Addressing Wounds and Trauma
No one comes to adulthood without wounds. We have all been wounded in community and we all need to be healed in community. We are much like the lame man who needed four friends to carry him to Jesus (see Mark 2:1-12). They were so determined that they opened a hole in the roof. Jesus forgave the man’s sins first, then he healed his body. We all need people whom we trust to be the “hole in the roof gang” for us and carry us to Jesus so that we too can be healed. Sometimes you will be the one being carried. Many times you will be the one carrying another. Both are good, acceptance, and important.
Some people have trouble receiving comfort, care, and help from others. They may quote the phrase, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). However, we should notice that it does not say that receiving isn’t a blessing. I submit that if we don’t know how to be good, gracious receivers, we won’t know how to be good givers. The grace of receiving is essential to learn in order for us to practice the blessing of giving in a way that does not belittle, demean others. Learning to humbly receive begets learning to humbly give. This must be a continual process of receiving and giving just like the body inhales and exhales. It’s not a once and done thing as if we just receive in childhood and just give in adulthood. Learning to receive more from God and others will empower greater ways of giving.
A key principle in understanding the power and impact of the wounds we have experienced is this: What is not transformed is transferred. This is true in families when dysfunctional behaviors are passed down through generations. It is also true in organizations such as businesses, schools, and churches. Wounded leaders tend to wound others and create an atmosphere in which that wounding can root, grow, and be replicated. In simple terms, hurt people, hurt people.
This stress caused by internal, institutional, and societal forces evokes and connects to unfinished business individuals have from their past. The body stores and remembers every event and places it in a ‘file’ in the brain. When something similar happens in life, good or bad, all of the parallel experiences we have had, along with the filed memories and emotions, are stirred up again.
I offer the following positive example. When people go to class reunions, they remember times shared with school mates and reminisce about their shared experiences. Last summer a classmate from high school reminded me of something we shared 48 years ago. He recalled the fun we’d had, and the memory was instantly evoked for both of us once again.
A negative example of the way our brain works occurs when we see or encounter people from our past who have caused emotional or physical wounds. Just seeing or remembering them instantly recalls and evokes all the powerful negative feelings we had toward them. We may have forgiven them, or been forgiven by them, but we still remember, and our bodies and brains still react accordingly. Hormones are released. Muscles tighten. Our breath quickens. We go into hyper vigilance mode.
We need God’s help to process these memories in such a way as to draw strength, comfort, and assurance from the good memories and to experience transformational healing of the bad memories. These negative memories cause pain and will not and cannot be healed simply by trying to forget them and put them behind us.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the suffering we
most frequently encounter ... is a suffering of memories.”
(Henry Nouwen, The Living Reminder, 20-21)
The way out of the negative cycle of painful memories and past traumas is to get into them. We do this most effectively by positioning people to have an encounter with God in the places of wounding that are stronger than the negative, wounding experiences. This is possible without being re-traumatized. We need to learn to deal with these memories, to dig down into them and courageously, with God’s help and the support of others, work through them. We need help to experience the gift and power of Jesus’ healing for our pain.