Understanding Trauma – How We Treat the Broken Among Us

Until the about the time of the Vietnam War, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was not widely understood. Through WWI and the majority of WWII, symptoms of PTSD were largely debated to be “lack of moral fiber” or just plain cowardice. It seems to be against our nature to recognize mental illness or to think people may not be in complete control of their behavior or habits. Even worse, mental illness is still often viewed in Christian communities as products or evidence of sinful corruption.

In my own personal experience, those with mental illness may be pitied for a time in their communities, but only for a time. Once they fail to be “healthy” after a period of time, they are often blamed for their condition and alienated. We do not expect an amputee to regrow a limb. We do not expect accident survivors to cleanse themselves of their scars. Yet there are many who think that victims of trauma should be able to eventually overcome anything they have experienced. This is an essential misconception that needs to change for Christians to know how to serve the “least of these” around them.

God Does Give Us MORE Than We Can Bear

The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can bear,” comes from a misinterpretation of Corinthians 10:13. That passage was referring to temptation, not suffering or pain. If you look around the world, many people are forced to endure more than they can bear. They become broken, traumatized, and dysfunctional, not always the whole person, but pieces of them, or parts of their psyche. Those pieces may never really ever return to normal, no matter how much they may try.

Related: The Meaning of Violence – by Shawn Casselberry

Sexual abuse, especially to children, is one of the greatest mutilations which can be committed to a person. It breaks their ability to trust, to feel safe, and even to feel secure in themselves. False imprisonment, cruel families, harsh survivalist environments, and even social persecution can irreparably harm a person’s development. God does not spare humanity from it’s own cruelty. The rain falls on the just and unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)

What it Means to be Broken

To be broken means that we lack the strength or capacity to manage our circumstances. It means we are truly helpless in the light of the challenges we face. All of us experience this state at one time or another, but the traumatized and mentally ill face it every day. It is like being handicapped, they live by the grace and helpfulness of others. The conservative side of isle often views people as responsible or lazy, and that does not leave room for the truly broken. There are many truly broken people, and many of us carry our own broken pieces.

Again, many people can heal from trauma, just like people can heal from an accident. The issue is that healing has no promise for time, or even a promise at all. Any physical therapist can tell you that healing is often a lifelong commitment. When we put our own beliefs of how fast someone should heal, or how much, then we are at risk of adding to the the burden of those who are trying to overcome.

So What Should We Expect of the Broken?

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9  ESV

Also by Yaholo: Five Reasons Christian Parents “Lose” Their Children

First of all, we need to understand that worldly success is not a sign of mental health. The ability to provide for oneself cannot be directly tied to being “healthy” as it would imply we live in a perfect world. In our world today, there are many mentally ill people who can provide for themselves, and many quite sound of mind who struggle to find work. Tying provision to progress can greatly distract from reality.

Second, there is a need for everyone, of any level of health, to choose to move forward and participate in their own healing. There is a line between helping someone and living for them. This wisdom is something which has no rules or absolutes, it is grown through prayer and experience. But if we error, we should always try to error on the side of grace.

Finally, we are not asked by God to live free of all weaknesses and malformities, but to live inspite of them. It is our limitations and times of helplessness which allow for God to work His wonders. It is our calling to help each other, not fix each other. The first is holy, and the latter is oppressive.

Yaholo Hoyt is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. You can find him at http://yaholo.net or read his blog at http://practicalchristianmysticism.blogspot.com

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Yaholo Hoyt

Yaholo HoytYaholo Hoyt is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. You can find him at http://yaholo.net or grab his book at "What If Christians Grew Up?"View all posts by Yaholo Hoyt →

  • Meg

    Yaholo, thanks for addressing trauma. As a trafficking survivor and one who works with survivors daily, learning how to address and care for my own trauma as well as come alongside those in their own traumas has been huge. It has been uncomfortable and painful, but incredibly freeing and life-giving as well. We are all wounded healers in the making should we choose to walk God’s healing path.
    Overall, I really appreciated your piece for it’s heart and willingess to call out the reality of our limited patience during the long healing journey. I have to admit, I took issue with the term “pitied”. Perhpas they exist, but I don’t personally know any survivor of trauma that wants to pitied. We want to be understood, supported, comforted, and given the time and resources necessary to work through that trauma and whatever lingering issues it has born – It’s thick, layered, and often a lot more complex than just PTSD or Complex PTSD.
    I also think we really need to carefully think about how we use the term “least of these”. Those who are breaking under societal pressures to confomr and ‘get normal’ are often hurt by this term, though they rarely express that. I know it’s Biblical and I’m still working through this, but often times, we use this term to refer to those who are somehow more disadvantaged or less capable than us. If we’ve all experienced trauma, then I’m thinking this makes us fall under the “least of these” umbrella. I’d love to hear you expand on the use of that term more at some point.
    Once again, thanks for getting the conversation started and I hope this speaks to many as they read it and ponder not only God’s heart, but their own :)

    • Meg,

      Thanks for the comment. I am glad you take issue with the word “pitied” because that is how I meant it to be taken. Pity is a shallow and haughty emotion and often inappropriate. I am implying that “pity” and our other poor attitudes are tied together.

      I would say the same for the “least of these”. When Christ says that, he is also being a bit tongue-in-cheek as the “least” he is referring to is only least in the eyes of the world. Ultimately the world sees things in terms of power. God sees the powerful as obligated to serve others. Many who are great in this world are the true “least” of heaven.

      This is not said to be argumentative, simply that I understand and agree with your concerns.

      • Meg

        I think it’s great dialogue, not arguementative, so thanks for getting back to me :) Having your unpack that a little bit actually helped me re-frame the article and appreciate it much more. Sometimes it’s hard to read into how something was intended to be read, so that clarification deepened and enriched the read for me. Once again, thanks for responding and I’m looking forward to reading more from you!

  • Kay

    As a trauma survivor from childhood then domestic abuse (too common), I have spent most of my 50 years in recovery. I have also been a therapist in private practice for 25 years, and I believe wounded healers offer deep soul work. Christians often try to offer compassion short term, but the missing element is patience. We survivors may withdraw, put up walls, be unable to stop a flow of tears, and go in and it of seasons of anguish and grief. We need fellow sojourners to keep in touch and seek not to take our suffering symptoms personally. We are responsible to work on our healing, and most of us doggedly do. We find immeasurable grace for the journey from brave believrs who befriend us.

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