Monday, January 27, 2014

Healing Trauma Through Relationship

"Trauma can be an isolating experience. It's only through relationships that we can be most fully healed," writes Sojourners Associate Web Editor, Catherine Woodiwiss. In her article, "A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma, " Woodiwiss describes ten lessons she's learned about trauma and healing from trauma. Here are some of them. 1. Trauma permanently changes us. Woodiwiss believes there is no such thing as "getting over" trauma. Far more impactful than just grief and recovery, trauma is a "major life disruption" and leaves a "new normal in its wake." She points out this is not all bad: you can emerge wiser, stronger and more courageous. Your life will just be different than what you knew to be your "pre-trauma" reality. 2. Presence is always better than distance. Woodiwiss believes the belief that in times of crisis "people 'need space,'" is almost always false. She notes that trauma can be lonely "even when surrounded in love." Trauma disconnects and isolates us--including from ourselves. If we assume others are reaching out, we may be wrong. Woodiwiss notes, "It is a much lighter burden to say, 'Thanks for your love, but please go away,' than to say 'I was hurting and no one cared for me.'" If someone REALLY needs space, she advises to respect it. In other cases, however, she advises "err on the side of presence." 3. Recovery lasts a long time and is not linear. Woodiwiss advises us to expect "seasons" of healing. While as Laura Nyro says, time and love heal, with trauma, it is common to "get suck in one stage for months, only to jump to another stage entirely," and then find yourself revisiting the old territory again down the road. Best to go with the flow and not project a linear model onto a non-linear process! 4. "Surviving trauma takes 'firefighters' and 'builders,'" but very few people are both. Woodiwiss notes that we want the people dearest to us to be "everything for us." But this is nearly impossible. She suggests we need two kinds of people, who she calls "the crisis team" and "the reconstruction crew." The crisis team can drop everything to be by yourself in the thick of things. The reconstruction crew can gently help you after the crisis has passed as you strive to "regain your footing in the world." She acknowledges that one reason trauma is such a lonely experience is that virtually no one can "fully walk the road with you the whole way." 5. Grieving and healing cannot fully be done in private. While there trauma creates a private pain, Woodiwiss asserts that human beings are wired for contact. To this end, "it is only through relationship that we can be most fully healed." It is hard to screen out which people in our lives can really be there with us and for us when we are grieving and healing. It takes courage. Yet, as Woodiwiss notes, "it is a matter of life or paralysis." She encourages us to "practice giving shelter to others," as a way to learn to seek shelter ourselves. 6. "Every gesture of love, regardless of the sender," becomes a step towards healing. Not everyone knows how to respond to trauma. Not everyone knows how to or feels comfortable expressing love. So, love may come from unexpected sources--magical strangers who enter our lives. And love may also come from close family or friends we rely on. Woodiwiss feels "'Blessed are those who give love to anyone in times of hurt, regardless of how recently they've talked or awkwardly reconnected or visited cross country or ignored each other on the metro.'" Sometimes "surprise love will be the sweetest. While living through trauma teaches resilience, Woodiwiss also acknowledges, as Conan O'Brien said to students at Dartmouth College, "'Neitzsche famously said, 'Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger...'...What he failed to stress is that it almost kills you.'" Surviving trauma invites us to revisit the dark night of the soul repeatedly, often more times than we think we can bear. This is where love and connection and presence of others are so critical. It is excruciating to be alone in the dark. An amazingly warm light of hope is lit when we experience through the love of others, that we truly are NOT all alone. To read the complete article, go to


  1. I think your comment option may be a bit broken. I tried to post, but it just disappeared. In case it doesn't show up later, thank you for such a great post. This is so clarifying for me, as in the thick of things, it's easy for me to forget important things like these.

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