The title probably brought some of you to the point of saying, “Duh.” Please bear with me. While it is a simple statement, I’ve seen two extreme reactions to someone who is dealing with trauma. The one we are not talking about here is to behave as if trauma is impossible to work through. The other is to pass trauma off as not that big of a deal.
Trauma would not be called trauma were it a mild thing. Most of us walk through life dealing with the little difficulties every day. At times, those difficulties build upon each other to a point where we are overwhelmed, but a typical day’s difficulties are manageable. Truthfully, though, we tend to do a better job listening to those small matters. Perhaps this is because we can relate. We know how much of a frustration it can be when we toss a spoon in the sink only to have it spray dish water on us and now we need to change our shirt so we can be presentable for work.
We tend to understand less about traumatic events, which is part of the reason they are difficult to deal with in the first place. If trauma was an every day occurrence in our lives, we would know better how to handle it ourselves and we would also have some idea how to handle it in other people. But it isn’t a daily event, which is what makes it trauma.
Going through extreme events, or a serious of high stress events, can lead us to a place where small things overwhelm us far more easily. Most of us have a pretty good sense of how much we can handle on a regular basis, so when those large scale things happen and knock us down, we can find ourselves frustrated by our own responses to the little things. Not having the ingredients we need to make the dinner we planned probably isn’t typically cause for tears, but on a day where we experience shocking things, we may not have the energy to cope with something as “small” as that.
What’s going on there?
Well, every decision we make throughout the day, every interaction we have, every moment that requires us to cope with even a tiny bit of stress requires some output of our energy. When we experience something particularly out of the ordinary, especially something that puts our lives or the lives of those we care about at risk, a good deal of energy goes toward keeping us upright and moving forward. This is especially true when the situation requires us to respond in some way. For example, when we receive bad news and we need to pass it along to someone else, we cannot simply collapse on the spot. We have to form our thoughts into a cohesive pattern which we are then able to communicate.
The longer we have to hold ourselves together to accomplish various tasks, the more we tap into our reserves until there is nothing left. Those are the moments where the little things will make us incredibly angry, bring us to tears, or cause us to crumple in fear. They’re also the moments where we can no longer hide what is really going on in our heads.
Trauma is also hard because by its very nature, it can make us feel quite isolated from those around us. We know they don’t understand (or at least we think we do; often people understand more than we give them credit for), and we also struggle to find words to communicate what is going on. We may genuinely want to let someone in, but at times, the expression of the facts of the situation don’t go deep enough to help us feel any release of the building tension within us.
Every person is unique in what exact thing works for them. Some need to write. Some need to talk. Some need music. Some need silence. But there is one consistent thing we all need: Christ.
Believing in Jesus for salvation does not automatically mean that we are healed from all trauma, that nothing bad will ever happen again, and that we won’t have struggles. I don’t want to give the impression that if we would just believe in Jesus we would be fine. But I do also want to be clear that apart from Christ, any solution we seek is ultimately useless. We may find temporary relief, but we do not find true peace or joy.
In Christ, we do have the ability to fight our fears, to work through trauma. Trauma, like grief, is not something that ever really goes away. It reshapes us and we have to find our new normal. But we can take it step by step, and let Him guide us in the way we should go. This involves prayer. It requires thanksgiving and praise. And it involves thinking rightly. Our focus must be on Christ, who He is, what He has done for us. Any other focus will inevitably lead us back to ourselves and our struggles and pain. Christ doesn’t make it so we don’t see our pain; He makes it so we see our pain in the right perspective. He allows us to have joy in suffering. He allows us to know even when we don’t feel it that He is good. When that is our perspective, we can more readily call on Him when the overwhelming weight of our trauma threatens to bring us down. And we can also see that when we are on our knees and have nothing left, that doesn’t mean it’s the end. Often, God has to bring us to that point so we know to rest in Him completely because the truth is we have nothing on our own even when things are going well.