Where do we start with Trauma?
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:
- What types of events/experiences does your mind associate to when considering the word trauma?
- Do you consider yourself to have experienced trauma, or do you reserve this label for others in your life or your community?
- What feelings, thoughts, and behaviors have you experienced yourself following a loss, tragedy, or significant life disturbance? How have you noticed others around you responding to these experiences?
- Are you aware of particular ways that you seek to cope with or relieve your distress? How have you noticed others around you coping?
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