Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on anxiety. Each of our experiences with anxiety is very different based upon who we are as a person and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We are writing about the experience of anxiety from many different angles so you may not find every article as helpful to you as another one that better describes your experience. The good news is that the Bible isn’t a one-size-fits-all guide to life, but be confident that the answers found in the Bible can help you. God does understand what you are going through, and He will guide you.
In this article, BCC counselor Krista Lambert looks into the common link between trauma and anxiety and shares Biblical examples of the types of responses.
When a counselee comes to me for an anxiety-related problem, the first thing I do is talk to them about their story. We all have one, but for those who experience anxiety, the story often includes elements of trauma. In the introduction to this series, we defined anxiety this way- “fear is a God-given emotion when our mind alerts us to danger, real or perceived. Anxiety is what we feel when our body is responding to the emotion of fear.”
Anxiety sufferers are often aware of the physical manifestations of anxiety in their life. They describe their escalated heart rate, nausea, dizziness, sweaty palms, clenched jaw, and shoulder tension. Others tell about the need to check every door and window multiple times before bed, the compulsion to shower immediately upon coming home from work, or to read food labels multiple times before being able to eat. Often times, those we work with are not aware of what triggers these physical responses.
When we think of emotional triggers, we may know that certain sights, smells, sounds, tones of voice, sizes of crowds, or situations cause an emotional reaction in us. For those who experience trauma, I find there is usually not a high level of awareness of how what they are experiencing in the present may be connected to their past because they have usually attempted to bury, gloss over, forget, or minimize those stories.
We all long for peace and joy. We don’t like difficulty, tension, or sadness. We love the Resurrection, but we don’t like to linger too long on Good Friday. The trouble is, suffering is a real part of the broken world we live in. The 23rd Psalm with its green pastures and quiet waters follows the 22nd, which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” And yet, how do we fully understand the real meaning and joy of Resurrection Sunday without fully understanding the weight, the suffering, and the grief of Good Friday? Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, is full of stories of trauma. We don’t tend to dwell on those. We prefer the verses that make us feel calm and happy. However, we can learn key lessons about facing our trauma and the anxiety that it causes from these stories.
Facing Trauma requires honesty about our pain.
I wish that just reciting a passage of Scripture was all you needed to do to heal from the trauma behind it, but God’s Word is not intended to be our Zoloft. It must be understood in it’s full, overarching narrative. The stories in the Old Testament often detail painful circumstances, unimaginable injustice, and uncertain futures. They also picture a relentless God who pursues and intervenes for good, even when the circumstances seem hopeless or dire. Our own stories are much the same.
Part of healing from our trauma is to stop hiding from our reality and attempting to paint a happy face on it. Instead, we must confess it, allow it to come into the light, and lament it. Biblically, this was done well. Lamentations illustrates how we can grieve deeply about our sin through the story of the subsequent captivity of the nation of Israel. Job expresses despair as he wrestles with devastating loss despite his upstanding lifestyle. One of the reasons that so many details are given through the Old Testament is so we can rest assured that God cares about the truth of our details. We can bring our pain into the light, because only then can it be dealt with properly.
Facing Trauma requires Grief over the loss
Consider the rape of Tamar by her brother, Amnon. “She put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went… And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.” (2 Sam. 13:19, 20b) Absalom was so angry at the injustice done to his sister he later had Amnon killed. David believed all his sons had been killed, and he “tore his clothes and lay on the ground.” Later, when the other sons arrived, they were “wailing loudly. The king too and all his servants wept bitterly.” And “King David mourned many days for his son.”
Place this story in modern time. What would Tamar likely have done? Perhaps been too ashamed to act like anything was wrong. Tried to go on with life and stuff down how she felt. Worried that people might accuse her of coming on to Amnon. And would we ever see grown men grieving so deeply they laid on the floor or tore their clothes or wailed loudly together?
I love the Psalms because we see that David doesn’t just sing songs that make him feel happy. He expresses his anger, his frustration, his confusion, his sadness, his weakness, and then he engages with who God is in the midst of that grief. He doesn’t stay wallowing in his mess, but neither does he ignore it.
Facing Trauma requires trusting God with the future
As we grieve our stories, God begins to reveal why we are afraid, and what it is we’re really afraid of. We can forgive abusers and receive God’s forgiveness for ways that we responded sinfully to our traumas. We can renew our minds, and according to Philippians 4:4-10, think on what is true and good, even good that may have come from our trauma as we reflect on God’s faithfulness.
We can make choices to walk by faith into the things we fear. Psychology calls this exposure therapy. A common anxiety treatment, it involves essentially facing your fear, talking yourself through it, and seeing that you came out okay on the other side. As children of God, we don’t have to go into our fears alone. Remember what Isaiah said,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Is. 43:1-3)
Trauma and Anxiety are complicated. It is true that no one knows the pain you have been through. However, with God’s help, you can make progress if you are willing to face your pain, grieve the loss, and trust God with your future. It takes time, and a patient counselor can help you make progress. We would welcome the opportunity to listen to your story and give you insight on how to respond in healthy ways.