Enslaved by Memories

Dr. Donna HartFor Those Giving HelpLeave a Comment

The memories of past trials and trauma can live in our hearts and minds like a second person inside waiting to reach out at any time to corrode the day. The common memory of the present day restores us to normal and offers a detached framework from the memory of trauma and trials. 

To live in the present is to block the memories of the past from the conscious mind.  

This article by Dr. Donna Hart appeared first here on her website and is used with permission.

Dealing with traumatic memories

The moment memories of the past intrude into the present we can feel vulnerable and overwhelmed by anguish. And when memories of the shame (inherent from the severe trauma of sexual abuse or rape) intrude, there is utter distress, humiliation, and all sense of self-worth is destroyed.  We may turn inward away from life because the feelings and memories are too much to handle. This is often necessary for us to begin to cope, because the intensity of the pain can cause us to think death as better than life.

We hate to see ourselves as victims and are very self-critical judging ourselves harshly thinking we should have been more responsible, less weak, and not so stupid. We think we should have prevented what happened.  

Trauma is described as an event that threatens life and safety. It takes away choice and results in overwhelming fear. This could be the effects of war, rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or violence. Trauma leaves a person feeling alone, helpless, hopeless, and full of shame.

We cannot erase memories or wish them away. What is not talked about cannot be put to rest and will fester. How do we lead a productive life after we have endured deep trials and trauma?

Living well after trauma

There are three ways we can respond to the pain we can talk, we can cry, and we must give ourselves the grace of time to heal.

1. Talking

Talking: Talking is essential for recovery. Speaking the truth about what happened helps to label what it is. It is evil and it has done a lot of damage.  Talking says, what happened is wrong, justice is necessary. We need someone to listen, to care, and give dignity to our story so we can move forward.

2. Tears

Tears: A lot of emotions occur as a result of trauma: fear, anger, despair, shame, humiliation, and grief to name a few. The feelings express how the trauma has affected us. We can fear feeling the feeling thinking that they will leave us crying forever. 

Feelings are the expression of how the heart has been wounded and the tears need to be seen and the heart needs to be heard. Many have tried hard to suppress the feelings and turn to cutting, alcohol, and drugs to numb the feelings. These behaviors cause us to be controlled by the trauma because we are doing everything in our power to run away from the feelings.

It takes courage to face the feelings. Most of us cannot do it alone, but only in a connected relationship. It is important to remember that shared suffering is endured suffering. It is an honor to walk alongside someone by listening to their pain and tears. 

Tears require courage to come out because it means we or they are facing the pain. When we start to face the overwhelming feelings that surround the trauma it can leave us feeling helpless, numb, and exhausted with grief.

3. Time

Time: Recovery from the grief and trauma will require talking, tears, and time. Expressing the emotions and naming them is the way we start to overcome them. Talking and tears stare the enemy down and tell him you will not silence and control me. Doing this will take time.

There are no quick fixes; words take time; tears take time and are crucial for healing. When we are full of fear and pain we want it all to go away now, and hate the time it takes to heal.

As we heal we will choose when we will love again. Every act of kindness, helpfulness, forgiveness, and love is an act of love that defies trauma and grief.  It is amazing to experience how giving care to another starts to reverse the feelings of humiliation. Violence is always degrading and shaming. Every act of caring for others reminds us that we are human and there is dignity in that.

Finding purpose from traumatic memories

When we have been traumatized we need work to do. Work helps us recover and reconnect with life again. Work is a container with a schedule and focus that connects us to the future.

When we have been traumatized we learn from trauma and wonder if God is behind the evil. The violence and humiliation can cause us to think God does not love or value us. We can lose our faith in God and experience this as an additional loss.

The most important response to this crisis of faith is the Cross for Christ.  Christ endured the trauma of crucifixion. He understands. He entered it for us. And He endured humiliation and shame, grief, and loss of life for us.  Since He endured it for us we know that He understands. 

Having faith in God in ordinary life is hard. Faith in God in the face of trauma is a huge trial.

Finding a person who will listen

It is a good and noble to fight against the very evil that wants to take away what is good. How will we live while we wait for Him to make all things new? We must find in our time of need a person who will listen, let us cry, and over time help us to be an overcomers.

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.  You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts,” (Malachi 4:1-3).

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