Pain Changes Our Brains and Our Lives
Within my first few sessions with clients who’ve experienced childhood trauma, they usually find a way to communicate that their pain isn’t valid enough to hurt them as deeply as it does — especially my Christian clients. They’ll go through a list of rehearsed statements when I begin to allow room for them to feel deeply about their experiences without my interrupting.
“It’s not like I was sexually abused or something.”
“I didn’t have it as bad as others. I just need to get over it.”
“But no one laid a hand on me.”
As they continue to attempt to convince me of how their experiences really aren’t that terrible, I think of all the times they must have been invalidated in the past. All the times they let their pain be seen, only for others to shame them into leaving it in the darkness. All the times they taught people how to dismiss their pain by dismissing it themselves so they wouldn’t have to live with the unexpected sting of rejection.
Sometimes we’ll turn our back on ourselves because we think others will, too, one of the most common acts of self-betrayal. I consider self-betrayal the act of denying or minimizing one’s true nature, feelings, or needs in order to avoid conflict or judgment. It’s a clever way to maintain connection with others and a quick way to lose connection with ourselves. Unfortunately, it’s common for Christians to feel shame about their needs, because of how Scripture has been used against them. They often expect me to join the chorus of invalidating voices as they list off Bible verses people have used to shame them in the past. Instead, I lean in and listen. I stay right there, not letting the conversation move on. Whenever this happens, I think of those funny images of lazy dogs who are all but forced by their owners to go on walks. Rather than resisting or running back in the house, they just lie down, leash and collar attached, deciding they won’t.
- You don’t have to be touched to be traumatized. The words spoken over you that sting to this day are evidence of that. The phrases that swirl in your mind, talking you out of trusting and risk-taking, are proof.
Not thinking about the things you experienced doesn’t mean the damage they’ve done in your life is gone; being hurt a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re not affected right now. You may think that what you went through was small, so you don’t have to deal with it. I hear you. But you also know you can’t keep living the way you have. The patterns of overdoing, underdoing, hiding, and craving the limelight have shoved you into the shadows of inauthenticity and shame.
- There’s a reason God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
We can’t love others well until we love ourselves first. You may show up for yourself when people are watching, but how do you speak to yourself when no one can hear you? How do you treat yourself when no one can see you?
Deciding to “skip over” acknowledging and speaking about our trauma while trying to live a full and present life is like refusing to rehabilitate a sprained ankle to focus on running a marathon. Not only does it not make sense, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Similarly, deciding not to talk about your trauma or address it at all will cause incredible damage to your brain, body, and soul — the very things you need to live the life God has called you to.
Some of us don’t feel worthy. We don’t feel like we’ve been through enough to seek help or share our wounds. We feel like there’s not enough shock and awe in our stories for people to care. After years of being told by parents, teachers, and pastors to “just let it go” or “leave it at the altar,” seeds of self-loathing create the deep-rooted fear that our pain is still present because there is something fundamentally wrong with who we are. Your pain deserves to be seen, heard, and validated. No matter how big or small society says it is. You are not the problem. Your pain is; your wounds are.
- Being wounded doesn't make you a bad person. Being in pain doesn’t make you a bad Christian. It means you need comfort and healing. You deserve to receive that.
The courage it takes to recall some of the worst moments of our lives is truly divine. It requires something outside of ourselves to revisit the times that made us feel like life was unsafe, scary, and not even worth living. But the harsh truth, from one trauma survivor to another, is that every time we don’t look back and revisit the past to heal, we pay the price. Even when we’re gifted, even when we’re successful, even when we’re “anointed.” We don’t have to live in the past. We don’t have to be consumed by it. But in healing, we get the opportunity to look back at our past to process our pain and extract the wisdom that we need for our present. We can’t move forward without looking back. I imagine that’s why the word “remember” is used 253 times in Scripture. Remembering, confronting the truth of how we’ve been wounded, is what allows us to recover our lives from the trauma that’s taken so much from us.
In Mark 9:14–24, a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus to be healed. No one had been able to heal him or help him. The first question Jesus asked this boy’s father was, “How long has he been like this?”
I think Jesus wanted to bring to mind the full scope of this family’s anguish. They needed to be fully aware of the size of their despair, so they could see that pain so deep and long-lasting can only have a divine solution.
I am not saying that your mental and emotional pain is a sign of demon possession. I am saying that Jesus asked this question because it matters how long we’ve been in pain. It matters how long we’ve been carrying these burdens.
In a similar way, God is calling you to remember how long you’ve carried your burdens so that you can become aware of how in need you are of His divine presence and healing.
Many of us have been wondering why the good moments of our lives don’t stick. We don’t understand why, even when our prayers are answered, we don’t feel grateful or excited. We can’t enjoy the present until we’ve made peace with the past. We have to look back; we have to stay in the room in order to heal.
Many of us learned how to be safe through hiding behind patterns. It’s time to learn how to be free. We must face the things in the shadows and tell the boogeyman, “This is my house, and if anyone is leaving, it’s you.”
- What situations do you feel God is calling you to acknowledge and talk about?
- What emotions do those situations bring up?
- Who is a safe and reliable person you can talk to? (A therapist is always a great option.)
- When you feel the emotions this situation brings up, how do you cope with them?
Excerpted with permission from Why Am I Like This? by Kobe Campbell, copyright Kobe Campbell.
* * *
Being hurt a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re not affected right now. Are you walking around with trauma from the past? You can’t love others well until you deal with it with Jesus who cares deeply about you, your pain, and how long you’ve been suffering. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you about facing trauma. ~ Devotionals Daily