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Posted by on Apr 20, 2012

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

A door can still open ...

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

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7 Comments

  1. Hey Susan,
    Good stuff. Sorry I couldn’t make it to the Wed. night class but look forward to seeing you later this week.
    🙂 Mary

  2. That was a lot to consider but very interesting. I am going to read it again in a day or two and hopefully gain more insights from it.

  3. Thank you Susan, for the reminder that God loves me; He is greater than my circumstances .

  4. Wonderful insight, Susan. Thank you for sharing your experience, because you are such a great example of God living within us, and shining out to help others – if only we ask to feel His presence, and allow it to heal us…

  5. Thanks Gail for the comment. A lot of the time my circumstances feel very controlling. It takes a lot for me to trust God beyond that.

  6. Yes, i can certainly relate and add the more trauma (self inflicted by bad choices or otherwise) make it very VERY difficult to trust and in my experience in many life traumas it gets harder and harder to trust anyone at all.

    This is why i’m not sure which voice is the Father’s anymore, the fear of rejection is the worst of these. We were built for love and if one was never taught boundaries in a proper way and through traumatic abuse they were stomped on it makes the problem compound.

    From what i have read about read about trauma is that it BLOWS up fear into huge proportions and yes from the experience i have endured and now have to live with, it’s almost impossible to trust even God Himself.

    I don’t know where to go from here but it’s my daily struggle and not something a person should have to live with especially at 47 yrs old.

    The best i can hope for is that is a new change so my behavior changes along with it by being obedient in forgiveness. It what i need and what He wants from me.

  7. Dear Bill,

    Hi, after a major commitment that has taken me away from writing for a month.

    Trauma, by definition is harm and is an experience of helplessness, lack of control – inability to self-protect.Trauma makes a person feel unsafe. So, trust is extremely difficult without something new entering the picture. One place that a person can start towards trust is to build in a way to have more control, in the good sense. I have found that learning discernment has pulled me out of being as fearful, paralyzed, unsure of myself and unsure of God.

    I hope I am not repeating myself too much regarding the topic of combating trauma by calling things by the right name, but that step alone can be very calming. One aspect of discernment is to use criteria to be able to sort out the multiple voices. The voices one hears include oneself, God and the saints, the culture, a spiritual director, memories or images from the past, and the evil spirit (also called the Enemy by St. Ignatius of Loyola). Ignatius and St. Paul both say the same thing: any voice that takes us to sadness, fear, agitation, or chaos is not God or anything that will take us to God. An external or interior voice may seem to be saying important or correct things to us, but if it prompts anything but hope, joy, or trust, it has to be rejected. So, even thoughts that seem true, such as telling myself that I am not that great, if those thoughts lead to depression, then they are not humble or true or from God and have to be pushed away as fast as possible.

    That is not an easy thing to do, but here is an important point. If we are ambivalent about ourselves or about our battle with the Enemy, we will suffer a lot more anxiety and depression than if we identify this intrusion as dark and throw ourselves against it forcefully. Trauma cripples a person’s ability to feel secure. In discernment, the criteria for what we should be doing are found in the feelings we have when reflecting on options and choices. Those criteria are not things we make up to suit ourselves. We don’t have to defend our right to feel peace-filled. We can say “No” to things if they feel wrong for us and not feel guilty. We know the difference between seeking to escape reality as a result of our decisions versus seeking what is best or God’s will.

    So, hurt and the subsequent fear can be paralyzing. At that point we have to focus on the inner dialog and refuse to listen to the critical and negative voices – because we know they are a trap. Another point: all of the statements from a negative source will have a grain of truth in them and seem very plausible. But, again, identify how they make you feel and see if they lead you into fear or hopelessness, or to a sense of God’s presence and calm. I told someone recently:”You are being attacked and undermined.” She was stunned at first but then validated. She recognized a pattern that whenever she ventured out into something new for which she had no confidence, she started having very critical and frightening thoughts. She believed these thoughts were her own and good for countering pride. WRONG. The thoughts seem like her own but were from the outside and should not be entertained at all. This is a start on good boundaries, feeling more secure, less depression, and knowing God as loving and not undermining.

    Let me know if any of this is helpful or if you have any questions. Susan Mahan

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