“No one should have to go through challenges and trauma alone” – Sheryl Sandberg.
What was supposed to be a girls day out to the salon on a beautiful Sunday afternoon turned into a scary and traumatic moment for Brittney Gilliam and her daughter and nieces. Now a viral video, the girls aged between six and seventeen were handcuffed and ordered to the hot asphalt road while Gilliam, wrongly apprehended, was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser. It was only moments later that the police realized it was a case of mistaken identity as Gilliam had been suspected of driving a stolen vehicle. Aurora police chief admitted, “it was done wrong” and singled out the officers’ failure to double check before making the arrest. In any case, such excessive action should never be taken on young children. As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine the pain of seeing your child or children in such a position. The trauma inflicted in these circumstances can be life-altering.
This year has come with its fair share of traumatic experiences. Trauma is a deeply disturbing or troubling experience that can cause severe physical, emotional, and psychological wounds. These words articulate the experience that Gilliam and her children had that Sunday on August 1st. It also explains what many people have faced in 2020. It’s been said that time heals all wounds, but when referring to emotional and psychological scars, time may seem to deepen them. The danger that arises from trauma is the distrust that we feel towards people and the safe distance we employ to avoid getting hurt again. In essence, we disconnect from living our best lives. The cause of this is not by choice. The main culprit is that trauma creates a distorted view of ourselves and others. Hence the distrust and disconnection. To regain the trust and connection back, this distortion needs to be changed. While it is no easy task, I believe it is possible.
The Danger of the Hidden
Unfortunately, most trauma victims choose to hide their wounds, hoping they will simply go away, and life will return to normal. But unlike some physical wounds that may heal on their own, the depth of emotional and psychological scars cannot be left to heal on their own. Under the guise of “I am okay” they fester and breed, driving us to coping mechanisms like addictions to silence the internal chaos that is raging. Addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky has observed that childhood trauma is what puts the rocket fuel behind addiction. Research shows that mentally, we react more strongly to bad experiences and even hold on to them much longer than good ones. For example, if someone complimented the work you did and in the same breath offered a suggestion to do it better, you would probably latch and cling more to the suggestion rather than the compliment.
A Way Out
Be it a soldier returning from war, a deadly pandemic, a shooting in our neighborhoods, abuse, the sudden death of a loved one, a devastating divorce, marital infidelity, losing a job after working at the same company for what seems a lifetime, the shuttering of a family business, or not being able to see friends face to face, trauma can have a debilitating effect on us no matter our age or stage. But here are a few ways to overcome the disconnection that arises from trauma.
With God all things are possible
Traumatic experiences cause disconnection because they fracture the soul. And if God breathed life into our souls, it would only make sense that He can heal and make us whole again. His care and gentle touch can heal the most traumatized and restore us.
Handle with care
The traumatized choose disconnection because, in this fragile state, they lose confidence that there are people who truly care. This disillusionment can keep victims of trauma in a vicious constitution of anger, guilt, bitterness, fear, and hatred. Disconnectedness that springs from traumatic events can be overcome when we handle such people with care and patience. If you know someone going through disconnectedness because of trauma, kindness and care are paramount to restoring trust. People share when they know that we care. Richard Tedeschi, a co-author of Posttraumatic Growth, said in a recent article that articulation helps to make sense of the trauma and turn debilitating traumatic thoughts into more productive reflections. And this is part of the growth from trauma.
Growth is Possible
A false limit is created when trauma is allowed to have its way and disconnect us from life. This false limit says, “You cannot go any further than the traumatic experience will let you.” It acts like a chain around your soul, yanking you back each time you attempt to move on. But there is room for growth in spite of trauma. As real as trauma is, I believe that it does not have to be a life sentence. While disconnection from trauma can leave us stagnant in life, growth from trauma can propel to a higher place. In addition to articulation, Tedeschi says that activities meant to benefit others have a profound positive effect after a traumatic event. Serving keeps us connected and its impact on our lives, and others going forward should never be underestimated.
Final thought: Disconnection, caused by various traumatic events, appears to be a natural response. Stopping its surge is possible by believing with God all things are possible, there are people who care, and extending your hands and heart to serve others.
Keep on Keeping on!