you will be building on that relief to re-establish a freedom of emotion and trust that the pending sense of danger inhibited.

Beginning to Feel Again

What do you do when you turn your television on and it starts way too loud? Chances are you hit mute before you start turning down the volume. This is the equivalent of what happens to emotions after a traumatic experience. Our emotions spike. They’re overwhelming. We mute them to survive. But we’re not sure how to turn them back on once we’ve adjusted the volume.

One of the problems is how much we begin to rely on control after trauma. We try to eliminate, or at least limit, the number of experiences that are not controllable-predictable. Emotions fit in that category. In order to feel again, we would have to surrender control. Our resistance to losing control becomes the lever that restricts our emotions.

The problem with talking about emotions and control is that we put them together and hear, “He’s saying I should be emotionally out of control. No thanks.” That is not what is being said. But you will have to surrender some control in order to experience healthy emotions again. Since we can’t willfully change-choose our emotions, what might this look like?

  • Listen to your favorite song and allow yourself to become unaware of your surroundings as your listen.
  • Say “yes” to the invitation of a trusted friend and engage the activity without trying to predict the outcome.
  • Listen to something you find funny and laugh out loud without concern for who hears you.
  • Share something that is meaningful to you with a trusted friend without worrying whether they agree.
  • Engage a new interest you’ve never tried without being concerned about how well you do.

These actions represent the opposite of the kind of choices we make in order to maintain a sense of control, and, thereby, restrict our emotions. You’ll notice that freedom is about what you’re not focused on rather than what you are. This is because emotional freedom is about giving yourself to a moment more than a technique you can master.

With that in mind, what are the best opportunities you can think of to express emotional freedom?

Your examples will be better than any of the ones listed above. They fit your life better. What is important is that you see that you don’t “do the free expression of emotion,” but you “do the things that are important to you without a preoccupation for how you perform or what people think.” As you do this with greater freedom and ease, emotions happen. Don’t focus on feeling particular emotions. Focus on freeing yourself from the patterns of thought that stifle emotions.

Don’t label emotions as “good” or “bad” but try to gauge how well they fit the situation. Unless we do this, “pleasant” begins to mean “good” and “unpleasant” means “bad.” Mistaking unpleasant for bad is a great way to constrict your emotions. After a trauma you will feel many unpleasant emotions that are situationally-appropriate.

You will also experience many that are historically-valid but not situationally appropriate; that is, they make sense in light of the past, but not the present. These are the emotions you need to cleanse of the destructive suffering story elements (step 4) and grieve the losses associated with them (step 5); which allows you to process these emotions without having to shut down in order to avoid unpleasant emotions.

Read Psalm 77. Notice how the psalmist navigates unpleasant emotions. Instead of being ashamed that “my soul refuses to be comforted” (v. 2), he voices this as a prayer to God. He is even honest to God that, at first, this prayer is ineffective – “when I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit fails” (v. 3). Not being caught up in what he “should feel” allowed the psalmist to be honest about what he “did feel” which allowed God to begin to restore his affections to health. Trust that God is strong and faithful enough to walk with you through a similar emotional journey.

Refuting Shame

Shame is a word with many definitions. This speaks to how multi-faceted the experience can be. In this section we will define shame as “feeling worthy of rejection because of one’s experience of suffering.” If we were talking about sin, this would be an accurate statement. Sin does merit separation and requires Jesus’ blood to wash away its stain. Shame treats the distress of suffering like the stain of sin and cannot find a remedy.

Nothing about suffering causes God to judge or condemn you. God’s response to your suffering is to offer comfort, not forgiveness. When we place our experience of suffering in the wrong moral category, we try to apply remedies (i.e., asking forgiveness, having more faith, increasing our spiritual disciplines, etc…) which leave us arguing with God (i.e., “How much more do You want from me?”) instead of resting in God’s compassion (i.e., “I am glad You are safe enough for me to hurt with.”).

In his book Mending the Soul, Steven Tracy offers five strategies for overcoming shame (p. 87-91; bold text only). While these strategies are worded to address suffering in the form of abuse, the principles are transferable to other forms of suffering.

  1. Clarify Ownership: There is guilt associated with suffering. You do not own it. You may own some guilt for how you responded. That is very different from owning the guilt for the suffering. Imagine the guilt for your suffering as a pile of dirty-stinky laundry. Whose is it? Refuse to do their laundry. Also, refuse to become bitter; that is another way of losing control. Emotionally set the laundry in the room of the person responsible and entrust what happens to that laundry to be handled between them and God.
  2. Accept the Judge’s Verdict: In the experience of suffering, God declares you innocent. Hear God say both, “Not guilty,” and “Much loved.” His resulting command is not, “Repent and believe,” but “Come near and be comforted.” His call is not “Believe more,” but “Trust.” These are not words too-good-to-be-true. They are not if-only dreams. These are the pronouncements of the sovereign God who has the final say in all matters.Read Hebrews 2:14-18. See the Judge come down from behind the bench. See “a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) who put on flesh – allowing himself to experience pain – so that he could compassionately speak to your suffering as an insider, not merely make judicial pronouncements as a detached bystander. Hear the words of your loving Judge spoken by someone who understands the weight and significance of every syllable. Allow these realities to make his words more believable than your own doubts, fears, and shame.
  3. Prayerfully Hand Shame Back to the Abuser: It is not vindictive to refuse to accept responsibility for pain you did not cause. Apart from owning and repenting of their sin, someone who inflicts suffering on another bears the weight of their sin. Handing shame back to them (refusing to accept the blame and live as if it’s your fault) can be an act of love clarifying their need to repent. Even if the source of your suffering is a non-person, leaving the shame in the hands of Satan – the author of evil in our world – leaves your hands open to receive God’s comfort and mercy.

    “One of the most empowering things an abuse survivor can do is to prayerfully hand shame back to his or her abuser. Theologians rarely discuss this concept, but it’s a frequent biblical theme. Biblical writers often asked God to shame their abusive enemies. Most likely, this meant asking God to do two things: (1) cause the abuser to be overwhelmed with shame for his or her sin so that they would repent, and (2) bring utter destruction on the abuser if he or she didn’t repent (p. 89)… For survivors of abuse, the most damaging definitions of forgiveness are those that conflate forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation and eliminate the possibility of negative consequences for the offender (p. 181-182).” Steven R. Tracy in Mending the Soul

  4. Choose to Reject: You cannot stop someone from blame-shifting. Even in cultures where “freedom of speech” is not a guiding principle of government, we cannot control how others interpret events. You can reject their interpretation. Oddly, the best way to do this is not necessarily rejecting them as a person; which usually leads to a verbal altercation. You can simply reject their message. Whether you view them as naïve, misinformed, blinded by sin, or intentionally manipulative, you do not have to counter someone who communicates shame in order to be free from their message. Not believing-embracing a destructive message is a way to disempower it even when you cannot (or is it wise not to try to) dissuade the messenger.
  5. Experience Authentic Community: The more ungodly messages or messengers you have in your life the more godly messages and messengers you need in your life. Make sure this ratio is in your favor. The kind of community you’ve been developing over the course of this study should help. If you still feel imbalanced-to-the-negative talk with the person(s) with whom you’ve been going through this study about how to expand the number of people who know you well enough that they become part of your healthy, authentic community.

    “Dealing with the trauma in the context of a safe connection allows the survivor, often for the first time in her life, to be herself in relationship to another (p. 128).” Diane Langberg in Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Read Psalm 31:14-22. If messages of shame are frequent for you, memorize this passage as something you can pray as often as you need. Realize this is a psalm, because God knew we would face the experience of shame frequently in a broken world and he wanted us to have words to bring to him when our experience of shame was thick. Notice how the psalmist goes back and forth between trusting God and refuting the voices of shame. Allow your prayers to follow this pattern so that, in refuting the voices of shame, you do not get locked down in those messages trying to argue with them.

Forgiveness and Trust

When trauma was inflicted by a person forgiveness becomes part of the process of learning to trust again; not necessarily trusting the perpetrator of the trauma, but trusting anyone. This is a delicate subject and one that should not be rushed. Sometimes when this subject is discussed it can begin to feel like God cares more about whether you forgive than that you were hurt. That is not the case. If you are not ready for this material, feel free to wait until its benefits become clear to you.

The subject of forgiveness begs the question of confronting the person who inflicted trauma upon you. When should this done? How should this be done? How do I know if I’m “ready”? In her book Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse Diane Langberg lays our four principles that should govern a confrontation (p. 168-177; bold text only).

1. Every Confrontation Should Be Governed by a Purpose:

Confrontation is not a necessary step for recovery from trauma. Forgiveness does not require a personal interaction. There are two common purposes for a confrontation that are unhealthy. First, some people think confrontation will bring neat closure. If your purpose requires a cooperative response to the confrontation it is likely too idealistic to have a positive outcome. Second, some people think confrontation will be punitive and bring a sense of justice. Even if the other person does “face their sin,” a revenge motif is rarely as satisfying in reality as it is in our imagination. Here are several types of purposes that would be healthy:

  • “I want to regain my voice and I believe having this conversation is an important step in that process.”
  • “I am going to make changes in my life that would only make sense in light of what happened. I don’t want these changes to come across as controlling or weird on my part, so enough of what you did will be disclosed to the relevant people so that these actions make sense. I am not asking permission, but making you aware. I want to make this decision in openness and not secrecy, because I refuse to live with any more forced secrets.”
  • “I want to give you the opportunity to repent as an indication your actions no longer overpower me. In the past, your non-repentance would have been a threat to my emotional well-being. I am stronger now. I want you to know I am entrusting you to God for either forgiveness based on repentance or punishment.”It is important that your goals for the confrontation not be dependent upon a positive response from the person who inflicted the trauma. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up to feel powerless in their presence again, and this can cause a significant setback. Notice how each of the sample purposes above can be accomplished even if the individual is still denying or shifting blame for what they did.

2. Every Confrontation Should Be Done with Care:

Confrontation is better done a month too late than a month too soon. Confrontation should not be done until the progress made in the latter stages of recovery (reconnecting with life and relationships) has had time to solidify. In addition to assessing your personal readiness, attention should be given to whether others who may be affected by the confrontation (i.e., family members, co-workers, etc…) are in a position to respond well. Not accounting for the possibility of isolation based upon the factors can create a likelihood of a negative social response; which is another reason confrontations can become experiences that result in more regress than progress in the recovery process.

3. Every Confrontation Requires Maturity:

Abusive people and abusive contexts are not known for mature responses when their abuse is exposed. The factors that would prevent the confrontation from spiraling into immaturity (i.e., anger, theatrics, self-pity remorse, etc…) will need to be established by you – the one doing the confronting. Consider these guidelines to help you in this process.

    • Script what you want to say; whether you choose to read it or not.
    • Decide in advance what next interactions you are or are not willing to accept.
    • Decide who you want to be present for the confrontation.
    • Have a set response for both a denial and a counter-attack response.
    • Have a set response for the possibility you are frequently interrupted.
    • Decide on a time with a clear end and script your statement to fit the duration of time you are willing to give.
    • Decide on a place with a clear exit. In a context you’re used to feeling powerless, don’t allow yourself to feel trapped.
    • Plan what you intend to do afterwards to process the experience and calm yourself, if needed.

4. Every Confrontation Must Be Governed by Truth:

You are not opening a debate in which “both sides will be heard.” Your primary goal is not even to condemn (i.e., say “What you did was wrong”) but to expose (i.e., “I am no longer willing to live as if this didn’t happen”). Exposing trauma is sufficient to reveal its wrongness. You are offering the other person an opportunity to live in the light of truth and declaring your unwillingness to live in the darkness of lies any longer. If that much is accomplished, then the confrontation will have accomplished what can be reasonably expected from it for you and have the opportunity to be redemptive for the other person.

Whether it is wise or there is the opportunity to confront, forgiveness is an important step in regaining emotional freedom from the experience of trauma. In Mending the Soul, Steven Tracy offers five steps in the wise practice of forgiveness after abuse (p. 190-194; bold text only).

  1. Clarify the Offense and the Resultant Negative Emotions: Forgiveness is an emotionally honest practice. There is no “pretending everything is okay” in forgiveness. The first step in forgiveness is to name the offense immoral (not just a mistake or lapse in judgment) and, thereby, declare that it requires forgiving (not just excusing). It is important that forgiving not become an exercise in silencing your own voice. Put in to words what you are forgiving and the impact it had on you before taking the next step.
  2. Determine Appropriate Boundaries to Check Evil and Stimulate Repentance: Forgiveness is a socially wise practice. Forgiveness after someone has inflicted a trauma upon you does not require giving them a “full security clearance” back to your heart and life. Determine what is wise for the future of the relationship; if a relationship still exists. Willingness to accept these parameters without resistance or self-pity is an indicator whether this individual has changed enough to be considered safe.

    “A second element of boundary setting will in many cases be the first aspect of actual forgiving. Here the boundaries are set not only to protect the victim but also to check the offender’s evil and, in so doing, to stimulate repentance… The erecting boundaries to prevent abuse also serves to thwart, or check, their evil, giving them the ‘gift of defeat’ that can be used by God to stimulate their repentance (p. 192).” Steven R. Tracy in Mending the Soul

  3. Deliberately Let Go of the Right to Hurt an Abuser for the Hurt He or She Has Inflicted: Forgiveness is an emotionally liberating experience. This is what you have been wanting, a way to let go of the hurt and anger. In this step you are entrusting this individual to God for justice. Picture yourself handing over the case file to God and saying, “I have tried to prosecute this case. It was eating me alive. I trust you to handle it with a redemptive justice. I am returning jurisdiction for this situation to you.”
  4. Reevaluate the Abuser and Discover His or Her Humanity: Forgiveness is a soberly humanizing experience. Most abusers have been abused or traumatized in some manner. This doesn’t reduce their responsibility for what they did at all. It does mean they’re a more three dimensional person than we tend to see them as through the lens of our pain. We want them to be a monster, so we do not have to share humanity with them. We want them to be completely “other.” You do not have to experience sympathy, but forgiveness (with time) should allow you to begin to view this individual with a history that shaped them in ways that made it more understandable why they traumatized another.
  5. Extend Appropriate Grace: Forgiveness is a personally costly experience. You are giving up something. It would be nice if all forgiveness cost us was our bitterness. This grace should not take you outside the parameters you set in step two in this process of forgiveness. With time, it should mean that you would want for this person to be made whole by God’s grace; that they would no longer embrace the lies of Satan that made their actions seem plausible to them. You don’t need to think this often, only as often as they come to mind, so that the memory of them loses the “stickiness of bitterness.”

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.

Countering Trauma’s Impact (Part 2 of 3): Intrusive Symptoms

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 7: IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.”

To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

An important part of “reclaiming” your own mind is enhancing your ability to offset the intrusive symptoms of trauma. We want to get to the place where we can pick up and put down our thoughts at our own volition. We want our relationship to be like one we might share with a pesky house cat (written by a “dog person”); the cat may jump in our lap throughout the day, but if it is a time that we do not wish to entertain the cat, we want to be able to put it down and continue our day.

Decreasing the Power of Triggers

The big idea of countering intrusive symptoms is the ability to accurately gauge and respond to a troubling event. Intrusive symptoms gain their force by exaggerating (trigger events and panic attacks) or falsely generating (flash backs) the degree of threat in an unpleasant circumstance. In this section, we will look at preventing the “amping up” of intrusive symptoms. In the next section, we will consider how to “amp down” intrusive symptoms once they have surged.

“Not all danger is overwhelming; not all fear is terror (p. 199).” Judith Hermann in Trauma and Recovery

Initial measures on decreasing the influence of triggers require placing intentional thought between the disturbance and our reaction. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but it is both possible and worth the effort.

The first two major elements you should have already established in the earlier parts of this study: (1) establishing a sense of safety so that the triggering event is not magnified by a pervasive sense of danger, and (2) disempower the memory of the trauma through stripping of its false messages and grieving losses related to it so that each triggering event does not feel like the crescendo of a fatalistic story.

These areas of growth should greatly help you put intentional thought between the disturbance and your reaction. Now we want to add a four step process you can use when you encounter a triggering event. There is no magic in the steps; they are much more fire drill than incantation. They give you steps to follow towards safety when fear might seem paralyzing.

1. Stop

Stopping is different from “freezing.” Stopping is a choice to make life slow down when it wants to move fast. Stopping is an act of defiance against the effects of trauma. Stopping is the equivalent of stomping your foot, looking trauma in the eye, and saying, “Not this time. I’m in charge now and you don’t get to call the shots.”

On a side note, personifying your post-traumatic experience can be a way to make the experience seem less ghostly. If this type of imagery is helpful for you, be sure you’re the adult in the imagined dialogue; you are the one with the “final say” about how things will proceed.

2. Breathe

In this case breathing is more than a relaxation exercise; it is an indication of safety and peace. There is time to breathe. You are refusing to react on trauma’s false-rushed time table. But don’t let this defiance feed a reaction in anger. Anger is too closely associated with feeling threatened.

Imagine your trauma like an impatient child demanding to go to the park, “Right NOW!” What is the best response? Calmness. Anger gives the impression something is going to happen immediately; it is an indication the child is gaining control. Calmness says you are in control.

Taking the child tantrum imagery further, you can understand why the child wants to go to the park so badly and this gives compassion towards their immature demands. Similarly, you can understand why a trigger event wants a “code red response” and this allows you to be compassionate without acquiescing to your natural response.

This final point is more important than many people realize. If you are harsh with yourself for being stirred by triggering events, this will impede your efforts. You will feel condemned by your own conscience even when you respond wisely to triggers. Being patient with yourself is part of maintaining a sense of safety during and after the effects of a triggering event.

3. Think

The newly established pace of response should give you an asset you’ve not had to battle a triggering event: time to think. Your goal with this time is to assess how big of a gap exists between your real and perceived threat. Use these questions to help you make this assessment. 

  • How many options do I have in responding to this situation?
  • Is my fear or anger rooted more in this moment or its similarity to my past trauma?
  • What will my life look like in an hour if I respond well to this moment?

Our natural reaction during a traumatic trigger is to assume, “I have no options. This moment is as threatening as it feels. My foreseeable future is ruined.” When we respond based on these assumptions we compound the traumatic moment with foolish choices and the consequences seem to confirm what our initial fear foretold. It is by stopping to think and assess a situation that we can prove our fears to be the false prophets they are. The more times we can pair wise choices with triggering events the less believable our fears will become. Our trauma-hyped fears become like the bad friend who we learn not to trust because they break their promises and following their counsel gets us in trouble.

4. Choose

Choice is how you express power and voice. Whether or not your choice is “the best choice,” let it be your choice and not one forced upon you by fear. Don’t hold yourself to a standard of perfection in these choices; that would be unrealistic even if you weren’t battling the effects of a trigger event.

Your standard should simply be: did I make a choice that I deemed to be wise and reasonable based on the information that was available to me in that moment? If the answer is yes, then you’re making progress. With time, once you are consistently making choices in pursuit of wisdom rather than in reaction to fear, the quality of your decision making will improve. But regaining your sense of autonomy and voice to choose is the first step.

Read II Corinthians 10:3-6. What we have discussed above is an exercise in “taking every thought captive” (v. 5), which does not just apply to theological arguments or moral dilemmas. Verse 3 describes our human tendency to react as if immaterial threats were physical threats. Satan loves to use hypothetical or traumatically-inflated threats to disrupt our lives. This is one of our enemy’s strategies for establishing a stronghold in our life. This does not mean that a trigger response is wrong. Remember, Satan would as gladly use suffering to disrupt our lives as sin, but God gives us the strength to take every thought captive both when the temptation is not to sin but also when Satan would use suffering as his means to disorder our lives.

Responding to a Flashback or Panic Attack

Flashbacks and panic attacks are more than sticky memories that are unsettling and hard to put down. They are experiences where the memory or fears associated with the memory of our trauma become more real to us than our actual surroundings. Instead of our present reality being in our cognitive-emotional foreground and the memory-emotions being in the background, this relationship is reversed.

The goal in battling a flash back or panic attack is to have our actual surroundings return to the foreground of our experience of life. Instead of being swept away in memory or emotions to such an extent that our present situation becomes inconsequential, we want to keep our roots in the here-and-now enough to withstand the memory or emotion.

Hopefully, this seems more doable than merely thinking you have to “stop the flash back or panic attack.” A strategy that only tells you what not to do is useless. One of the most effective ways to ground yourself in the here-and-now is through your five senses. Below we will talk about how to use each sense to return your present reality to the foreground of your experience when you are facing a flashback or panic attack. These strategies can also be effective if you feel yourself beginning to dissociate.

  • Sight – Go to a mirror and make eye contact with yourself. Allowing your eyes to dart around the room seeking a threat loosens your visual anchor to the present. “Own” what you do with your eyes. As you look at yourself, see a competent adult; this is particularly helpful for those who experienced trauma as a child and return to feeling child-like during their experience of a flashback or panic attack.Keep your eyes open. The darkness of having your eyes closed creates a blank canvass upon which your imagination can depict your memories or fears. Keeping your eyes open is a choice you can make that is a sign of courage and autonomy. It represents a new attitude which recognizes you are larger than your memories.
  • Smell – Keep your favorite scent handy; a potpourri sack or scented candy in your pocket. Pull it out when you feel a flashback or panic attack beginning. The deep breath you take activates both the calming influence of a pleasant smell and the calming effects of cooling the nasal cavity.Memory is more closely associated with the olfactory sense than any of the other five senses because the olfactory sense registers in the brain’s limbic system where emotion is also housed. Enhance the impact of your calming smell by having it present during activities you enjoy (i.e., favorite hobby, a warm bath, listening to calming music).
  • Touch – What are your favorite sensations? Smooth velvet. A leathery baseball. A cool ice pack. A warm cup of coffee (probably decaf at a time like this). Keep these things readily available. But as you access them, don’t view them as an escape valve. That only exacerbates the sense of danger. Choose them as an exercise of your will about what you will give your attention to.Another means of using touch is soothing self-touches. What do you do with your hands when you’re stressed? Wrench your neck. Ruffle-pull your hair. Scratch your skin. What if you chose soothing touches instead? Massaging your temples. Relaxing your hands and shoulders. These are ways to communicate to yourself that you are safe and are made more effective if you repeat the gospel themes from chapter six to yourself as you do them.Pets also make for excellent soothing touch encounters. If you’re at home when you begin to experience a flashback or panic attack and have a pet, call them to you. Stroke their fur. Pay attention to how they lean into your hand or the affirming purr they give. Allow this to help keep “your safe here-and-now” in the forefront of your experience.
  • Sound – Calming music, nature sounds, or even a white noise machine can help anchor you in your present surroundings. If you are sound sensitive, be aware of when you place yourself in high stimulation or high volume environments. These can increase your baseline stress levels without you being aware of it and leave you more susceptible to a post-traumatic reaction.Calling a friend is an excellent use of sound as a calming mechanism. Whether you choose to talk about the pending sense of a panic attack or flashback or not, the interactive quality of a conversation is an excellent means of grounding yourself in the present. If you are willing to talk about the experience, this can be a good way to counter its messages of doom; rarely does any fear seem as great or close once we speak it out loud with a trusted friend.
  • Taste – Whether it’s a soothing piece of sweet candy or a shockingly sour candy, you can always have a taste anchor in your pocket and there is no social awkwardness about accessing it. Panic attacks and flashbacks are foul experiences; having something pleasant tasting in your mouth can help counter the experience.There is also something casual about having a snack. While this is not directly linked to the sense of taste, it can be part of the experience of eating which is calming. The experience of fear is also physically draining, and the boost of energy from a healthy snack helps counter this.

What do you do with these? Don’t expect to sensory bomb your next post-traumatic experience into oblivion. Recognizing these are tools and how to best use them will take some time. Be versatile in your options. Think through the various setting in which you’ve experienced panic attacks or flashbacks and select counter-triggers that fit well in each setting.

Also, become aware of the early experiences that are indicative of a pending flashback or panic attack. These anchors are most effective if you begin to use them before the intrusive symptoms have their full momentum.

Don’t expect yourself to interrupt every panic attack or flashback. If you do, then you will feel like you’ve failed when you have one of these intense experiences. A sense of failure makes us prone to give up and stop battling. Use these approaches with the mentality of war; you don’t have to win every battle to be victorious in the war. Make sure you do not surrender the momentum of the larger journey just because a single encounter with trauma went poorly.

Read passages referencing the five senses. Use an on-line Bible concordance to find passages that reference “look,” “taste,” “hear,” “feel,” “aroma,” and other sensory-related words. Sometimes we reduce the experience of our faith to a purely cognitive exercise, as if God were a set of beliefs. As you review these passages, you won’t “taste and smell God,” but you can gain an appreciation for how God intends for us to use all five senses in our knowledge and enjoyment of him. After all, it was God who chose the number of our senses and he delights when we use them to experience more of the life he intended for us.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.

Countering Trauma’s Impact (Part 1 of 3): Hyper-Arousal Symptoms

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 7: IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.”

To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

An important part of solidifying a sense of safety from which to engage life is countering the mindset and habits that were generated by hyper-arousal symptoms. Being perpetually “on guard” does not allow us to feel safe (emotional response) even when we’ve convinced ourselves there is no reasonable, imminent threat (cognitive assessment).

The primary objective in countering hyper-arousal symptoms is staying grounded in the present so that you can focus on those things to which you want to give your attention. This may sound simple, but it is not easy. Take encouragement from the fact that your objective is not complex without beating yourself up when it is difficult.

Lessening the Habits of Hypervigilance

Post-traumatic symptoms create a “way of life” designed (often without intentionality) to keep you safe. Therefore, as you change this way of life, it may create a sense of being in danger. This would only be true if your hyper vigilant response was still warranted and was providing more relief than burden. If this were the case, you would not have persisted to this point in the study.

As you think about how a past traumatic event can create a lifestyle consider the following points from Steve Viars’ book (p. 131) in Putting Your Past in Its Place.

  • Today’s reactions become tomorrow’s habits.
  • Today’s choices become tomorrow’s influences.
  • Today’s anger becomes tomorrow’s bitterness.
  • Today’s thoughts become tomorrow’s beliefs.
  • Today’s desires become tomorrow’s idols.

The approach we will take to countering this dynamic will be twofold: (1) become aware of the moments when you are responding out of hyper-arousal habit, so that (2) you can relax in those moments and change your relationships to these responses. This is different from merely trying to “stop being anxious.” The goal is to relate to the anxiety differently. In effect, you will be thanking your anxiety for the way it kept you safe in the past but letting it know that its services will no longer be needed. You will only actually be free from anxiety if you have a calm-controlled “break up” with the emotion.

Begin by continuing to become more aware of when your response has more to do with your past experience of trauma than your present experience of threat. When these moments come, have a dialogue with yourself that might sound like this:

“I am anxious. Something about this moment reminds me of the past, or I am not yet fully comfortable being relaxed. That is okay. God is patient with me as I grow in this area, so I should be patient with myself. The important thing to do now is to stop fighting my anxiety (which only makes it worse) and remind myself that may be anxiety is no longer necessary. Once I have done that I can use relaxation techniques to counter the physiological impact of anxiety and to help my body return to a sense of calm.”

After having this kind of conversation with yourself you can use one of these relaxation techniques to counter the adrenaline surge that a hyper-arousal response will have created.

1. Breathe: This technique may sound odd. But deep breathing can have a significant impact upon the experience of anxiety. One area that the body monitors to determine its sense of safety is the temperature of the nasal cavity. When the nasal cavity is hot, it triggers the stress response. When it cools, the body turns off the stress response.

Think of the athlete who begins to breathe through his mouth as he runs. This causes his nasal cavity to heat up and triggers the adrenal system; part of the flight-fight stress response. Adrenaline provides an energy boost and intensifies his emotional state (hence the reactivity at many sporting events).

This is one reason many people feel relaxed when they smoke cigarettes even though nicotine is a stimulant. The calming power of the breathing required to rhythmically inhale a cigarette is more powerful than the medical agent in cigarettes are energizing. Awkwardly, this means many smokers are as addicted to breathing as they are nicotine; especially if their primary appeal to smoking is relaxation.

When you feel anxiety mounting, it is recommend that you take a few deep breaths in through your nose (drawing in cool air) and out through your mouth (exhaling the warmer air away from your nose). This will cool the nasal cavity. It does not extract adrenaline already released, but prevents the release of additional adrenaline. In this sense, it is the emotional equivalent of taking your foot off the gas pedal of your car more than stepping on the brakes.

2. Pace of Thought Reduction: Your emotional physiology systems respond, in part, to the pace of your thoughts. Recall the last time you had a conversation with a “fast talker.” You likely walked away from that conversation tense. This is because your mind had to keep up with their pace of speech, and it triggered a mild stress response.

Consider a child who thinks there is a monster in their closet. How are they talking when they tell their parents? Very fast. What is the instinctual response of a caring parent? To help the child tell their story more slowly. This is not just an attempt to understand what is being said, but part of the calming process.

There is something both calming and empowering when you feel the freedom to slow your thoughts. Changing the pace of your thoughts is a great way to remind yourself that you can make choices that matter – not just that change your circumstances, but also that significantly impact your emotions. Here are several practical suggestions.

  • Talk to yourself (as in the example above) instead of listening to yourself.
  • Read a passage of Scripture about God’s care to get your thoughts back in rhythm and remind yourself of pertinent truths.
  • Listen or sing along with a song that has a slow melody and encouraging lyrics.
  • Take deep breaths and focus on the sound of your breathing and the sensation of the cool air coming into your body.

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Consider this exercise as you do it, then we’ll explain it. Flex the muscles in your hands making a fist as you slowly count to ten (also impacts pace of thinking). Feel the slight burning sensation as lactic acid builds in your muscles. Release the grip. Now do the same with your forearms; then biceps then shoulders.

As you do this, you are focusing your attention away from your hyper-arousal habits and countering the effects of stress in your body. The buildup of lactic acid in your muscles absorbs the free radicals that stress creates and causes us to feel tight after a time of prolonged stress.

As you do this with each muscle group from your hands to your feet, you are reclaiming your body from the effects of anxiety while willfully focusing your attention on what you choose. The physical exercise itself is actually much less impactful than the emotional impact it can have.

At this point it would be easy to just “run away” from the experience of anxiety; grateful to have escaped its grips. But this would leave us with a powerless-fearful disposition towards the experience of hyper-arousal. Consider the following alternative – have another conversation with your emotions (personifying is a way to make emotions more tangible and less ghostly).

To Anxiety: “Thank again how you have served me and are available to protect me still when a situation warrants. But you are being over-protective; like a big brother who won’t allow his younger sibling to grow up. I am stronger now. This doesn’t mean I’ll never need you. There will be situations when your presence is needed. But I will be calling on you less and less now. This is a good thing for me. Thank you, again, for how you’ve tried to protect me in hard times, but I look forward to seeing less of you (smiling with sincere appreciation and strength).”

Will this dialogue change everything? No. Can it help you not vilify the experience of anxiety? Yes. Can it help you change your relationship with an over-active emotion? Yes.

Read Psalm 42 and 43. Both of these psalms contain the kind of awkward internal dialogue that has been discussed above. In each, the psalmist is “taking his soul to task.” Notice it is not a self-scathing psalm. The psalmist is confused by his emotions, but is free to be confused about them in God’s presence and he searches for hope and relief. You might consider writing your own version of Psalm 42 and 43 to capture your experience as part of what you use to slow the pace of your thinking and combat the habits of hyper vigilance.

Responding Better to Post-Traumatic Agitation

Having your flight-fight response perpetually “on” makes it much easier to be agitated by relatively small life disruptions. Having experienced something traumatic can make it difficult to be compassionate to the relatively smaller things about which people around you are likely to complain. These factors combine to make anger, or it’s more passive counterpart of cynicism, a common post-traumatic struggle.

Responding proportionally to these agitants is an important part of reclaiming your emotional world. Often fear and numbness get more attention when it comes to emotional disruption that occurs after a traumatic experience. But controlling the altered experience of agitation is also an important part of re-engaging life and relationships in a healthy way.

It is important to view this part of the struggle as being liberated. Countering fear and numbness feels “more free” but countering agitation often feels “less free” or condemned. Curtailing our agitation will involve saying less or saying things less passionately than feels natural. It can feel less authentic; like you are losing your voice again. But this is not the case.

Think of it this way: countering post-traumatic agitation is what allows you to express uncertainty as uncertainty instead of uncertainty as anger. Anger is usually a secondary emotion when it is the result of a post-traumatic response.

  • A primary emotion is how we feel about a particular situation.
  • A secondary emotion is how we feel about how we feel about a particular situation.

Consider a classic example. A parent sees their child running towards the street. Their primary emotion is fear; they are concerned for their child’s safety. Their secondary emotion is anger; they are upset their child’s safety is in danger. The volume of their voice and sharpness of their voice makes it most natural for their child to interpret their response as anger. The follow up conversation is inevitably about trying to explain why the parent was scared instead of angry and why the child should show more caution.

After a trauma, uncertainty is a threatening experience that is hard to gauge because not knowing what to do was very dangerous during the trauma. Our response to feeling uncertain is self-protective. The result can be a tone of anger which provides a surge of strength and defiance that would give us the best opportunity to extinguish the uncertainty.

But do you notice how central allowing this post-traumatic agitation to remain makes your traumatic experience to your day-to-day life? This is what makes growing in self-control an effort towards freedom for you and not just an effort at “being nicer” for everyone else.

The approach to this struggle can be very similar to your approach to hyper-vigilance symptoms. Consider these steps:

  • First, you seek to be aware of this response as it is happening.
  • Second, based on your new understanding of the experience, you resist a sense of shame that would cause you to respond out of a negative motivation.
  • Third, you take steps to calm your physical reaction to agitation.
  • Fourth, you change your relationship to the anger; expressing gratitude for when it has served you well, but excusing it from being your emotion of choice in this moment.

Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Okay, you may only skim over these books or reflect on the life of Jesus for this devotion. But one of the reasons we marvel at Jesus was his emotional control. One way to articulate what Jesus was doing is that he never allowed secondary emotions (his response to being in a difficult situation) overtake his primary emotions (his primary agenda or goal for influence in those difficult situations). Identify several events in Jesus’ life that correlate with your struggle with post-traumatic agitation. Place yourself in Jesus’ sandals. Allow yourself to get “rialed up” as you read. Read the passage again and use the steps above to lessen the post-traumatic agitation as you visualize yourself responding as Jesus did.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.

Tweets of the Week 9.15.15

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

After Trauma: Where Am I? – 3 Realities

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 6: LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.”

To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.

Confidence in your ability to accurately interpret your surroundings is important. After trauma it can begin to feel like your assessment of your setting is either over optimistic or pessimistic; either you’re trying to convince yourself everything is fine or looking for the pending source of danger. The result is either fluctuating sense of mistrust or blind-trust that makes rest seem very difficult.

In a Dangerous World

Trauma does not make our world more dangerous than it was before; it opens our eyes to dangers of which we were blissfully ignorant. The beauty of ignorance is that it allows us not to ask certain vexing questions. The question now becomes, how do we not see what we know is possible?

We don’t “unsee” it through willful denial. Willful denial is a means of silencing your own voice. We know when we’ve just taken the batteries out of our emotional smoke detectors, and silence no longer brings peace. Instead, acknowledge and gauge the danger that is around you. After a trauma the presence of any danger or uncertainty registers as “code red.”

Part of the journey to peace of mind after trauma is re-establishing more degrees on your emotional safety thermometer. This can be done by asking yourself two questions, “What is the actual level of concern my situation warrants? What is an appropriate response to this level of concern?” It may take a while to be satisfied again with situationally-appropriate responses. But learning to accept and respond to day-to-day levels of danger is better than fluctuating between the all-or-nothing responses of denial-and-panic.

Read Matthew 10:16-24. Notice that Jesus goes out of his way not to minimize the dangers his disciples would experience. Reading his descriptions may even be unsettling. In response to these, Jesus calls his disciples to be “wise as serpents” (v. 16). Knowing and assessing the danger, Jesus wanted his disciples to take appropriate pre-cautions. Yet this vigilance, not hypervigilance, should still leave them “innocent as doves” (v. 16). There is an awareness of danger than does not rob us of peace. Likewise, there is a sense of trust that does not make us passive. Whether you feel like you consistently live in that spot now or not, know that God does not expect you to live alternating between bracing and pretending.

Question: What evidences have you seen of your ability to live in the emotional space between bracing and pretending? What relief do you feel knowing God approves of this?

You Are Not Alone

This merits repeating. We can feel alone because (a) we don’t think anyone understands or (b) because we don’t feel like we have anyone to talk to. This study is designed to counter both of those isolating narratives.

Hopefully in this study you have found vocabulary and concepts that make sense of your experience. Whereas, before, you might have felt unable to articulate your challenges and that was part of what made you feel like you were “crazy;” now you can invite someone into your journey. Allowing Christian friends to support you is what it means to experience the Body of Christ.

“The cross doesn’t answer all of our questions about human suffering, but it assures us of God’s compassion for human misery (p. 176)… Those who suffer often feel isolated and disconnected from others. They often feel no one really understands what they are experiencing… The beauty of the cross is that it connects Jesus with our suffering, particularly the suffering produced by abuse (p. 176).” Steven R. Tracy in Mending the Soul

Also, this study provides you with a resource you can use to educate those close to you on how to support you. Sometimes we avoid people, not because we think they don’t care, but because we don’t think they will understand. The thought of being the educator about our experience before we can be supported on our journey is exhausting. By merely asking someone to study this material along with you, you can avoid being stuck in this dual role.

Read Romans 12:15 and I Corinthians 12:14-26. God does not call your reliance upon others for support at this time “being a burden;” instead God views it as “being part of his body, the church.” God made us to live in community so that our pain could not exist without affecting others. God did this as a means of protecting his people and ensuring their care in hard times. In our individualistic culture, this can be hard to accept. Some of the narratives we must throw off are not just the personal meanings we’ve placed on our experience, but also the cultural values that are at odds with our recovery and God’s design for how we live.

Question: What are the experiences of being less alone that you’ve already begun to experience? What are the steps you could take to make this theme more dominant in your recovery?

On a Journey

When the scenery is changing it can be hard to get your bearings. As you process your trauma, you are changing in the ways you would have had the trauma not occurred (i.e., normal maturity) and your experience of the trauma is changing (both based upon the journey of recovery in this study and the way you think about the trauma due to new milestones in your life). All of these factors help to make sense of the frequent disorientation you may feel.

Think of the person who was sexually abused as a child. Processing this trauma will change with time; when they hit puberty and begin having sexual desires themselves, when they marry and sex becomes something that is intended as a good experience to express love, and when they have children and now feel the pressure to protect their child in ways they were unprotected. All of these changes represent a journey.

Also consider how the experience of trauma changes with time. Initially, the intrusive, constrictive, and hyper-arousal symptoms feel foreign and strange. Then they become the unwanted new-normal that is perpetually fought against. With healthy interventions they become less prevalent and intense, but still may be intensely triggered by close associations or life markers (see paragraph above). These changes also represent a journey.

Read Psalm 23. Notice that this well-known Psalm depicts a journey of a sheep with the Good Shepherd through perilous times to a place of safety. The sheep, with whom you are invited to identify, travels through barren country where skill is needed to find green pastures and water (v. 1-3) and traverses dangerous places where the terrain is unsafe and a staff is needed to protect against predators (v. 4) before coming to the place God had prepared for them to ultimately dwell (v. 5-6). Imagine the doubt and fears the sheep must have experienced along the way. Realize that the hope of the sheep was not in its surroundings, but in its companion.

Question: How does understanding your experience as a journey help you not feel as lost or dismayed in moments that are disorienting or feel like a regression?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.