In my last post I discussed how trauma affects us. If you’re experiencing difficulty in your relationships, changes in mood, and bodily stressors, you may be dealing with the affects of past trauma. Coming to this realization can be really overwhelming – like standing in the ocean and suddenly being knocked off your feet by a huge wave. I’d like to offer a first step in seeking healing from trauma.
Step 1: Talk
There are many reasons we may choose not to talk with anyone about things that are bothering us. The most obvious reason I hear from people is shame. You may be afraid that your struggle is too big for other people to handle. Or you may believe what happened to you was at least partially your fault, and you’re afraid to share it because you’d be exposing your own vulnerability and weakness. Shame has a particular goal in the life of a Christian – to isolate. In the Garden of Eden when Adam and Even first sinned, they immediately hid both their whole bodies and the parts of their bodies that seemed shameful. They didn’t want God to know what had happened. We do the same thing in regard to our sin and in regard to the sin committed against us. But God’s voice finds its way into our experience. “Where are you?” The Lord wants us to come out of hiding and be seen – not to embarrass us further, but to clothe us and bring us back into the fullness of relationship that He has designed for us.
If you’re struggling with shame about things that have happened in your life, I recommend taking it to the Lord in prayer. Ask Him to call to your mind the name or face of a person who might be safe to talk with. God uses His people to bring connection and healing, and He means for you to share your burden with another Christian who can walk alongside you. Who might that person be? You’re looking for someone who is eager to listen, who is not quick to give advice from his/her personal experience, and who faithfully prays for you and encourages you in the Lord. It doesn’t have to be someone who has knowledge or experience in trauma. The first person to know about the painful parts of your story must simply be a person who loves you for who you are.
The second reason I often hear as to why people don’t want to talk about their painful memories is fear. It’s a legitimately scary thing to share your story with someone. Who knows how they’ll respond? Even people who’ve been kind to you in the past may not know what to say when you share something difficult. They may say something very hurtful, or they may be unaffected and indifferent. It’s a very real possibility. This is why I recommend that you pray for the Lord to highlight a person in your life who may be safe. Then pray for the conversation you’re going to have. Pray that you’ll have words to say and that the other person will have a listening ear and a compassionate heart.
The other thing I tell people when they’re preparing to share difficult things with another person is that they will probably want to coach that person before they begin to share. For example, if Sharon is planning to meet with Mindy to share some painful memories, she should ask Mindy if they can get together and let Mindy know that she wants to talk about some things that may seem heavy. Sharon can ask Mindy’s permission to discuss hard things, and this allows Mindy to prepare her heart for what she’ll hear. Sharon can also ask Mindy for permission to share freely without receiving any advice or instruction (at least in this first conversation). She can tell Mindy that she simply wants be heard, and that Mindy doesn’t have to feel the burden of knowing what to say. Her ministry of presence will be the most important thing.
I find that well-meaning people say the wrong thing when they feel an expectation to say something but don’t have words for what needs to be expressed. I love it when a friend gives me permission just to listen and sit with her in her grief. This allows me to be fully present and resist the urge to fix anything.
Step One is to talk. This step may take all the courage you have. It may seem like climbing Mount Everest. But confessing the painful things in your past has a similar effect as confessing your sin: it brings about prayer and begins the process of healing (James 5:16). Until someone else knows about your pain, you’ll carry the heavy burden alone. No one is meant to walk alone.
Now let me end by addressing those of you who are the “Mindy” in this scenario. Perhaps you have a friend who’s struggling, and they seem to have a hard time sharing. Or perhaps this friend has tried to share with you before and you did not listen intently. It’s not too late. Ask the Lord to reveal to you any person you could reach out to and offer to listen. I know it’s scary to bear another person’s burdens, but we must remember that Jesus is the ultimate burden-bearer. He carries the heavy load, and He gives us an easy yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). You don’t have to have good answers. You only have to have good ears and a loving heart.
In my next post, I’ll continue discussing steps toward healing from past trauma. Stay tuned!