Trauma is very real and prevalent among us. Seventy-five percent of us have experienced at least one traumatic episode. One in four women and one in five men were sexually abused before age 18. One in three women have experienced or will experience domestic violence in her lifetime (not to mention her children). While a crisis event (car accident, house fire, health emergency, etc.) does not necessarily predispose everyone to long-lasting distress, many of us or those around us are significantly impacted by serious trauma, typically borne out of disordered relationships.
What Does the Bible Say?
Trauma has been around as long as sin. Violence sprang up in the first family on earth, as Cain killed his brother Abel. Earlier than the first murder, God prophesied a solution: He would send Jesus to conquer evil and death. In the meantime, however, humanity is bound to sin and its awful consequences.
Scripture is rife with examples of trauma of all types: incest, rape, murder, robbery, trafficking, infanticide, genocide, slavery, racism, and oppression. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ provides hope, as He came to set us free from our own sin and the sins of others against us. While in this life we will experience evil in a fallen world, gospel transformation gives us more freedom and peace than we ever thought possible!
What Conformity Looks Like
By default, we naturally conform to our environment. Our “worldview” is made up of our experiences, cultural influence, memories, and the effect of our relationships. We drink in what we are taught and told, and our beliefs form our identities. Trauma weighs heavily into our personal narrative, conforming us to the image of shame, depression, regret, and hopelessness.
Quite literally, our brains “conform”, or develop patterns of thought, belief, and action based on our personal stories. Without conscious effort, we perpetuate our trauma on ourselves and others, reinforcing our neural pathways. For example, if you were neglected or rejected as a child, you probably formed a belief that you are worthless. With this belief, you could “act out” in myriad ways: looking for love in all the wrong places; cutting or other self-harm to relieve the pain; self-sabotaging opportunities for success; rejecting others or their love; ‘numbing” with the use of alcohol or drugs; using rage and anger as a cover emotion for fear of abandonment; to name a few.
How Is Transformation Possible?
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." ~ Rom. 12:2
Paul, the author of Romans, is offering tremendous hope here. Rather than a command to be obeyed (as this verse is often taught), this is a key to unlocking a much brighter prospect: changing our brains!
Our amazing minds are renewable; that is, new neural pathways may be created with conscious effort. We can know the truth which sets us free; we can learn to walk so closely with God that we gain wisdom; we can develop positive, healthy habits and relationships –– all of which transform our lives from darkness into the kingdom of light!
Change the Perspective, Change the Reality
Renewal is growth that results from a God-ward focus. With time, patience, and intentional “work”, we are transformed from the inside out. Author and psychologist Henry Cloud puts it another way: truth + grace + time = growth. As a trauma survivor, I can attest to the validity of this formula. The process is arduous, but yields peace and freedom.
How Do I Start?
There is no simple, easy way to the transformation Paul is talking about in Romans because renewal and growth take time. However, you will see progress if you are willing to persevere. Evaluate your growth every six months and celebrate the changes!
- Re-engage with Scripture. Take time each day to read a Psalm or a gospel chapter (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Pray for clarity about the passage, seeking the truth instead of a faulty interpretation.
- Focus on your healing. Care for yourself as you would for a loved one by getting enough rest, eating nutritious food at regular intervals, moving your body, spending time with positive, “safe” people. Avoid over-stimulating events and people, and limit screen time. Grief is normal, so allow yourself space for it.
- Focus on your growth. If you haven’t already, read Boundaries. Learn all you can about self-awareness. Since trauma is often rooted in disordered relationships, learn what healthy relationships should look like.
- Do something creative. Creativity stimulates positive neural pathways, releases helpful hormones, and reflects God’s character. Whether it’s music, gardening, photography, writing, crafting, quilting, visiting museums, window shopping, or underwater basket weaving, do yourself a huge favor by engaging in an activity you love.
- Share what you’re learning. Be open with “safe” people about what God is doing in your life. Listen to their experiences, too. A support group can be of great help! Here’s one I recommend.
- Celebrate milestones. When you see that you’ve overcome a particularly challenging event or trigger, do something happy that you enjoy! Share it with a friend, thank God and give Him glory for helping you, and rest in the comfort of knowing that you’re growing!
Understanding that I did not have to “conform” to my trauma, but that I could conform to Christ’s image through the renewal of my mind gave me great hope for recovery. It’s just like our redemptive God to make a way of escape from the patterns of my past! He gives me purpose through my relationship with Him, and He abundantly provides all I need in the process of transformation.
©2023 Julianne Knapp. First published 8.8.23