Trauma and Abuse

Facing Sexual Abuse ◆ Finding Joy in the Midst of Trauma

»Posted on Mar 28, 2015 in Abuse, Grief, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

abuse

One of the most difficult aspects of my job as a psychologist is having to venture into the depravity of mankind, particularly as it brings about unthinkable harm and unbelievable trauma to others. It is something that can be so unfathomably dark that if feels like a sucker punch to the gut each time. I never get used to our human capacity for evil, even as it keeps me humble and ever so grateful for the grace of God who can come into any darkness and bring about hope.

And THAT is why I continue to do what I do – because I have seen God heal, I have seen him bring about immense joy in the midst of pain and suffering, I have seen his beautiful, grace-filled, redemptive work in the lives of many people.

YES, there is hope – great hope for all of us.  For all of us who have experienced trauma, abuse, loss.

One of the most traumatic forms of trauma is sexual abuse – especially if it is perpetrated by a trusted family or friend. What makes it even more difficult is that it tends to be cloaked in secrecy and shame that can forever mark the victim as “garbage”. But that is not from God, that is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  Finding joy and healing after sexual abuse is the theme of the video in today’s blog.  If this is you, please take the time to watch the video and then choose to reach out for help.

My personal mission is to bring hope and healing to many people, not by my efforts – which is so inadequate in the face of such pain, but by being someone who exemplifies Jesus Christ in how I love deeply, show compassion and acceptance, and create a safe place for the sufferer to heal.  If you’ve been injured by abuse, please choose to reach out for help.  You can break free from the chains of abuse. You can be whole again, free to enjoy healthy relationships and a full life.

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Mental Health

»Posted on Oct 14, 2014 in Mental Health, Psychology and Faith, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

mental health

Mental health issues are something that many people struggle with on a daily basis – from small children to the elderly.  In fact, recent statistics from The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years.  Studies of religious groups reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression or anxiety varies across groups.

Mental health issues are very real and need to be responded to with care and understanding, not judgment or condemnation.  My passion is to increase awareness about mental illness, de-mystify it for everyone, and begin a campaign to teach all of us how to treat those suffering from mental illness with compassion and acceptance.  And if you are the one who is suffering from mental illness, my heart goes out to you.  Please… no more shame.  No more isolation.  Please hold onto hope and reach out for help.

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The S-E-X Word

»Posted on Sep 30, 2013 in Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

 sex

What’s the one thing the world seems obsessed with but is rarely talked about in most homes and marriages? That’s right – it’s SEX. Sexual images and suggestive talk abound, but really, when it comes down to talking about our sex life honestly, that’s where most people stall. They either avoid talking about it, are uncomfortable with it, or joke about it to keep it light.

But it’s a pretty serious subject. There’s been more damage done in the name of sex – whether through abuse, pornography, addictions, or wrong ideas about sex – than probably anything else. I don’t think there is one person – especially women – who has come to adulthood without some sort of negative experience around sex or their sexuality. I mean, look around at how culture demeans us through sex and the license taken in the name of sexual freedom. Today, the number of young girls who experience date rape (e.g., non-consensual sex while under the influence of drugs slipped into their drinks) is growing at an alarming rate.

But even if you haven’t experience this level of trauma, I would guess that sex has had its challenges for you – whether it’s a desire to practice abstinence because of your faith in the face of serious temptation, struggles to break free from addictions to pornography, guilt or shame for bad choices made sexually, or a whole host of emotional and physical things that can interfere with healthy sexuality.

And if you’re married, the likelihood is high that there have been difficulties in your sex life – whether it’s an issue of frequency, different sex drives, or dissatisfaction with some aspect of sex with your partner. Inevitably with couples who come for marital therapy, sex plays a key role in some of the couple’s conflicts or problems. Sometimes it’s easily resolved – such as making time or getting over the pregnancy hormonal changes – but other times, it can be a deal breaker. But it’s something that gets slipped under the carpet and rarely talked about (maybe because every time it’s brought up, there have only been arguments). But like anything that gets pushed under the carpet, the problems don’t go away.

So we don’t talk about it. Not really. Not in a healthy, God-honouring way.

I was at a women’s conference recently, and when they brought in a sex therapist to talk to us about healthy sexuality, the number of red faces, squirming bodies and averted gazes was really quite fascinating. But interestingly, the research presented by this therapist indicated that healthy sexuality is crucial to our overall health and well-being. So why don’t we talk about it?

It’s becoming a HUGE problem that needs to be addressed. My good friend, Brett Ullman, tells me how often he encounters this issue. He is so passionate about it that he travels around Canada talking to people about sex.  He asks tough questions – not to condemn – but to get people to start thinking and to TAKE ACTION to take back our sexuality in a God-honouring way.

In the words of LifeCare Centre’s Executive Director, Scott Armstrong, who specializes in couple therapy and treating sexual addictions: “In my practice I see first-hand the devastating impact our oversexed and permissive culture is having on our marriages, our families, our teens and children. Our society is in desperate need for sound teaching on sex and sexuality that is Godly and rooted in truth. In response to this, we must equip ourselves and our surrounding communities with clear knowledge and understanding that brings a message of respect, dignity, and appreciation for the gift of sex.”

So I want to start a revolution – even a counter-revolution. Let’s reclaim sex in the way God intended it when he first introduced Eve to Adam. Let’s talk openly and honestly about our sexual fears, desires and hang-ups. Let’s learn how we can love our spouses well through their physical needs. And let’s pursue healing if we’ve been damaged, abused, hurt or caught up in the negative cycle of sexual addiction.

At our counselling centre, we believe so strongly in healthy sex that we’ve brought in some experts and are hosting two conferences – one for professionals who treat individuals for sexual dysfunction and one for people wanting to enrich their marriage or singles wanting to learn more about healthy sexuality. We’re so passionate about it, we’re willing to put our time, energy and money towards educating people and getting them talking.

If this is something that you want to learn more about – and you want to come to learn how to talk about this difficult topic in a safe environment, guided by world-renowned sex experts, check this out.  Believe me, it’ll be worth YOUR time and investment.

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Short Stories: Living with Abuse

»Posted on Apr 9, 2013 in Marriage and Relationships, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

abuse

Tiffany came down the stairs and stopped abruptly.  There, on the kitchen counter, she noticed a bouquet of flowers with a card propped beside the vase.  Hesitantly, she made her way to the flowers and stood staring at them for a moment.  After smelling the blooms, Tiffany tentatively picked up the card.  She stared at her husband’s handwriting on the envelope for a moment before she slowly slid the card out and read his quick note:

Beautiful flowers for my gorgeous wife! Love you very much, hon.

Dropping the card on the counter, Tiffany walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup.  As she stood by the kitchen sink sipping her coffee, she stared out of the window.  Lord help me, but I love him.  I can never stay mad at him.  Tiffany felt her heart begin to soften, thinking about how Marc could be so loving and extravagant even when she knew they really couldn’t afford niceties like flowers.  Even when he would probably be stressed and angry when the credit card bill came later that month.  It was a nice gesture though.

Tiffany thought about the fight they’d had last night and sighed.  She never knew what would set Marc off.  But when he came home from work yesterday, she just knew it wasn’t going to be a good evening.  Even the kids seemed to sense that and stayed out of the way.  It seemed that no matter what she did last night, he was critical and complaining about everything.  Nothing was right.  And she’d worked so hard to make a special dinner for him, knowing how much stress he was under at work.

I should have known better.  I shouldn’t have started in on him about the dryer needing to be fixed.  He already has so much on his plate, I shouldn’t have brought that up.  And I shouldn’t have gotten so upset when he threw his dinner into the garbage.  It WAS a bit overcooked.  I shouldn’t have left it in the oven to keep warm just because he was running late.  I know how much he hates his chicken to be dry.

Even while Tiffany was thinking about how she’d made Marc so angry, another voice was clamouring inside her head:  Yeah, but how come it’s never his fault? He never says sorry or admits that he did anything wrong.  And the names he called you last night really hurt.  Tiffany immediately felt guilty for thinking those thoughts and quickly pushed them aside.  Sorry, Lord, I know I need to forgive and forget.  I know he doesn’t mean what he says, he just can’t help himself when he gets so mad.  It’s the way he was brought up, he really doesn’t know any better. And it’s not like Marc yells at me, he just gets cold and says things I don’t like.  But jeepers, it’s not like Suzie’s husband who’s always yelling at her and pushing her around.

Shaking off her thoughts, Tiffany vowed to focus on all the things she had to be thankful for, just like her pastor preached last Sunday at church.  Having an attitude of gratitude would go a long way to helping her stay positive and loving.  She really had a lot to be thankful for:  a faithful husband who provided for the family, three great kids, food on the table.  Lord, thank you for my family.  Help me to be a better wife and mother. 

Just then, the phone rang.  Hearing Marc’s voice on the phone when she answered, Tiffany tensed as felt the flutters in her stomach.  Oh, no, what was wrong?   But after hearing the mellow tone of his voice, she relaxed and sighed with relief.

“Hi, sweetheart, I was just thinking about that pot roast you made for me two weeks ago.  Do you think you could make that for dinner tonight?  You know how much I loved that,” Marc said with a smile in his voice.  “You’re such an amazing cook, you know.  I’m the luckiest guy in this office.  All the other guys get sandwiches while I get the best leftovers.”

Tiffany laughed.  She loved it when Marc was so playful and charming.  “Of course, babe, I’ll go to the store today to pick up a roast.”  Even though she knew she would be stretching their grocery budget to buy a roast, she would do anything to keep Marc happy.  Maybe she could take some money from what she’d been saving to buy herself a new pot.  Even though their old one was falling apart, she could make do for another month or so.  She would just have to deal with him later on when they went over their monthly expenses.  Making him happy will be worth whatever grief he gives me about money.  And I’m sure he’ll understand.

They chatted for a few more minutes, when there was a sudden pause in the conversation.  Before she realized what was happening, Tiffany heard Marc’s voice change.  “I can’t believe that you haven’t said a single word of thanks for the flowers.”  Tiffany’s heart plunged, as she stuttered.  “Sorry, babe…I didn’t mean to forget…it’s just that we were talking about dinner…”

Interrupting her, Marc said coldly, “Never mind.  I can tell when I’m not appreciated.  After all I do for you and the stress I put up with at my crappy job so that you can stay home all day and paint your nails.  You’d think that you could say a simple thanks, but no, you’re so busy lazing around.  I can’t believe how selfish you are.”

Sensing that Marc was getting worked up, Tiffany tried to placate him. “No, honey, I love the flowers, I was just thinking what a great husband I have and how thankful I am for you….”

Not listening, Marc went on, “You can be such a bitch sometimes.  And you know what, I don’t know why I called you “gorgeous” in that stupid card I gave you this morning, when you’ve really let yourself go.  I hate waking up and seeing your fat butt every morning.  You know how important it is to me that you take care of yourself.  It’s not like you don’t  have time all day to exercise but no, you’re just so lazy that you can’t get yourself out of bed.  What is it with you?”

Silent tears began to slide down Tiffany’s cheeks as she listened to Marc’s rant.  She knew that nothing she could say at this point would make a difference.  When Marc hung up the phone with a resounding bang, Tiffany crumpled onto the floor, sobbing.  Her heart felt like it was breaking in two.  Help me, Lord, help me please!

——

That afternoon, after putting the roast into the oven, Tiffany sat down on the couch, exhausted.  Even then, she could feel the tension in her body as she worried about what would happen when Marc got home later that evening.  Not wanting to think about it anymore, Tiffany picked up the TV remote control and began to mindlessly flick through the channels.   Seeing that her favourite afternoon talk show was playing, she stopped flicking and settled down to watch, only half listening.  A few minutes later, something caught her attention.  Leaning forward, she turned up the volume.

The host was interviewing a psychologist who was saying things that made the hair go up on the back of Tiffany’s neck, even while she could feel the ache starting deep in her heart.  As the psychologist spoke, a list of the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship came up on the TV screen that made Tiffany’s heart start to  pound.

  • You’re afraid to tell your partner about an every day event because you’re not sure how he will react.
  • When you do talk to your significant other, he puts you down and makes you feel stupid.
  • You make yourself available to your partner no matter what the personal cost – just to avoid a confrontation.
  • You’ve begun to believe that you’re the crazy one — that you’re the one with the problem.
  • Your partner treats you like an object, like property, not like a person with real feelings.
  • Your partner keeps a tight control on all things: money, the phone, who you see and what you do.
  • If you fight back, your significant other blames you for their behaviour. “If you didn’t make me so mad, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.”
  • You’ve begun to see yourself as worthless — just like your partner says you are.
  • You’ll go out of your way to please your significant other, no matter how much you have to sacrifice.  Anything to beat the “lecture”.
  • You’ve begun to feel as though you deserve to be treated badly. If you were a better person, you wouldn’t make him so mad!
  • You find yourself making excuses for his behaviour regardless of the situation.

The tears began streaming down her face as Tiffany listened to the psychologist speak compassionately about the hidden torment of emotional abuse.  As the doctor implored viewers to get help if they were victims of abuse, Tiffany began to cry harder.  She could be talking about me.  Could this be true?  Even as she struggled to accept the truth, something deep inside her urged her to call the hotline phone number that flashed up on the screen.  Something inside of her urged her finally to get some help.

 ——

Emotional abuse is one of the most insidious and easily missed forms of abuse.  Hidden, subtle, and hard to label, it can lead to scars that are just as damaging – if not more – than physical violence, exactly because the scars can be so hard to see.  Victims are often unknowingly caught into a cycle of abuse, unable to break free, especially if their religion or faith teaches against leaving their marriages.

If this is you, please reach out for help.  Speak to your doctor or pastor for a referral to a shelter and/or counselling centre in your local area.  If you live in Canada, you can visit this website for more information, or consult this directory for information about supports elsewhere around the world.  Because the vast majority of abuse victims are women (or children), most resources are geared towards female sufferers.  However, abuse towards men does occur, so if you are a male victim of abuse, please speak to your doctor or pastor for a referral to a psychotherapist who can help you take the steps to break free.

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Short Stories: Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder

»Posted on Apr 2, 2013 in Mental Health, Personal Growth, Trauma and Abuse | 24 comments

dissociative identity disorder

The story below was submitted by a reader and edited for this blog.  Many thanks to this courageous reader who was willing to share a bit of her story with us through this fictionalized account.

Rachel sat in the waiting room of the psychologist’s office, ready to bolt. This is crazy! What was I thinking to come here?

 As she sat waiting anxiously, Rachel started to have that strange feeling again — that feeling where she was seeing things happen to her without actually being a part of them, like an observer watching her body and mind being controlled by someone else. She knew that sounded totally crazy, and there was no way she could share that with the doctor! In fact, there were a lot of things she wasn’t going to tell her, like how often she could hear people having conversations about her life inside her head. No way! If I shared that with the doctor, she would probably send me to the hospital and lock me up!

Rachel glanced at her watch and all of a sudden she was present again. The doctor was running about 5 minutes late. The familiar sense of panic began to set in.  I knew this was a bad idea!  I never wanted to come anyway, but Lord, I’m so desperate for help! I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I can’t keep going on this way.  And now with this doctor running late….the panic began to rise.  I can’t breathe!  Get me out of here. No, no, you can do it, keep it together! Don’t let anyone see what’s going on. As Rachel stood up to escape, the doctor walked out into the waiting room. Damn it! Caught before she could take off.

“Rachel?  Great to meet you, my name is Janet, I’m really sorry for being a few minutes late.” Sensing Rachel’s anxiety, Dr. Jones took a few minutes to put her at ease, chatting casually as they walked into the doctor’s office. The rest of the session was a blur, as Rachel fought to stay present and act like everything was normal.  Rachel felt like she was just babbling, trying to keep the doctor from seeing what was going on. She finally made her escape when the doctor stood up to indicate that the session was over.  Even as she made an appointment for the following week, Rachel wasn’t sure if she would ever go back. Who was she kidding?

Over the course of the next week, the debate raged inside Rachel’s head. There were several times when she had picked up the phone to cancel her next appointment, but something was compelling her, drawing her to go back. And now seven days later here she was, sitting in that chair again.   But once again, the session was a blur, talking about things that didn’t really matter, afraid to let down her guard in case the doctor thought she was crazy.

 ——

I don’t know why I keep coming. I still haven’t told Janet what’s really going on. She’s been really nice so far, but can I trust her?  After several weeks of seeing the doctor, Rachel sat waiting for the therapist with her mind racing. She was particularly nervous for some reason this week, and had noticed a lot of her “odd” behaviours and symptoms seemed to be surfacing.  Even as she sat waiting, Rachel had to remind herself not to scratch a patch on her arm raw from the unrelenting anxiety.

 Dr. Jones seemed to sense that something was different this time around because she didn’t start with the small talk as before, but rather suggested they take a few deep breaths together.  Then the doctor asked the question that Rachel had been dreading for so long yet secretly had been waiting for, because she desperately hoped that by finally being honest, she might be able to get some help to make sense of her life.

“Rachel, we’ve been meeting together now for several weeks and I hope you are beginning to feel a little more comfortable here. I was hoping that we might be able to talk today about what has brought you here to therapy. Do you think you could share with me a little bit more about that?”

Rachel took a deep breath and grabbed her coffee cup to prevent herself from going into a full blown panic attack, hoping that it would quiet the overwhelming surge of voices in her head, all fighting to be heard. Dr. Jones, sensing her distress, said encouragingly, “You can share anything here and it will be kept strictly confidential. I know it’s hard to open up, but I really want to hear your story.” That reassurance seemed to be exactly what Rachel needed.

“Well, I guess I’m here because I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve been dealing with some really difficult things for a long time. Lately, things have just started to unravel. Weird things have been happening to me and I feel like I’m losing control of my life.  I just don’t know how to handle things anymore. My doctor recently diagnosed me with depression and anxiety and put me on medication for that, but it’s not really helping all that much. I kind of feel like I’m at the end of my rope.”

“You mentioned that weird things happening recently,” Dr. Jones commented. “Can you tell me more?”

Rachel’s heart started racing, and she began gulping in deep breaths.  Peering up at her doctor’s kind face, she quickly looked back down. I can do this. I have to tell her! I can’t do this on my own anymore.  Without looking up, Rachel began speaking very quietly, voice shaking.

“Sometimes… I can be talking to someone and all of a sudden I get this really weird far away and foggy feeling…like I am way back in my head somewhere…The next thing I know I’ll “come back”, but things just aren’t right. For instance, I’ll be in the house doing housework, then the next thing I know I’m back in the house but three hours have passed and there are grocery bags on the counter, but I don’t remember going to the store. One time I all of a sudden was sitting on my couch and I realized my ankle was hurting like crazy and I looked down and I had a cast on it! But I couldn’t remember getting hurt.

“I’ll get this odd sensation like I’m in my body, but I’m not “me”…like I’m behind someone looking through their eyes, or I’ll look at my hands touching something and know that it’s me, but it’s someone else’s hands that are touching the object. Or I’ll hear myself having a conversation with someone but I don’t know how because I’m not talking.

“I have nightmares and flashbacks. Sometimes I see pictures of things in my head that are familiar yet I don’t know what they are or where they are from. Other times, sights, sounds, smells, they’ll send me into a panic and scare me silly, but I don’t know why. They always seem familiar but again, for no reason. And sometimes, and I know this will make me sound completely nuts, but sometimes I’ll hear voices, two, three…having a conversation and I’m listening to it…only the voices are having a conversation inside my head, but I’m not a part of it.

“Stuff like this, well, it’s been happening my whole life. And up until a while ago I managed to cope with it pretty well, you know, I developed ways to cover up dealing with people who knew me that I didn’t seem to know, and I managed to create explanations for why I suddenly had groceries or a new item of clothing that I couldn’t remember buying.  I just faked my way through life, you know?”

Rachel finally looked up, tears streaming down her face. “Can you please help me understand what’s happening to me? Am I crazy? Please tell me honestly, because I’d rather know and deal with it than continue living my life like this. I just can’t do it anymore. For the first time I can remember, I’m really scared. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Dr. Jones looked compassionately at Rachel and spoke very gently, “I’m so sorry to hear about how much you’ve been struggling. You must have felt so alone.” Rachel nodded shakily as Dr. Jones continued, “Thank you for your courage to be honest with me, Rachel. I don’t want you to feel alone dealing with these symptoms, so I’m glad you’ve told me what’s going on for you so I can help you.  And no, you’re not crazy, I have a feeling your mind is trying very hard to deal with trauma that’s happened in your life, and it’s just coping the best way it can right now.”

At the word “trauma”, Rachel stiffened and a visible shudder ran through her body. The tears continued streaming down her face, and that was when it happened, one of those weird things Rachel had hoped wouldn’t happen while she was here with her doctor. As Dr. Jones was asking her questions Rachel felt the like the room was getting more and more distant…things were fading and her head felt fuzzy and distant….

“Daddy says we can’t talk about dat cause I could get a whoopin’. He says bad men will take me away from him cause Mommy went to heaven so I can’t say nuthin’.” Right before Dr. Jones eyes, Rachel slumped back into the couch and sat cross legged. She started to nervously pick at the sore on her arm, scratching as she talked.

As she continued talking in a high-pitched lisp, Dr. Jones reached for a squeeze ball on her desk and handed it to Rachel, who took it and started playing with it.  “Rachel,” she coaxed gently, “Rachel, please come back. Listen to the sound of my voice, and feel the squeeze ball in her hand. Feel the rubbery spikes on the ball and just let my voice bring you back.”

Rachel found herself coming out of the fog that had enveloped her brain so suddenly. The distant feeling she had had the moment before was fading and she again was able to focus on the fact that she was sitting in the doctor’s office. For some reason though, she couldn’t remember anything that she and Dr. Jones had been talking about before her space-out happened. Even more startling to her was the realization that she was holding a squeeze toy in her hands, and she couldn’t remember how it got there.

Panic rose up inside of her and she caught her breath…not this again! Not here! With hands that shook slightly, Rachel reached over and put the squeeze toy on the therapist’s desk. “I’m sorry,” Rachel said, “Um, I seem to have forgotten your question. Would you mind repeating it?”

 The therapist took a deep breath herself and carefully considered how to explain her diagnosis. “Rachel, have you ever heard of Dissociative Identity Disorder?”

——

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) haunts more people than we realize, and because there are often “lost moments” in a sufferer’s life, it can be a terrifying and isolating way to live.  If this is you, please reach out for help. There truly is hope for you.

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Ask Dr. Merry: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

»Posted on Oct 12, 2012 in Ask Dr. Lin, Mental Health, Personal Growth, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

 flashbacks

I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with me but I thought maybe you could help.  I’ve had some ongoing problems for years with depression and panic attacks but I’ve been able to manage more or less with medication and trying not to think about my problems.  I’ve also been really busy with my work and family, so I think I just kept going on automatic pilot.  Recently though, I’ve been having these weird dreams that are almost like flashbacks and this feeling that something bad happened to me when I was growing up.  It’s to the point where I can’t sleep because I feel like I’m on edge all the time.  I don’t know what to believe because I don’t have clear memories but I do know that there was a lot of fighting and we got beatings from my dad when he was drunk, which was often.  I try not to think about my past and just try to do my best with my life right now, but these flashbacks are really bothering me.  I’m also finding that I’m getting a lot more panic attacks especially after I had this incident at work where a customer cornered me and threatened me.  Nothing happened although I was really freaked out at the time.  I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much but I just can’t seem to let it go.  I’m really obsessing about all of this trying to figure out what may have happened to me, to the point where I can hardly think of anything else. What should I do?

I’m really sorry to hear that you’re experiencing flashbacks and panic attacks but I’m glad that you’ve decided to pay attention to what your body may be telling you.  Our bodies are quite remarkable and will tell us – if we pay attention to their signals – when something needs attending to or requires our care.

It sounds like you’ve tried hard to turn your life around from some of the difficulties in your past.  From what you’re describing, however, I do wonder if there are some unresolved issues that are starting to come up to the surface.  I would need more details about your symptoms before making a firm diagnosis, but there is a possibility that you may be experiencing what we call Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD), which may have been triggered by your recent incident at work that sounds quite traumatizing for you.

For many people who have experienced early childhood trauma, those memories can get repressed (as part of the way children often cope with traumatic experiences) but then re-surface years later after something triggers those traumatic feelings from the past.  I don’t know what treatment options you’ve considered or whether you’ve done any psychotherapy, but in my experience, unexplained depression, emotional distress and panic attacks are sometimes a way that our body demonstrates the possibility of unresolved PTSD.

Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Recurring and distressing flashbacks and/or dreams
  • Intense psychological distress or strong physiological responses (e.g., panic attacks) at exposure to internal or external cues that resembles the original trauma
  • Inability to recall important aspect of the trauma
  • Efforts to avoid any thoughts, feelings, activities or situations that remind us of the trauma
  • Markedly diminished interest in significant activities (which can present as depression)
  • Hyper-vigilance and an exaggerated startle response, difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Problems regulating emotions, unpredictable outbursts of anger

I would strongly encourage you to consider seeking a qualified psychotherapist to help you work through what is going on with you right now.  Regardless of whether there are any specific memories that have been repressed that are contributing to your symptoms, it sounds like your upbringing has been quite difficult and so it may be helpful for you to process through these early childhood experiences.  You may find relief from your symptoms just by doing this, but in the process, you may end up discovering repressed traumatic memories that also need to be resolved.

Unresolved trauma will often remain locked in our brains but can – like a toxic-leaking waste bin – “leak” out “toxins” that can lead to physical and emotional symptoms.  As well, even if we don’t consciously recall the trauma, we may find ourselves reacting very strongly to situations that, in retrospect, shouldn’t be such a big deal.  It is vitally important to resolve this trauma so that our brain, body and emotions have a sense of resolution – not to change the past (which we can’t), but so we’re able to “digest” the important lessons and growth that is part of experiencing life’s challenges while letting go of the bad stuff (e.g., the fear, shame or wrong mental conclusions about ourselves) that was locked up inside us previously.  Often, people will experience a sense of freedom as the trauma no longer holds them back from experiences or relationships they long to pursue.

There are a number of trauma recovery techniques that are quite effective in helping us move towards this healthy resolution.  But make sure that whichever therapist you chose also teaches you techniques to help you stay grounded and in control of your emotional responses so that you can safely process through your trauma with that therapist.  You don’t want to be re-traumatized by your therapist!  Your emotional safety ought to be of the utmost importance to your therapist and must be established and maintained to ensure that you are dealing with your trauma in a therapeutic and safe way.

Keep in mind, also, that trauma therapy isn’t meant to be a “witch hunt” in discovering the facts of what actually happened.  Because memories are very susceptible to distortion and there’s no way to go back into your past to verify the specific facts of what happened, trauma recovery is more about resolving your symptoms and helping you come to a place of acceptance and peace.  Beware of any therapists who try to tell you what they think happened when there’s no evidence beyond the symptoms you are reporting.  Don’t spend all of your energy trying to remember the details of what happened to you – often, the more you try, the more frustrated and depressed you will get, especially as you start to overly focus on trying to find out the “answers”.  Instead, focus on the symptoms that need resolving and allow your mind and body to naturally bring forward what needs attention.

And for those of us who are Christ-followers, it’s important to remember that nothing takes God by surprise since he knows everything, so trust in his timing as he brings forward traumatic memories that need to be resolved.  And if your symptoms are generally resolved and you’re beginning to experience genuine peace and joy in your life, accept the ambiguity of not knowing all of the answers this side of heaven.  Give over to God those who have harmed, abused or traumatized you, trusting that it will be up to him to deal with them and not up to you to make sure they know what they did or that they pay for what they did to you.  Focus on what YOU can do to break free from the traumatic experiences of your past and then choose to let go of the rest.

 

 

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