How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?
As we reflect on the Resurrection of Christ we cannot help but wonder how it changed anything. Christians believe that the triumph of life over death and light over darkness was more than just an isolated event in history. The Resurrection is understood as a cosmic event in which the entire space-time reality was shot through with God’s presence. The world remained a mix of “wheat and weeds,” but after the Resurrection the indwelling Spirit of God works within that reality to bring about unprecedented healing, growth and holiness.
Abuse and trauma are never acceptable. I experienced abuse for many years — verbal, physical and sexual. It hurts and bends the person. The damage is deep and reaches into all the dimensions of one’s life. Psycho-therapeutic experiences are normally necessary for someone to heal from the pain, anger and fear that come from abuse. Telling the stories of abuse are a key part of healing. Practicing to work with life in new ways in order to avoid negative patterns is also helpful. Using affirmations to counter self-hatred is important. Setting boundaries and being firm about values helps the person to feel less vulnerable.
But there is a point when talking it out and new ways of living and communicating fall short of healing. There is a well of pain that often does not go away. Underneath all the hard work there is still a raw person who does not feel safe. It is very hard to trust anyone.
I learned to not-trust any adults. I also learned not to trust myself because I could not overcome my fear in order to fight back. I learned to criticize everything I thought, said and did. I betrayed myself over and over out of fear. What to do? I knew there was a God out there but was not sure He would be interested in me. This is a normal reaction from someone who has been regarded as unimportant and worthy of abuse.
If the traumatized person can pray at all, a door can open to safety that starts as the tiniest crack. Within the mix of inner voices and emotions there is one voice which reaches into the sticky pain and feels or sounds safe. The traumatized person is uniquely blessed to be able to discern the difference between his own inner voices and the voice of God. This is because the abused person called out to herself over and over during the horrible times and discovered that at the time she had no power over the abuser. The personal thoughts and voice of the abused one were complicit with the abuser. The abused person also knows the voice of the culture and the Devil because both of them bring inner chaos, depression and self-abuse.
If such a person can pray, even pray to be able to pray, there will begin the tiniest feeling of longing for love. This is a miracle, because traumatized people usually do not want to feel anything. Seeking love and finding authentic love from others and God can heal wounds. It is a long process, but with the support of a therapist and a spiritual director the person traumatized by abuse can take a chance on attachment. Abused persons on Ignatian retreats or practicing Ignatian contemplation have experienced amazing experiences of God loving them. The voice of God within them is telling them that they are his beloved, that they are special. People who have been abused often do not want to hear that voice because it will open up a floodgate of sadness. But, after the crying, the voice does not disappear. They are not talking to themselves.
Contemplative prayer experiences are real. When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you,” he meant it. Taking a chance on God doing something with the pain is worthwhile. There are forms of injury only he can heal.
Image by Paolo Neo, public domain