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Locked in Memories of Past Hurts: Trauma and the Path to Healing

By Dr. Rhonda “Roni” Pruitt

Causes of trauma can be the loss of a parent from divorce or death, or being the victim of personal assault that renders your soul powerless of defense.  Many express it as ‘the day my life flashed before my eyes and I knew I could not stop what was happening’. It becomes lodged in the person’s memory, a replayed mental event that will not stop being rehearsed.

Trauma is an imprinting of pain on the soul that bears ongoing pain.  A closer look highlights a person who struggles with some elements of depression, anxiety, chronic illness, phobias, obsessive thoughts, and, maybe, PTSD.  Amazingly, even if the person(s) who created the threat and pain has died, they continue to live submerged in silence of the mind, entangled in memories of the past.  Fragments of the traumatic experience remain in memories and pain is often displayed in the human body in various forms of illness.  Illness will often have features that doctors cannot fully explain.

The life of a person suffering with traumatic symptoms centers around emotional wounds.

And life becomes about the person constantly reaching into the past in attempt to find a mental resolution to the pain.  The present centers around trying to repair the pain.  Unfortunately, this is a vicious loop as a resolution can never be identified.

The purpose of the vicious loop has been explained well by a person who experienced a trauma. “What I failed to realize at the time is that when we try to resist feeling something painful, we often protract the very pain we are trying to avoid.  My mind continually taunted me.”[1] Revisiting the event to dissolve the pain only extends the pain, but does not resolve it.

It is common for the person to question, “why does the traumatic event impact me so deeply”?  “Why can I not just resolve what happened in the past and move forward with my life?”  There are different levels of impact from a traumatic experience.  Rarely are the factors that determine the level of wounding considered by the individual.  Jasmin Lee Cori defines some of the factors that create different levels of trauma:[2]

*  If you were able to do something in the moment (such as helping to facilitate an escape), you will be less shattered than if you could do nothing.

* If you were very young, you were more vulnerable and had fewer resources to help you cope or recover. Therefore, you will likely have more scars.

* If someone you know, and especially someone you love, was the cause of the trauma, that is even more shattering to your sense of safety. There could be an element of betrayal, which brings injury to your sense of trust and self-worth; this type of trauma leaves the most scars.  The worst trauma is felt as being deliberately and maliciously inflicted, and more harmful if caused by a parent.

* If the exposure to trauma is repeated rather than a one-time event; it is more disabling.

* Traumatic events that are unpredictable have a greater impact than those you can anticipate.

* Violation by another person is always worse than impersonal trauma. Close to half of sexual assault victims will develop symptoms of trauma.

* Help during the event, or support after the event, is critical in determining long-term effects of trauma.

It is highly unlikely the individual can stop reliving the event by self-determination. Healing almost always requires another person entering the mental event with training to bring emotional healing.  Something valuable can be going on inside us, but another person is needed to help us tune into a new perspective.

What is needed is surrender of the self so the grip of fear and anger is loosed.  Naturally a common response to victimization is anger with a sense of, “Why did this painful event happen to me?” “Does anyone understand what this has cost me in my life?”  The process of emotional healing begins with surrendering anger.  Yes, that is correct, give up the right to be angry.  Grief over the numerous losses cannot begin until anger is released in exchange for embrace of grief.  God knows what the wound has cost you.  God wants to walk with you on a journey of you fully knowing what you have lost, so healing can flow into the wounds.  There is a balm in Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22).


Recommended Books:

A practical book that is recommended for those who would like to read more on the subject of trauma is, Jasmin Lee Cori, Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life. Cambridge, MA: Marlowe & Company, 2007.

If a Christian integrative approach is desired with a boarder view of God and Suffering, then a good book is:  Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores. (New Growth Press, 2015).

If you are interested in how the church can play a role in trauma healing; a recommended book is:  Harriet Hill, Margaret Hill, Dick Bagge, and Pat Miersma, Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help, Expanded Edition 2016. (American Bible Society, 2016).

[1] Mark Wolynee, It Didn’t start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Vapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle. (New York, NY: Viking Publishers.)   p. 4

[2] Jasmin Lee Cori, Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life. (Cambridge, MA: Marlowe & Company, 2007).


About the Writer

Dr. Rhonda Pruitt has served as a missionary for 30 years in Asia and Europe. Out of her experience flows a passion for missions and the care of missionaries who serve globally. Dr. Pruitt is a pioneer in the field of Member Care with dual academic training in Counseling Psychology and Intercultural Studies. She designed the first academic training program in Member Care at Columbia International University. Creative platforms for international ministry has been a part of her missions service.She served as a university professor in China at the Taiyuan University of Technology, and later, in the Japanese Study Program at Limestone College. Along side of church planting projects, Roni served as a psychotherapist visiting fellow at Leport Mental Hospital in Hungary. Later she opened a missionary counseling private practice in Berlin, Germany. As a missionary with Pentecostal Holiness World Ministries since 1989, Dr. Pruitt currently provides international missionary care services to resource IPHC missionaries.

Photo Credits: Discipleship Ministries

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