Trauma is a bigger player in our lives than you might think.
It's the unacknowledged guest at every gathering of humans. And if we could learn to understand it better, we'd create a kinder, more compassionate world.
In today's episode we discuss trauma:
- What is trauma?
- What are Big T and little T traumas?
- How does trauma impact your relationship to yourself, others and God?
- The shaming messages that often sneak in as a result of trauma
- What does the Bible say about trauma and healing?
- How do you begin to heal?
Questions to consider:
- What if what happened wasn’t your fault?
- What if you didn’t deserve that treatment?
- What if there’s not something wrong with you?
- What if you were created a beautiful soul made in God's image?
- Is there any sliver of you that could believe that?
- What if the heart of God is to heal?
What if God is a God of healing?
- Psychology Today Article—Basics of Trauma
- Genesis 2—No Shame in the Garden of Eden
- The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
- The Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson
- Matthew 9:21
- Matthew 24:13
- Mark 3:3-4
- What are the effects of Trauma?
- A Healing Process Everyone Should Know
- For more on trauma, see Try Softer by Aundi Kolber
- For more on trailheads, see Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelminng Thougths andd Feelings into Your Greatest Allies by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
- Resources for support
- Episode Transcript
- More Episodes
Dr. Alison: Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. Alison and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
I'm so glad you're here, you're back this week. I have so appreciated your comments, your reviews, your messages, the feedback you've given me. I got to tell you, it has really been so useful in my own journey, through becoming a new podcaster.
This process, these past few weeks, I was thinking about it, recently, has really stirred up some things inside of me. Some old go-to ways of relating, trying to produce, trying to please, try and to perform, instead of simply showing up to talk to you. To talk to people who want to grow, who want to heal, who want to learn.
And, so, when I hear from you, it does something inside of me and it helps me become a better person, it helps me do a better job for you. And it helps me connect to myself and connect to my better self. The part of me that just delights in getting to research this information and put it together, and bring it to you in a way that I hope and pray means something to you, and it lands on you.
So I felt such a shift this week, as I'm in my fourth week of podcasting, as a new podcaster. And just enjoying that journey, enjoying that process of trying to bring really helpful resources to you, so, thank you. Thank you for the ways you've reached out to me. Thank you for the ways you've encouraged me, it means a lot.
It helps this feel like a two-way conversation. It helps me feel like I'm engaging with you personally, I've been praying for you. I try to envision the different people whether you're driving in your car, or in your house, one of you mentioned to me that you were ironing.
Whether you're doing your dishes, cooking dinner, taking a walk, at work, well, hopefully, not at work, but if you have a break, that's great. Whatever it is that you're doing that I'm holding you up, and we can connect in this way, and, so, I'm so grateful for that.
I just want to thank you for taking the time, to let me know how this has helped you, to let me know what you're going through. And even though, I can't answer everybody individually, I read what you write me and it means so much.
So with that in mind today, in particular, I want to dive into a hard topic, a tender topic, the topic is Trauma. And I wanted to include trauma in this series on psychology buzzwords because it's a word that we see increasingly.
It really is everywhere and that's new, that's a new thing. That wasn't the way it was even when I was back in graduate school 20 years ago, we weren't talking about trauma, let alone in the common vernacular.
So you're likely interested in this topic of trauma for one of two reasons. Number one, you've experienced some form of trauma, and you're looking for resources, for wisdom, for insight. Number two, another reason you might be interested is if you're curious about the word because of someone you love. Maybe someone you know or you love is going through or has gone through a trauma, that they're trying to heal from and you want to understand it.
So I want to let you know my intention for you today and that is if you're healing from trauma. Whether from your childhood, or whether from something current, my intention for you today is that you know that you're not alone. That you feel seen and that you feel understood.
And if you're curious about what it means because of a friend or a loved one. My intention for you is that you grow in compassion and understanding as you come alongside that person. I think this is the heart of God's work in this world, is to bring healing.
And, so, whether you're someone who needs that healing. Whether you're someone who's coming alongside someone else who needs that healing, you're part of God's work. This is God's work. This is holy ground. As I like to say, this is the place where we meet who God is, I think, in these deepest, hardest places in many ways.
Before we dig into what trauma is, I want you to consider this question. Have you ever thought about the fact that trauma is a guest at every single gathering of humans? Think about your past week. Think about your church service, if you went to church. Think about, maybe, dropping your kids off at school, being in the carpooling.
Think about the gym that you go to if you go to work out. Or maybe a neighborhood park where you go to walk your dogs. Think about your own dinner table, right? If you've visited any of these places, this past week, you've bumped into trauma. Trauma is present at every gathering of humans. Maybe trauma was present in that person who was slumped over in the church pew quietly fighting back tears.
Maybe it was behind the one whose smile was so big, and who was trying just a little too hard to prove that everything's okay. Maybe trauma is behind that defensive comeback you encountered in the grocery store line.
Maybe it's behind that perfectionistic, distant exterior of that neighbor. You just can't seem to get her to let you into something vulnerable or something real. Trauma is operating behind so much of what we see play out in front of us, in all of these human interactions. And while it's not an excuse for poor behavior, don't mistake what I'm saying here.
I am convinced if we can understand what trauma is and how it impacts people, we would become so much kinder, more compassionate, more authentic with each other in all of these interactions.
So let's dive into the definition: What is trauma? I'm going to start with the DSM, that's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychologists use. Because it kind of gives us, as I've described before, this broad brushstroke of how psychologists over the past decades have defined and have learned to categorize what this means.
So there are several forms of trauma. But the one that you've probably heard of the most, the one that we commonly hear thrown around is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Just think of those words, it means post-traumatic. So there was a trauma, there was an exposure to some event, and it doesn't have to be you that was exposed to the event. You could have been exposed to someone else being abused. You could have been exposed to violence in your family. Or you could have been exposed yourself, you could have been the victim of this terrible event.
There are lots of ways we can get exposed to traumatic events and I'll list some of those later on. But this idea of PTSD, it's post-traumatic, meaning you've had some exposure to something that's traumatic. And then stress disorder is what psychologists use to say that has caused an inordinate amount of stress.
Now, there's a lot of issues with this definition and I'm not going to get into all the problems that different people have. Even in the psychology world of how this narrowly defines or even thinking of it as a disorder, for example. Most of us are really coming alongside of trauma survivors, now, and saying this isn't disordered at all.
The stress response that you have as a result of trauma is, actually, your body doing what it's supposed to do. So there's a lot of layers there that we'll unpack throughout the many coming episodes.
But for today, I want you to think of trauma as a couple of different things. One, this idea of exposure, something happened, something happened outside of you. Something happened that caused stress, as a result of that.
Number two, you have symptoms. There's something that stress manifests in you some way. So maybe that's intrusive memories, maybe you can't stop replaying the tape of this event. Maybe it's scary dreams, maybe it's flashbacks, maybe it's just anxiety when you think of going back into the situation.
Maybe you experience something traumatic at home, or at church. Or in a specific location, and that location brings anxiety to you. Maybe you have a hard time remembering certain aspects. Especially, when this happens to you in childhood, but sometimes as an adult, you know something vaguely bad happened. But you have a hard time remembering.
It may be you have sort of a persistent sense of negative self-shaming beliefs, which is very common after a trauma response, and we'll get into why. You basically just feel really bad, really anxious, really activated, and a lot of that messages inside your mind are self-shaming.
Maybe you experience what psychologists call hypervigilance. We think of this when we think of people being on high alert all the time, like a strong startle response. Something drops and maybe everyone else goes, "Oh, something dropped." And, for you, it sends you through the roof, your anxiety response is on high alert.
And the other factor that psychologists think about, when they're diagnosing somebody with a very specific form of trauma, which is PTSD, is time. That this doesn't just go away. And what they mean specifically by that is that these symptoms, all of this is going to last more than one month.
Now, right there, this is where we can get into these debates. Because a lot of traumas, of course, your symptoms are going to last more than one month. That's pretty naive to think that after a traumatic event, we would just automatically feel better after a month.
So there's a lot of issues with the way the DSM, this manual that psychologists use, narrowly defines trauma.
What I want you to hear me say is that trauma is actually adaptive. Your body is responding to something really awful that happened and, in fact, your body is doing what God designed it to do.
When something bad happens, it's appropriate to feel anxious. It's appropriate to not know what to do with those memories. It's appropriate to feel scared, it's appropriate to feel on high alert. This is what happens when we're exposed to really awful things.
And, so, I want you to know there is no shame in these responses. This is your body doing what God designed it to do. Now, one of the ways that we've learned to think about trauma, as opposed to the narrow one-time event, exposure to a one-time event. We've come to think of trauma in terms of big T and little t traumas, and all of them create a wound.
Big T traumas might be things like childhood abuse, being hurt, physically, sexually, being neglected emotionally. Being present, if your parents were addicted to drugs, and alcohol. If your parents had severe mental illness and weren't there for you. All of these things are very serious big T traumas, that create wounds, especially in childhood, but at any time.
But other forms of trauma can be childhood bullying. Being exposed to racism, which is in the air that we breathe. I have so many friends, right now, feeling traumatized by so many of these racially motivated events going on in our society.
There's other forms of trauma that you can go through as an adult. Maybe you go through a painful divorce, maybe you discover an infidelity, a betrayal, this is traumatizing to our bodies. We are not supposed to just encounter something like that and be like, "Oh, I'm fine. I'm great, nothing wrong here." That would be abnormal. That would be disordered.
Actually, being exposed to these things should evoke some disturbance inside of us because God didn't create us for these things. This is part of our fallen world. This is part of living in a broken world, trauma is a part, it's woven into the DNA of our broken world.
So, our bodies were created for the Garden of Eden. Our bodies were created for goodness, and beauty, and joy, and love, and goodness. And, so, when we experience these really toxic, abusive, terrible things, our bodies do what God designed them to do, which is they act out.
All of these different types of things that I've just mentioned and so many more you fill in the blank for the things that you've encountered that hurt you. Where you didn't know what to do, and no one came alongside of you to help you name what was happening. To help you walk through what was happening.
These create a wound to the soul. And if that wound festers inside and doesn't receive the care and attention that it needs. Whether it's a gash or 1000 tiny paper cuts, those wounds, if they don't receive care, they have an impact on your emotions, on your mind, on your soul, and on your body. So trauma is a bigger player in so many people's lives than you might think.
So I love this quote, that is by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who wrote the amazing book, The Body Keeps The Score, I highly recommend it, it's just a wonderful resource on trauma.
He has this quote where he says, as he studied trauma and began to develop this expanded idea of all these many, many ways that we experienced trauma. He says this, "The consequences of caretaker abuse and neglect are vastly more common and complex than the impact of a hurricane or a motor vehicle accident."
I think that's such an interesting idea that I want you to think about. That these relational traumas, these wounds that come through our caregivers, through childhood, through our peers. Even through our current-day relationships are vastly more common and complex than some of these really wild one-time, traumatic events. Those are hard, and I don't want to dismiss them.
But here's the thing, if you're in a car accident, if you have something awful like that happen to you, and I have, and it's scary, and it's awful, you name that thing. You name that thing, typically, you know something, really, bad happened. You name it, and you can get the help that you need.
But when we're talking about these relational traumas, these relational wounds. So often, we don't even know what's happening. We don't have a language for what happened to us and, so, it's really hard to get the help that you need.
So what is the impact of trauma? Well, I'm going to talk today about three relationships that trauma impacts. Number one, it impacts our relationship with ourselves. It impacts our relationships with others, and it impacts our relationships with God, it impacts all of these relationships.
Last week, if you listened to episode three, we talked about Self-Love. And trauma has a huge impact on the way you view yourself, and on the way you're able to value yourself. One of the main impacts of trauma on your relationship with yourself is shame. And I highly recommend the book, The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson. He is a wonderful psychiatrist who speaks so profoundly about the impact of shame.
But what he says is, "Shame enters into these wounds and it divides us from God, ourselves, and others." Shame tells us things like, "I'm bad. Something's wrong with me. This must have been my fault. I deserved that treatment that I got. There's nothing good about me."
These are the messages of shame, and make no mistake, these are lies. But shame is shrewd shame. Shame seeps into our wounds and it magnifies those wounds, and, almost always, it points that shaming message back on us.
So, for example, here's some example of some shaming messages that show up as a result of trauma. Maybe your parents constantly criticized you and so you have a message, a shaming message inside of yourself that says "I'm never good enough. I was told I was never good enough and instead of identifying the fact that my parents used toxic behaviors on me, I just believe that I'm never good enough."
Maybe you were bullied at school. And, so, there's a part of you that believes very deeply this shaming message, "I'm not worthy of love." And, so, that wound that got created festers and that shaming message comes in and amplifies that wound.
These are really painful messages, and we have to begin to acknowledge them if we want to heal. We have to begin to separate out and even just, sometimes I say to people, I'll say, "Can you get a paper widths distance between you and that shaming message?
Is there 1% of you, the tiniest sliver of you, that could believe that what if that shaming message isn't true? What if it wasn't your fault? What if you didn't deserve that? What if there's not something wrong with you? What if you were created a beautiful, wonderful soul made in the image of God? Is there any sliver of you that could begin to believe those other messages?
So number one, trauma impacts the way we view ourselves, and it tries to tell us, "We're bad." It brings in messages of shame. Now, trauma also impacts how we relate to others. We pick up coping strategies as a result of trauma, especially, childhood wounds. We pick up ways of coping because if we believe that we're bad, that we're not worthy of love. That we deserve these terrible things that happen to us, we have to figure out a way to cope.
So you figure out how to please other people. You figure out how to perform for other people. You figure out how to produce for people, maybe you get really controlling or perfectionistic because you are never going to let somebody in because it's too painful.
We pick up these coping strategies, maybe you work really hard all the time. Maybe you use substances to numb out because there's so much pain. You pick up these coping strategies as a result of trauma that impact how you relate to other people.
It makes it really hard to show up authentically when you're still dealing with these wounds from trauma and this shaming messages that you feel about yourself. So another example is, because of trauma, you may not trust yourself. Instead of, let's say you're having a conversation with someone, and the conversation leaves you feeling anxious, or uncomfortable, or cold. But, as a result of your own wounds, you've learned not to trust yourself.
You think, "Oh, I must be the problem. This can't be their problem, I must be the problem in this date, or in this conversation." And, so, you override your body, you override those signals that your body is giving you because you don't trust yourself. And this is how we end up winding up in the cycles of abusive relationships.
Because you haven't yet learned how to pay attention to the cues your body has given you. That when you feel anxious with somebody, it might mean they're not a trustworthy person. Now, we don't know that but we want to pay attention to that.
So this is just a little glimpse, we're really going to just kind of glaze over the surface here, and there's so much more to come. Of how trauma impacts your relationships with other people. You pick up coping tactics in the ways that you relate to others. And you often override your own internal cues and you stop trusting yourself in relationship to other people.
Lastly, trauma impacts our relationship with God. You might struggle to receive God's love for you. It might be hard for you to pray or to feel connected to God. You might feel anxiety or even depression and you might actually shame yourself for feeling those ways.
Because maybe you feel like, "Well, what's wrong with me? Why can't I just experience God's love?" But if you've been wounded, if you've been wounded in your life, your body feels anxiety, your body feels down, your body feels discouraged. These are real valid feelings, God understands that.
But maybe you don't feel like you can embrace that about yourself or honor those feelings inside of you. And, so, you begin to doubt God, you begin to wonder what's wrong with you or why doesn't God just take those feelings away?
You may wonder, "How could God love me? How can I trust a God that let these terrible things happen?" Or you may, again, because of that shame, feel like, "I can't feel God's love, how could I be loved by God?"
So there's a number of ways that trauma will begin to impact your relationship with God. It will keep you from that flowing back and forth. That river of feeling and experiencing God's love, and pouring out from that place of love inside, from that spaciousness inside. Because there's so much going on in your body, as a result of that wound that is still festering inside your soul, and it's not your fault.
Imagine if you were a child and you had a broken arm, and no one ever took you to the doctor. And, as a result, that arm doesn't work quite right. Would you blame your body for that? Would you blame your arm for that? No, you would say, "Oh, my goodness, I didn't get the healing care that I needed."
It's no different with trauma. It's no different with these emotional wounds. There's something in your body that is a little off because it's been wounded and needs to be healed.
So I want to touch briefly on this idea of healing in the Bible. Because while the idea of trauma we could talk a lot about, in another episode, about where we find trauma in the Bible. First of all, it's everywhere.
There's so many stories of trauma in the Bible, number one. Number two, this idea of healing, I just offer this to you that the Greek word sozo— that is often translated as SAVED in our current translations, also means heal. It also means to be made whole.
And there are several Scriptures, if you imagine the word HEAL instead of SAVE in these passages, it's very powerful, especially if you're someone who's recovering or healing from trauma.
So here's an example from Matthew 9:21, where the woman who has been sick says, "If only I could touch His garment," speaking of Jesus. "I will be healed." Now the translation we often see is, "I will be saved." But substitute that word HEALED for sozo, the Greek word sozo, and it's an accurate translation. Where instead she's saying, "If I can touch His garment, I will be healed."
Here's another one from Matthew 24:13, where Jesus says, "The one who stands firm to the end will be saved." Often translated as saved. But now think of that verse in this way, "The one who stands firm to the end, will be healed."
Then we go to Mark 3:3-4, again, where Jesus talks about healing on the Sabbath when He's getting accused of breaking the law. And he says, "What is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil? To save life or to destroy it?" And imagine Him saying, "To do good or to do evil, to heal, or to destroy?"
So, you see, there's so many instances in which Jesus is talking about healing, a process of healing, and sometimes that's a one-time event. Sometimes Jesus does heal in a moment, in a touch, but more often, it's a process.
And what if that is at the heart of who God is to heal us, to heal these wounds? What if God uses science to heal? What if God uses medicine to heal? What if God uses therapists and doctors to help you heal? What if God uses the safety of healthy people around you to help you heal? What if God heals through His presence?
All of these things matter as we think about trauma, as we think about a God who ultimately is about healing. He's about restoring, He's about making things whole. All right, to close, I want to give you just a few thoughts on how you can begin to heal because healing from trauma is a process. It's rarely a one-time event.
The good news is, all right, all those impacts that we talked about; the shaming messages, the coping strategies, the challenges you have connecting to God or other people. These become your trailheads on your path toward healing.
What do I mean by a trailhead? Well, a trailhead is a sign, if you think of yourself if you ever hiked, you go to the mountains and you see a sign and there's a trailhead, and it says, "Here's where the path starts. It's six miles down this way, follow this trail" So a trailhead is a sign that is indicating a trail you've got to go down.
And, so, when you notice those shaming messages when you notice those reactions, those extreme reactions. Whether you're lashing out at someone. Whether you're running away from a hard situation.
Whether you're compulsively trying to please someone, produce for someone, perfect yourself. Whether you're trying to numb yourself out with substances, with shopping, with entertainment, whatever it is. Whatever you notice, here's the good news, that's a trailhead.
That's your cue that some part of you is in need of your care. That's a cue that some part of you needs you to go down a path toward healing. All of these are cues.
And, so, instead of beating yourself up for the shaming messages you can't shake. Instead of beating yourself up for some of these coping patterns, for some of these ways you relate to other people. What if you looked at these as cues, as signals, that it's time to take a path toward healing?
Now, if you're someone who's never been to therapy, you've never done this work before, don't do it alone. You wouldn't walk down that mountain trail into the wilderness by yourself. You'd equip yourself, you'd get a partner, you'd get a companion. You'd get someone who knows what they're doing, someone who's been down that trail before.
So don't walk down this trail alone get help, get support. And I'll provide resources to therapists, to support groups, there are so many of them right now. There's online options, there's in-person options. There's so many recovery groups options, I'll link to those in the show notes.
But notice those trailheads, get curious about them, and then don't go down the trail alone. But ask yourself, "What if instead of beating myself up for this, I could look at this as an opportunity to heal? To get the support I need?” And to get curious, “Isn't that interesting, I get so anxious when this happens. What if I got curious about that? What if I learned where that reaction is coming from?”
“Isn't that interesting that I get so angry in these situations?" That's a trailhead to get to know a part of your soul in need of your care. It's going to lead you right to the wound, it's going to lead you right to that wound inside of you that needs your care and attention.
So instead of beating yourself up, notice that reaction that you don't like and say, "Isn't that interesting, my body is trying to tell me something, maybe I can get the care that I need. Maybe I can get curious about what's going on inside of me. Maybe I can show compassion toward myself and ask for the support that I need."
So these wounds that show up, in all these ways that we don't like, are actually parts of us beckoning. Beckoning, like that light on the dashboard of your car, that there's some part of you in need of your care.
To close today, I want you to think about trailheads in your life. What is a trailhead? What's a way you behave that you don't like? Instead of beating yourself up for that, what if you could get curious about it instead?
What if some part of you, some sliver inside of you, could say, "What if I don't need to shame myself for that? What if I could get curious about that? What if I could wonder, 'Oh, that's interesting, I wonder why I do that.'" Instead of, "I hate myself that I do that, I hate myself for feeling that way."
What if you could tap into that voice of love deep inside that says, "I wonder why I do that? Isn't that interesting?" Let's go down the trail. Let's take the journey to see what's going on inside of me. What wounds may be inside of me that needs my attention?
Where can I turn for support? Who are some safe people I could talk about this to? I'm going to set out on this journey toward healing. All right, be gentle with yourself. What if you could get curious?
Thank you so much for joining me today. I look forward to seeing you next week on The Best of You.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one l- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others and you stay true to your God-given self.