By Joan Endicott
One unforgettable afternoon, out of the blue, I was confronted with some of my childhood challenges when a simple sound transported me back to a time of fear and trauma. As Mark hurried to change his clothes, the sound of my sweet hubby’s leather belt whipping through his Wrangler jean belt loops instantly brought floods of emotion and tears from the frightened little girl within me.* In those moments when I feel so fragile, I’m indescribably grateful for Mark’s long and strong, compassionate embrace and loving prayers over me.
This offers an important reminder for us all, that even though we naturally want to help provide solutions to anything that causes our loved ones pain, there are some things that no one can do for another. We can, however, provide a safe and loving place for them to process when we are fully present, listen well, offer unconditional love, comfort and compassion—while simultaneously turning off any “I can solve that!” button we might otherwise be tempted to reach for.
My friend, if past traumas ever set off emotional alarms within you, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Over 300 million beautiful souls worldwide are navigating the choppy waters of PTSD, which can spring from experiences as diverse as first responders and military service, or deeply personal traumas. In those moments, please remember to be as kind and patient with yourself as you would be with a loved one. Your life happened in layers—so does the healing of it.
So, exactly what is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as, “A mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.”
Clients often ask, “Joan, how do I know if something is resolved or if I still have work to do?” I follow their question with other questions to help them get clarity: “How do you feel when you think about it? What words best describe those feelings? When you think about it, do you feel it in your body?” Every time we think of something, if there is an unpleasant emotion, or a mental or physical response connected to it, it’s a gentle reminder that that is still an issue—an unresolved one.
In my young adult years, since I didn’t know what to do with the trauma triggers, I figured it was just a matter of trying not to think about them. Well, clearly we know that “out of sight, out of mind” is a fallacy and won’t work when it comes to hurts, heartaches, and traumas we’ve experienced. They need to be faced head-on just like David faced his giant, Goliath. Instead of sitting and thinking about it, the Scripture says he ran quickly to the battlefront. Those big ugly Trauma Giants need to be slayed swiftly and deliberately. The sharpest sword available to us is God’s Living Word. (Just pause for a moment and give Him thanks for this incredibly powerful and eternal gift!) There is an arsenal of other weapons available to you as well. Please understand, I know how painful this process can be. I also know that it’s 100 percent worth the effort and that nothing can replace having peace with your past!
Trauma—a deeply distressing or disturbing experience
Resolve—settle or find a solution to a problem, dispute, or contentious matter
Peace—freedom from fears, agitating passions, moral conflict; freedom from disturbance; tranquility; mental calm; serenity
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
When I was still in the naïve, just-don’t-think-about-it phase, God gave me a great visual of being in the water with an overinflated beach ball and the goal of keeping the ball under the water’s surface. I was working so hard and using all my energy and strength to keep it hidden, completely out of others’ sight—and I was exhausted! BUT, when I found the stem on the ball, opened the valve and started letting the air out, it lost its power. The visual of deflating that ball is a terrific word picture for how you and I can take the stinging power out of past traumas by processing them in healthy ways.
In their excellent book, How We Love, Milan and Kaye Yerkovich expose various experiences people can have in their homes of origin and how those imprints have a profound effect on how we, in turn, naturally give and receive love as adults. I cannot overstate the value of this incredible resource. I recommend every human read it! Yes, It’s that beneficial. In Chapter 2, they ask a simple comfort question: “Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress?” If you answered yes and can think of ways you were comforted with nurturing touch, being listened to, cared about and given relief from your distress, then you are blessed! If you answered no, you have a lot of company.
The authors share that in their work, “roughly 75 percent of the adults we surveyed do not have a single memory of receiving comfort from a primary caregiver when they were children.” The first time I read that statistic I was shocked! Not only was my answer also no, as I began asking this comfort question to my clients from all around the globe, I was amazed that 90 percent of those I asked also said no. Clearly, trauma can come as a result of either what did happen or what didn’t happen.
I also found these same clients would often attempt to discount or downplay the significance of the lack of comfort. They grappled with destructive self-talk, questioning why they hadn’t “moved on” or “let go” of something that happened so very long ago, as if time, by itself, heals. It doesn’t. When your inner dialogue is critical and lacks love, care, and compassion needed for healing, see it for what it is—destructive! Compassion, both from others and ourselves, is vital in the healing process.
Attitude for working through trauma triggers:
- Don’t blame others whose words/actions accidentally trigger you.
- Verbally process your trigger with a trusted friend.
- Be willing to go deep and do the work.
- Find a supportive community.
- Get help from qualified, vetted professionals.
- Be honest with yourself and those helping you.
- Have a plethora of practical tools.
Along with biblically-based counseling, learn practical tools you can implement immediately. For example, when something feels triggering, you can:
- First and foremost, immediately pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Memorize verses that directly combat the issue. Just as Jesus did when tempted, quote Scripture and draw the sword of His Word to slay the Trigger Giants. Truth always triumphs!
- Acknowledge the trigger for what it is and why—to validate your feelings
- Take a brisk 15–20-minute walk outside
- Do Tapping or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
- Journal your feelings
- Drink 16 oz. of water
- Eat protein/nutritious food
- Lay a weighted blanket across your core
- Practice self-compassion ongoing
(See my other self-compassion writings for more details.)
Just by knowing you have specific options, you will naturally reduce anxiety at the prospect of any trigger and feel more peace, ease, and rest. If you plan, prepare, and expect to win these battles, you are already on your way to victory, my friend! The Number One way I have been able to successfully process past traumas and make peace with all that happened is by taking the hand and walking closely with the only One who can carry those burdens for me—Jesus, The Prince of Peace.
*Please understand, this is not an indictment of loving, appropriate discipline.
Grab your FREE copy of Joan Endicott’s “I Get To!”® book at www.JoanEndicott.com. Joan is an Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, Author and Coach whose coaching has reached over 30 countries. Meet her and enjoy her encouraging messages on Facebook and Instagram!