The Power of Being Present with Trauma: ‘What Comes Next’

The Power of Being Present with Trauma: ‘What Comes Next’

Written by Holly Morris, MA LMFT

“In the same way that people can drive each other mad, the company of people, and being understood by people, can also heal us.” ~Bessel van der Kolk, MD (leading traumatologist)


Several years ago, I participated in a transformational leadership conference. The experience over all was powerful, particularly in the way it created space to be a curious observer of internal and external responses to discomfort. The rhythm of the conference was an ongoing conversation about what we observed and how it played out in our lives.


There was an exchange during the conference between the trainer and a participant that I will not forget. The trainer used a word that evoked a strong response in one of the participants. Initially, the participant left the room. When she re-entered, she walked up to the trainer and in two passionate, angry words expressed her reaction to him. His gentle and direct response was, “Now we’re getting somewhere, what comes next?”


What came next was communicated by the participant in layers. The first layer was an expression of anger at the trainer for being offensive personally. The second was a rationalization of why the word choice was wrong and should not be utilized in that way. As the presence of the trainer remained steady, caring and open, her anger softened to sadness. The third layer was an explanation of what that word meant to this participant in her life and the lives of loved ones around her. In tears, she described the pain of personal experiences in themes of loss, regret, abandonment, fear and shame.


A word spoken by one person triggered a feeling so strong in another she left the room. Without encouragement to return to the conference, followed by her act of courage to go back, she may have left the experience all together. Had she left, she would have missed ‘what came next,’ experiences that led to understanding, comfort and connection. Her bravery to return, and face everything shame and trauma told her to hide from, created a personal, and corporate, experience of connection.


Shame from trauma didn’t have that last word that day. The unwavering presence of the trainer and other participants created a safe space for this participant to reveal deep pain connected to traumatic experiences in her upbringing. When that pain was triggered, it became intolerable for her to handle alone. However, in the presence of others who remained emotionally and physically present in each layer of ‘what came next’, deeper connection resulted. Her vulnerability created invitation for others, for us, to share more of our lives and feel our alikeness.


Courageously and compassionately stepping into ‘what comes next’ with our own experiences, and in shared experiences with others, can be difficult, uncomfortable ... frightening. However, it also has the power to challenge and transform, calling us away from fear, shame and isolation, towards connection and acceptance. While the healing journey of each person is unique and layered, I wonder when the next opportunity will arise to be present in a moment like this in your life. Possibly there will be an invitation to consider: ‘what comes next’?


Photo by Igor Rodrigues on Unsplash

Wrestling with Our Trauma

Wrestling with Our Trauma

Written by Dr. Lauren Richardson

We all come to a moment in our lives when we are faced with the reality of pain and suffering, the reality of trauma. For me, this moment occurred when I was 9 years old. I was waiting at my dance studio, eagerly anticipating my mom picking me up. Our school talent show was that night. I was performing and could hardly contain my excitement. I had spent hours teaching my friend a lyrical piece I had choreographed to The Lion King’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” As I waited, I noticed that my mom was running late, which was something that never happened. My excitement turned to nervousness and soon a family friend showed up. She informed me that my dad had been in a bicycling accident. I don’t remember much that followed that evening, but what I do remember is feeling confused, scared, and sad. I later learned that a vehicle had cut in front of my dad in the bicycle lane, causing him to run into the back of the car, face first. He suffered a concussion, as well as other facial and bodily injuries.


Two distinct memories remain from that time. First, I can clearly recall what my dad’s face looked like the next day when I saw him in the hospital. He had wounds and bruises that were a clear indication of the bodily trauma he had experienced. As a 9-year-old, I did not quite know how to process the appearance of my dad’s face. Second, I also remember looking at the clothes that came home with him in his hospital bag, including the bicycling jersey that he was wearing when he got into the accident. It had been frantically cut off of him in an effort to give him medical treatment in the ambulance. I recall feeling overwhelmed by the awareness of frantic efforts to save my dad’s life. At the age of 9, it was traumatic for me to see my dad so intensely harmed and to be jarringly confronted with the reality of death. I did not realize it at the time, but this trauma was the beginning of my journey in grappling with suffering’s place in my life; particularly in light of my understanding of what it meant to be a child of God.


“Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Luke 24:39


I have always marveled at the fact that Jesus’s scars remained after his resurrection. Despite conquering death, sin and all evil, Jesus returned to the disciples with wounds on his hands, feet and side. Our all-powerful God chose to keep his battle wounds, and marks of his suffering for us remained. This leads me to wonder, how do we make sense of our own scars? Scars that are visible, or invisible, from traumatic experiences in our life remain, but what do they mean to us? These are big questions with complex answers that space does not allow for here. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that my scars are an indication of God’s love for me, the way God drew me close to him during times of suffering. My dad’s scars remain on his face and to me they represent the strength of our family, built on the foundation of the precious love and grace of Jesus Christ. It’s taken much wrestling and conversation with God to arrive at this place, yet I am grateful for this journey because it has not only strengthened my relationship with Christ but also changed the way that I sit with others who are suffering from trauma. As ministry workers, counselors, and therapists, we must make sense of our own scars and trauma in order to come alongside and support the healing of those who have experienced trauma. So, my encouragement to you is to step into a place of wrestling so that you can know your scars, and what your trauma means to you.

Where do we start with Trauma?

Where do we start with Trauma?

Written by Dr. Kenneth Davis

I have always found it difficult to talk about trauma, not quite knowing where, or how, to begin; much less how to manage the thoughts, feelings and memories that surface. Concepts and theories on the issue have offered some help, particularly when I could relate to them through my own felt experience or the experiences of others I knew and cared about. As we prepare to offer a training on the “Reality of Trauma,” my hope is that through the course of our discussion we might begin to engage trauma from a new vantagepoint. What if we could allow ourselves space to be curious about our own unique relationship to trauma and how certain experiences have shaped our perceptions of ourselves and others in moments of distress? That is my aim and goal.


So often when I speak with pastors and laypeople in the Church I am struck by the sense of helplessness with which these concerned individuals describe their interactions with suffering people in their communities. Sitting with another human being in distress will inevitably evoke within us those similar moments of anxiety in our own lives when tragedy struck and we were left wondering where to turn for comfort or direction. Perhaps some of us will be provoked to search for answers or provide an intellectual response to the sufferer; much in the same way we sought understanding as a way to reconcile our own feelings of helplessness. For others, that overwhelming and wordless dread elicited by such painful experiences may be cause for withdrawal or retreat from those we sit with; a means to preserving our own emotional integrity. Whatever the response, these reactions tend to be highly automatic; unconscious artifacts of our own learned responses to emotionally troubling experiences from the past.


It is inevitable then, that our unique ways of encountering and seeking resolution for our distress in moments of suffering will be impressed upon those we seek to comfort. Until we take the time and careful regard needed to bring our own ways of coping with trauma into awareness, we remain vulnerable to returning to those same ways of being upon our next traumatic experience. In addition, we also risk missing the more important elements of sitting with others in their pain. It is therefore crucial that we seek to develop an awareness and compassion for our own traumatized selves; to begin to gently ask, and find comfort in living out, the questions evoked by those experiences that have given us cause to question and doubt. Perhaps then we will slowly begin to find ourselves moving into a place of “comfort within the uncomfortable;” more available to meet others in tragedy because we have met our own suffering selves there first. As the date approaches for us to enter into this time of compassionate reflection together, I invite you to consider the following questions as a starting point toward grappling with your own self-understanding of trauma:



Thank you for bravely engaging your past, present and future, particularly those moments that have caused you pain, anguish, fear and doubt. My hope is that as we do so, our lives and relationships will deepen, filled with more meaning, purpose and intimacy.
*Photo by Christopher Lemercier on Unsplash