This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 5: MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.”
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Most of the losses that come with trauma are not tangible. Rarely do we have scars or missing limbs that would provide evidence to others of the trauma we faced. It can be argued both ways whether these physical marks would make the experience of trauma easier or harder. Either way, the majority of losses related to trauma do not have indicators which can be seen.
This makes it easier to believe, “I should just get over it. If there’s nothing to show, then there’s nothing to complain about.” If this were true, then you would not have studied this far into the material. Below we will examine ten losses commonly associated with trauma.
Don’t use these items as a check-list, but as a prompt to make vague things clear. You may identify your “top 3 losses” or you may find a way to better articulate your losses which are not precisely captured in the list below. Either way, if you are able to put into words the losses you’ve experienced, then this list will have served you well.
1. Loss of a Sense of Safety:
Trauma makes it harder to trust the world around you. When calm means “the threat is hidden” instead of “all is well,” your relationship with the world around has fundamentally changed. The impact of this loss can be mitigated with time, but for as long as the disposition of feeling unsafe persists; this is a loss to be grieved.
An often overlooked aspect of this loss is its effect on our sense of humor. When the world is not safe, it is “no time for laughter” or laughter becomes a veil behind which we try to hide how uncomfortable we are. Either way, the pure and free ability to laugh and enjoy the ironies of life is, at least temporarily, lost.
2. Loss of a Sense of Competence:
When is my mind going to be high jacked by the past next? What will I be doing, that is important enough to warrant my full attention, but gets lost in a memory or a wave of emotions? Can I trust myself to engage the things that are important to me and those I love while my mind is so easily diverted? Will I ever be able to trust my own mind again?
These questions easily reveal the loss of confidence that can occur with post-traumatic symptoms. The resulting insecurity is an experience to be grieved. Again, focus and confidence can be regained, but for as long as they are absent, mourning is an initial appropriate response.
3. Loss of Trust:
The loss of a sense of safety takes on an interpersonal dynamic when it begins to impact relationships; generalized uncertainty begins to be experienced as mistrust. Your ability to enjoy relationships and others ability to enjoy relationship with you is disrupted when trust is strained without cause… at least without cause that emerged from an offense in that relationship.
The result is strained or superficial relationships that result in a sense of loneliness. The first step towards resolving this dynamic is grieving. Allowing yourself to admit and feel sad about this loss is the type of vulnerability that will need to be expressed in the relationships you long to have. Grieving is part of healing.
4. Loss of Emotional Regulation:
How important is this event? This is the baseline question of emotional regulation that is impaired by the experience of trauma. Intrusive and constrictive symptoms of post-traumatic stress combine to make it exceedingly difficult to discern how significant a moment is and, thereby, how you should respond to it.
The inability to trust one’s emotions is an experience to be grieved and part of the healing process. Even if you do not know what response a situation warrants, you know what response your confusion warrants – grief. This can serve as a baseline from which to begin establishing greater emotional regulation and inviting people into your journey.
5. Loss of Sense of Proportionality:
Accurate comparison is a life skill that we don’t appreciate until it becomes difficult. As we’ve already mentioned, our sense of humor and conflict resolution skills are strongly rooted in our ability to discern the appropriate size of things: in conflict, “over-reactions” assume proportional reactions and, in humor, dry humor assumes the listener can pick upon the difference between a “normal” response.
Imagine shopping and seeing a sign that says “50% Off” but not finding any original price. This is a depiction of the post-traumatic experience. You know you should feel “less” or “more” at any given moment, but all of the factors above impair your capacity to know what that means. In those moments, your emotional options are anger, fear, passivity, or grief. Grief is the healthiest.
6. Loss of Identity:
Who am I now? Like it or not, trauma usually becomes a before-after moment in our lives. We locate events by identifying whether they happened before or after our experience of trauma. When an event takes on this magnitude, it becomes part of our identity.
This does not mean you are a “new person” but it does mean you’re not “the same person” you were (which is true as a result of dozens of experiences across our life). Because the experience of trauma is so profoundly negative, it is appropriate to mourn these changes in identity, even if God promises to use them redemptively. Often we silence our grief by believing that sorrow over past events dishonors what God has done to provide salvation or promises to do in the future.
7. Loss of Innocence:
It would be nice not to automatically assume the worst. Innocence assumes things will “just get better” or “be okay in the end.” Trauma has a strong tendency to remove this assumption. In some cases, it makes this assumption feel offensive, not just absent.
Innocence is not the same as naivety. Innocence is good. One of the things that will make heaven a place of eternal peace is the restoration of our innocence. Because innocence is good, the loss of innocence should be grieved. Grief is how we rightly celebrate the goodness of something lost until God restores it; partially-progressively here on earth and completely in heaven.
8. Loss of Childhood:
Trauma in childhood robs us of more than innocence, it robs us of the ability to develop physically, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually with the assumption we will be cared for. Each aspect of our development must reckon with the presence of this trauma and seek to make sense of it.
Grieving is itself a return to childhood. When we grieve we get to be small, distracted, and cared for. It is not the same as getting to live relatively care free from the ages of 3 to 18, but, in the absence of this opportunity, grief is a step towards experiencing something child-like as an adult.
9. Loss of Virginity:
In cases of sexual trauma, this can be one of the most profound sources of shame. It is the nature of sex to create strong emotional bonds, for better or worse, whether sex is chosen or forced. This aspect of sex serves a magnifying role on the effects of trauma involving sex.
It is important to remember virginity can only be given, it cannot be taken. The experience of having sex stolen is not the same as giving yourself to someone in love. God does not judge you for your experience of having sex forced upon you and no future relationship, at least one that is based upon honor, would judge you either.
This lack of judgment, however, does not mean there is no reason to grieve. The association of sex with aggression is an experience to grieve. As we’ve stated several times above, the vulnerability of grieving this experience is a first step towards vulnerability necessary to enjoy sex in marriage as the gift God intended.
10. Loss of a Sense of God’s Presence:
When pain is near, God feels far. When pain is “up in our face,” God often feels “out of sight.” Pain is such an intense, internal experience that the idea of God being with us, near us, or in us no longer matches up with our experience of life.
While this experience is real (it accurately depicts our experience), it is not true (it does not accurately represent reality). The realness of this experience merits grief. God does not require that our responses be theologically accurate in order to receive his compassion. In the next step, we will seek to counter the falseness of this experience. In this step, it is okay to grieve the felt-realness of God being less close than your pain.
Read Matthew 5:4. It is easy to resent mourning. Whatever causes mourning is bad. But God calls the experience of mourning “blessed.” Why? It is the tenderness of grief that prevents our hearts from growing hard in a broken world. This is why mourning may feel risky; it is the first step in being vulnerable again. You can acknowledge the impact of your suffering and be honest about your suffering story without being vulnerable. Mourning requires placing yourself in a position to be comforted by another. This should begin with God. Let the thoughts you have as you go through these materials become conversations with God. Let God’s knowing be prayerful-confiding not divine-ease-dropping. Then your mourning should be expressed with your counselor, mentor, or close circle of friends who are going through this material with you.
“It is only when we have the courage to truly face the hurt, disappointment, and loss created by abuse that we meet God face to face. Ironically, mourning the losses from past abuse allows us to meet God in the present and provides hope for the future (p. 156).” Steven R. Tracy in Mending the Soul
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on PTSD” post which address other facets of this subject.