Monday, January 7, 2008

Why Don't You Just Get Over It?

“It’s been twenty years, why don’t you just get over it? Stop dwelling on the past. Get on with your life.”

These are common sentiments of people who do not understand trauma. They are also common expressions used by perpetrators of the abuse. These words minimize the impact of trauma.

Trauma is a subjective thing. Why two soldiers go to war and witness the same atrocity and one comes back psychologically unscathed and the other riddled with PTSD, no one knows. But we do know that once a person has been traumatized, it is not just something they “get over,” as though it were a common cold.

Researchers have discovered that trauma is experienced first in most primitive part of the brain, called the amgdala. That is our “monkey brain” at the core of the cerebral cortex. It is the non-verbal part of the brain. Terror is experienced but unprocessed.

This is where therapy and support groups come in. Why do support groups for victims of rape, domestic violence and war have such power? Because in these safe places, people are allowed to verbalize the horror of what they experienced. In other words, the trauma is expressed but not relived. The power of expression is that the speaker now has control over what before was out of his/her control.

The point is not to relive the trauma but to excise the pain of the past abuse through expression. That is why I have written my book. For me, it was a very painful but healing, if not cathartic, process.

Through the process of writing, I came to understand what I had not understood before. I came to accept responsibility for choices I had made. And I came to forgive myself for things I believed were my fault but were not – such as the abuse.

Expression is an extremely powerful tool in healing from trauma. Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery speaks of “bearing witness” to the pain one has experienced. We all know about witnessing. We know about telling the story of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

My story is a witness to the death and resurrection I have experienced - both to the trauma I suffered at the hands of “believers” and to the power of understanding ears and hearts to heal. That’s how I have moved on. (And I have moved on.) But I couldn’t have done it alone.

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