Trauma: Where it Begins and Where it Can End

Trauma: Where it Begins and Where it Can End February 23, 2016

Undermuchgraceby Cindy Kunsman cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace

All images by Cindy Kunsman used with permission from Under Much Grace.

Every few months, I read an online discussion that argues that when a person gets out of a traumatic relationship (especially a religious one), there are no guidelines on how to recover. While on one hand, that’s true – because we all recover on our on timetable and in our own ways – trauma symptoms that cause problems in your life beyond about six months following the event aren’t healthy.

Unfortunately, though we may be reasonably healthy, the dynamics of a high demand relationship, religion, or group take a toll on us and cause us to loose the healthy perspective we once had. If we grew up in such a relationship or family, we may never have learned a healthy perspective. The statistics vary, but my exit counselor told me many years ago that with cultic religious groups, most people have difficulty and don’t return to church for about two years. I’ve seen online documentaries discussing two different well-known cults cults, and because of the stringent lifestyles that were required of members who grew up in their respective groups, both cited a figure of twelve years to recover. The each made a point to say that this figure applies to people who were actively working on recovery.

It’s now widely accepted that there are three primary stages of recovery from trauma, and I thought it would be helpful to create a diagram to help people understand the process. I hope that in weeks to come to explore these stages, drawing on experiences that I’ve had that either fit or don’t fit. I found understanding these stages to be very helpful, mostly because I could see a way out of the overwhelming amount of work that I needed to do (and that which I still continue to pursue).

Because emotional healing is not linear (in a straight line from Point A to Point B), I chose a circular maze to describe what it’s like to find one’s way out of a traumatic relationship and into the stages that we people tend to fall into as we grow beyond and through our experience or experiences – as well as learning to cope with the collateral damage. I find that the toll that my traumas took and how I was affected by them are more problematic and long-lasting than individual experiences.

So here are the basic stages, and I gave trauma itself and the time before seeking help it’s own stage. In days to come, we can take a look at each stage and what goes along with it. And for those who might read this and question whether they should seek some kind of help (be it self-help or professional counseling), those who do need additional help tend to have struggles with:

  • Loss of control / helplessness
  • Shame and guilt
  • Problems with trust and boundaries
  • Repeating bad dynamics that were learned while living through trauma
Again, there’s much here to think about, but here is a picture that I found to be encouraging. I didn’t feel so lost and overwhelmed if others had walked through the maze of recovery and came through it to life on the other side. At different times in my healing which I believe took a good thirty years, different aspects of the process caught my attention and brought me special comfort. I could look at the stages and could remind myself that I had hope. And it’s my hope that I can share some of that with people who might stumble on this online. 🙂
Journey with Markers

For further reading until the next post:

(Late Edit:  FYI I’m claiming the rights to this image with gratitude and laud for the those who gave me the ideas to illustrate.)

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  • Abigail Smith

    It’s so true. Healing from trauma is not at all linear…some days it feels like two steps forwards, three steps back….but that is normal. Emotions and the psyche don’t heal like a papercut…
    To add insult to injury, it was really hard for me to tell my abusive family that I have complex PTSD…and they totally ignored it and now my sisters are blaming me…I don’t know if you’ll be going into this aspect of blaming the victim, but it definitely makes healing harder when you keep getting thrown under the bus by people who don’t believe you

  • Friend

    As always, Cindy Kunsman adds valuable and comforting insights. I would say, though, that physical healing is not always linear. Medical conditions can bring about complicated healing. Treatment can cause emotional trauma, just as disease and injury can. Sometimes the physical recovery is going well but the spirits lag behind. And, while we don’t always heal physically, we still sometimes find peace.

  • Friend

    People at NLQ believe you.

    I hope you have support outside your family. You deserve love and understanding. I applaud you for speaking truth to your family. You have challenged them to view you differently. Maybe they will eventually face the consequences of their own actions, maybe not. Meanwhile, you matter!

  • Abigail Smith

    Thank you, Friend. I really appreciate that. It means alot. I have some wonderful support in some Facebook groups for Narc survivors: Luke 17:3 Ministries, Toxic Mom Toolkit and Narcissism Survivor YouTube Channel.

    My husband is starting to understand, too…I had so much shame because I thought there was something wrong in me or my mother wouldn’t have been so abusive. I now know better. I couldn’t even tell him the extent of the abuse until a few years ago, and we’ve been married over 20 years.
    I firmly believe that I was so duped by the fundies because it felt “familiar” to what I was used to from a dysfunctional childhood…being belittled for being a woman, being told what to do, etc.

    It gets me so angry at these church abusers like Phillips or Gothard or Josh Duggar who hid behind their religion and blame the victims.

  • Aw, Friend, That is a precious compliment. Thank you.

    Uncomplicated physical healing is linear — under the best of conditions and without problems. But few things are ever uncomplicated. Your words here could be expounded upon to form a book quite easily — and I’m already too used to writing posts that are too long!

    We can also suffer in both body and soul when those we love suffer in body and soul, too. Descartes and Plato did us no favors by encouraging medicine to divide the body from the the mind and heart.

    The interconnection between health and emotion is profound, too. I was in Santa Fe recently, and I had problems with asthma because of all the allergens on top of the thing altitude. I knew that I was walking into a stressful situation, and after schlepping luggage, my muscles were tight. I went to an oxygen bar and had an hour of massage with enough oxygen to match the air pressure at sea level. It was the best thing I could have done for myself.

    I talked to someone who had problems with anxiety, and she asked me how you can tell what breathing problems are anxiety and what comes from a physical cause. What a reminder of how one affects the other that massage gave me! I was astonished. My lungs still clamp down from allergens, but I realized as my shoulders and arms relaxed how stressed I was and how I carried it in my body. I was astonished when I sat up after the massage, appreciating that it’s pretty difficult to expand your chest when your muscles have been so tight. And poor breathing doesn’t help calm anxiety. No wonder I’d felt so bad and began to feel so much better.

    I never know whether there is any validity to Chinese medicine, but I
    did train to know which body areas are associated with emotion. The
    last time I that I saw many of the people in Santa Fe, I was overwhelmed
    with grief. As the therapist worked my muscles, I realized that the
    areas that were the most painful were all ones that the Chinese connect
    to grieving. I can’t say if it means anything beyond coincidence, but
    it makes for interesting thought.

    It’s taken a very long time to learn how to take care of myself and all of the parts of myself, and still, I forget. In a way, it is beautiful. But it’s beautiful and melancholy together. And so many of us who have grown up or have come through trauma either never learned or have neglected caring for oneself.

  • Some of this article won’t apply directly, as it concerns Bible Answer Man faves, the Passantinos, and how these Christians deny that there is any real trauma suffered as a result of spiritual abuse. The late Paul Martin wrote this to counter the Passantinos’ stance on the topic, noting that it is a second trauma — a revictimization — when those around us deny that we suffered.

    I don’t know about others, but I have found the denial and the condemning statements made by my loved ones who told me to “get over it” were more painful and traumatizing than the original trauma. It happened regarding my sexual abuse, and it happened over my spiritual abuse experience, too. Both were disabling for a time, but the pain of being dismissed as a liar or someone vying for attention by those who should have been my champions hurt me so much more. I felt so, so alone.

    But there is healing. I don’t know how quickly it will come, and I know how much work it is — and I still work at it. But you will heal, more and more, if you open up to a witness and ally to help you move through it. It doesn’t fix the collateral damage, but there is a new freedom on the other side. It just takes time. And tears.

  • Abigail Smith

    Yes, lots of tears! The trauma of being abused was bad enough but being condemned and the blaming the victim by the abuser is doubly hurtful…I totally related to everything you said. I wish you peace and a beautiful day….

  • Abigail Smith

    I wanted to mention this wonderful free 30 day meditation series on Do You Yoga…I almost wish it wasn’t called meditation, because some people may be scared off, but all it is is different breathing exercises…Breathing is one of the most basic things, but due to trauma, even breathing deeply can be difficult (at least it was for me)

    I love Do You Yoga…they have all kinds of free trial classes….

  • Any exercise which requires you to think about how your body feels helps soothe trauma, so yoga is very therapeutic. Van der Kolk’s Trauma Center in Boston was doing a huge study of it to help people with complex trauma.

  • Abigail Smith

    His work is amazing. I did a webinar class with him and some other top trauma experts…it was so validating that I’m doing everything I can to heal and take back my life…I wrote down this quote from him…”Yoga concentrates on the physical movement so it organizes attention…so that the free floating anxiety and “stuff” that comes up isn’t overwhelming”…He said in the seminar that he recommends the emWave to help regulate Heart Rate Variability, which is compromised in trauma victims….

  • I ascribe to their trauma model, and I am excited about some of this newer research. I love Jerry Boriskin, (PhD psychologist working with the VA). The parental attachment element is so relevant to Quiverfull, too. That seems to be a primary factor in how one processes trauma later in life.

  • Abigail Smith

    I’m going to look up his work. Thanks so much. I wish you complete healing. Thank you for all you share in your posts!

  • Boriskin may be in what you got from Van der Kolk. If you see his name pop up. He has some videos on youtube with the Meadows talking about trauma. He used to blog, but when last I looked, he didn’t keep it current.

  • I came away from his material with the same encouragement and hope. There is a way out, and though it takes some time and some extra work for those of us who grew up in the thick of messy religion, we can apprehend a much better way of living.