What Trauma Does

There are many circumstances in life which cause pain and suffering. When an event that happens causes side-effects which are beyond a person’s control we call it trauma. Medically speaking, trauma is the physical damage incurred by an organ of the body through an injury. However, there can also be consequences to the inner being that must be treated and given care and attention.

Sometimes trauma is caused by an accident, an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. Some accidents happen by chance, with no apparent or deliberate cause:

  • Falling down the stairs or off of a ladder
  • Spilling scalding water or suffering an electrical shock
  • An act of nature: tornado, flood, hurricane

These events are traumatic, but their effects are likely short-term and more physical than emotional

We comfort ourselves by saying: “It could have happened to anyone,” or “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The side-effects we experience might include being easily startled, avoiding the possibility of a reoccurrence or nervousness when similar events may happen.

Other times trauma is the result of someone’s willful disregard for another person’s safety and welfare:

  • Being the victim of physical, sexual and emotional abuse
  • Being randomly attacked by a criminal
  • Being hit by a drunk driver

This type of trauma can lead to long-term consequences and involve emotional suffering along with physical injury. We find ourselves questioning: “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Why am I always the one?” or “Is God punishing me?” The long-term side-effects that we experience might include life-long fears, emotional instability and suicidal tendencies.

How to React to Trauma

How we react to trauma can depend on a wide range of factors, including:

  • The severity of the incident and the circumstances involved
  • Who was present at the time and how we feel about that person or those people
  • Our own temperament and state of well-being
  • Our age and past experiences

An incident which may have been very traumatic for one person could be of little consequence for another. Two boys may fall off a boat into shallow water. The six-foot teenager may finish up sitting in the water laughing at his predicament, but the five-year old may be beneath the surface, face down in mud, inhaling water and fighting for his life. Years later the teenager may not even have any memory of the incident, whereas the five-year old may, as an adult, have a chronic fear of water, never learn to swim, suffer regular panic attacks and experience breathing problems in his life.

Another indicator of how long the effects of trauma will last is the response of the people who first react to the incident. A three-year old may suffer one of hundreds of minor injuries that are part of life’s rich learning experience. In the rough and tumble of play the child falls over and bangs their forehead. The child instantly bursts into tears and runs to Mommy. Mommy opens her arms wide, scoops the child into her lap and kisses it all better!

There is absolutely nothing medically therapeutic in that kiss, but its effect is usually instant and dramatic. The kiss does not speed up the rate of physical healing, but the love and security of a mother’s love almost instantly removes the trauma from their hurting child’s inner being.

In contrast, if this mother had pushed the child away, refused to show care in the moment, and insisted that the crying stop, the physical pain would go on much longer and the inner trauma would now be at the root of an unhealed memory.

Another Type of Trauma

A person who was not present when the unexpected and harmful incident occurred can sometimes experience trauma. When, for example, a mother receives news of the sudden death of her child in a road accident, the mother has not suffered physically at all.

But such news is so traumatic that she may be unable to cope with the shock. Her heart is broken and if her pain goes unexpressed and she does not grieve her loss, it all gets locked away on the inside. This inner grief, which is a consequence of the trauma, can begin to affect her physical well-being.

Overcoming Trauma

Unresolved trauma lies at the root of far more sickness and infirmity than perhaps anyone previously understood. It is so important that we allow the Lord to heal us on the inside as well as ask Him for healing on the outside.

The principles of healing and addressing the consequences of trauma caused by an innocent accident or deliberate abuse are fundamentally the same.

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