What is trauma and what does it mean to survive and heal from it? This is a poignant question on the heels of another attack on our country. The bombings at the Boston Marathon will naturally impact those in attendance differently than those who watched the events through a screen, but we will all be impacted regardless.
Have you ever been just sailing along smoothly in life and then BAM? Trauma strikes and nothing in your life will ever be the same again…
Maybe it’s because of a talk you had with a student, maybe it was the phone call where you found out that one of your students was killed in a car accident, or worse, they died at their own hands. Maybe it is a natural disaster that wrecks your community like a flood or tornado. Maybe it is a senseless school shooting like Newtown. And in that moment, nothing makes any sense. What do you do? Do you run away? Do you decide you are not cut out for this kind of work? Do you just withdraw or run to something that will anesthetize you from the hurt? What do you do?
Before trauma occurs you and your students operate from a belief that the world is orderly, that most people are kind, and that there is meaning to life. You believe that God is in control of all things but prior to trauma that is a shallow belief because it has never been tested. Post-trauma you are awakened to the awareness that you are not in control of anything and that you are vulnerable. You begin to realize that you are no longer safe and secure. Often, what gave you meaning before the event leave in a smoke cloud and we are left grasping at straws. Life no longer feels fair or just.
In the PSTD Workbook (2002) Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula inform us that many factors impact how an individual reacts to a traumatic event. Age, time preparing for the event, amount of damage done to you, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), the amount of damage witnessed, and the degree of responsibility one feels for causing or not preventing the event (pg. 5).
The authors go on to say that there are three major types of factors that influence the development of PTSD. They are pre-event factors, event factors, and post-event factors.
- Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
- Hx. Of clinical depression
- Poor coping skills
- Unstable family system
- Early substance abuse
- Family hx. of anti-social / current anti-social behavior
- Poor social support
- Multiple early losses of people, places, or things
- Gender (women 2x as likely to develop PTSD)
- Geographic nearness to event
- Level of exposure to event
- The event’s meaning to the individual
- Age: being young at the time of the event
- Being victim of multiple traumatic events
- Duration of trauma
- The existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue (e.g., war)
- Participation in an atrocity, as a perpetrator or witness
- The absence of good social support
- Not being able to do something about what happened
- Indulging in self-pity while neglecting oneself
- Being passive rather than active – letting things happen to you (disempowered)
- Inability to find meaning in the suffering (Viktor Frankl – Logotherapy)
The PSTD Workbook by Williams and Poiluja, New Harbor Publications, Inc. 2002
As I read through these lists I can’t help but think that our ministries could play a central role of addressing many of the present factors surrounding traumatic events.
Spend some time this week talking with your staff or volunteers and discuss the factors on these lists and ask, “How can we be incarnational in the midst of trauma and tragedy?” I’d love to hear your ideas on this…