This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Post-Traumatic Stress” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 3: UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.”
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What do I call myself now? After completing school, I called myself a “graduate.” After getting married, I called myself a “spouse.” After having a child, I called myself a “parent.” After a experiencing a trauma, I call myself what?
Language, in these situations, is important because it carries an identity that comes with expectations. We will look at three types of identity that emerge after a trauma. They are meant to be sequential; which best fits you should change with time, but there is no time line for how long each identity statement is appropriate.
“Abuse feels like an experience that has stamped you and has the final word on your identity. But the truth is God gives you a different identity… Your identity as God’s child is far deeper than the abuse you suffered (p. 4).” David Powlison in Recovering from Child Abuse
The three questions you should be asking yourself as you study this section are: (a) which of these best fit how I relate to my trauma now? (b) did I process the earlier stage of post-trauma identity well? and (c) what would it look like for me to grow into the next stage?
This is a word that carries strong, negative connotations; because we often think of it as part of the phrase “playing the victim,” insinuating that someone is passively remaining in role of victim in order to get more of whatever sympathies or benefits accompany this role.
The fact that some people “play the victim” does not mean it is a defect in your character to be a victim. Victims of a crime should avail themselves to the counter-influences of justice. Victims of a heart-attack should abide by the recovery plan of their doctor.
A wholesome definition of being a victim is, “The recognition of when intense suffering has impaired your ability to engage life as fully as you did prior to the suffering event and willingness to allow others to play roles of care or justice until it is wise, healthy, or legally appropriate for you to do these things for yourself.”
For a time, it is appropriate to use the label “victim” to describe your relationship to your trauma.
- After an assault someone is the “victim of a crime” and should allow the legal system to seek justice.
- After a severe injury someone is a “victim of that circumstance” and should be willing to receive additional care as they learn to live self-sufficiently again.
- After being in a war zone someone is a “victim of what they’ve been exposed to” and it is good for them to allow others to help them process their reactions to those experiences.
There is a time period between “needing additional help” and life assuming a “new normal.” The trauma still has a significant negative impact on your ability to function or emotionally respond to life as you would prefer. But you have established a level of safety and resilience that allows you to be more independent that you were in the victim phase.
Indicators that you’re entering the survivor phase of relating to your trauma would include:
- You understand the different kinds of impact that emerge from your trauma experience.
- Your post-traumatic symptoms do not “seize” you in a way that impairs your life functioning.
- You can be patient with yourself when experiencing post-traumatic symptoms.
- You do not live bracing against the possibility of post-traumatic symptoms unless there are strong situational variables that make it wise to prepare for such experiences.
- The sense of shame you feel when thinking of your trauma is significantly diminished.
- You manage much less of your life to avoid post-traumatic symptoms than you did in the victim phase.
In this phase, memories of your traumatic experience are able to be managed well enough that they are “available” to help care for other people who are at earlier phases in their journey with trauma. In this phase, trauma has changed from a “weapon” used by Satan against you to a “tool” God can use to allow you to care for others.
II Corinthians 1:3-5 captures this phase of your journey with trauma, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
But do not try to rush yourself to this point. You will be best used by God as a steward of your trauma when you have walked your journey in the healthiest way possible. Be as patient with yourself as you would be with someone else with a comparable experience so that as you share your journey, it will be maximally beneficial for them.
Read I Timothy 1:15-17: In this passage, we see the benefits that can emerge with being able to trace the lineage of our identity in relation to the significant parts of our life. This passage looks at sin. In this study, we are studying suffering. Notice that Paul can trace his relationship to sin. He is still the “chief of sinners” (v. 15) but has come to know God’s perfect patience (v. 16) and ultimate victory (v. 17). Similarly, a healthy relationship to trauma will likely include: a recognition of ongoing impact, resting in God’s patience, and trust God’s in-process but assured victory.
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.