Traumatic experiences happen to nearly everyone, at some time, in some form. These profoundly painful events—whether recent or long ago—left you wondering if you will ever again feel safe, joyful, and self-assured.
You wonder if you can overcome persistent fear and anxiety.
You wonder if your relationships will forever be impaired.
You wonder if you can become your true self, the person God created you to be.
No matter how much hurt you are enduring, and no matter how heartbroken you feel, there is hope. You can cling to hope that you will not only survive but will go on to thrive.
This is not a pipe dream or a pep talk. It is a real-life conviction based on my thirty years of working as a mental health professional treating a wide variety of serious issues, including addiction, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Many years ago, when I founded a treatment clinic, I didn’t fully understand that most ailments and afflictions people deal with can be traced back to the trauma of some kind. Along the way, I have encountered countless instances of trauma, where individuals suffered a deep wound inflicted by another person or because of unfortunate circumstances. Whatever the cause, traumatic incidents left them feeling deeply shaken, if not completely shattered.
Many people suffering the aftermath of past pain are unwilling or unable to address the initial traumatic event and therefore stay stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior and emotional distress. Other people have tried therapeutic approaches but have found the advice to be ineffective or short-lived.
As I explain in my book Triumph Over Trauma, unresolved trauma has devastating results. Researchers have shown that survivors of accidents, disasters, childhood abuse, and other traumas often endure lifelong symptoms ranging from anxiety and depression to unexplained physical pain, fatigue, illness, and harmful “acting out” behaviors.
You do not need to hide from yourself—your brokenness—any longer. The courage to explore your past pain will lead you to new understanding about yourself and the events that wounded you. As you pursue healing, you will affirm the Scripture that says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, NIV).
Time and again, as I have worked with people struggling with the aftereffects of trauma, I have been reminded of four essential points vital for you to know:
1. God is the ultimate restorer and healer of broken people.
Unresolved trauma can plummet you to the depths of despair—but you don’t need to stay there. God provides the strength, guidance, and peace to overcome your current heartache and regain joy.
As the apostle Peter assured us, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
Today, you might feel little hope that you can become emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually whole. But in time, you will find that the smallest seed of hope can blossom into confidence, optimism, and faith.
2. Trauma leaves scars that will never completely go away, but you can have a fuller, richer life because of your experiences.
Working through trauma and repairing the damage will be one of the hardest things you’ll do in life. You will need to invest yourself in the process of healing, which itself is challenging and painful. The prize will be the kind of life you’ve longed for, with close relationships, inner peace, and energy to pursue your dreams.
3. Trauma survivors often feel deep-rooted shame, guilt, and remorse—which are unjustified and unfair.
This is one of the tragic ironies of trauma: Those who are innocent suffer emotional turmoil, creating many associated problems to deal with. An essential component for healing is to recognize unhealthy emotions that don’t belong to you and replace them with healthy ones that do belong to you.
4. Hope is a powerful ally in the quest to work through heartache and restore damaged emotions.
Many factors are needed to achieve healing, such as wise counsel, courage to address pain, support from friends, and establishing healthy habits. But I believe that hope is the indispensable quality that allows you to overcome hardship and press forward to a bright future.
As Scripture tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Hope is not a reaction based upon an experienced present but a response based upon an expected future.
Steps Toward Healing
As you begin your journey toward recovery—or continue the process—here are steps you can take this week:
- Share your story.
People who have experienced a traumatic event tend to feel isolated and alone in their pain. Fearing that no one else can relate, trauma survivors often keep their stories tucked away inside. Research shows that the symptoms of trauma are reduced when survivors connect with other people, but taking that first step and reaching out to someone can be difficult.
Consider starting small by writing out your story. When you’re ready, share it with a trusted friend, church leader, or counselor.
- Pray for God’s presence, and watch for ways that He shows up in your life.
Begin each day by asking God to reveal Himself to you, and carry a notebook to record the many ways He does show up. He is present in our lives—we often are too distracted or unobservant to notice.
- Engage the power of gratitude.
What are the blessings, big and small, that bring you contentment and joy? What are you grateful for? Write them down and thank God for them. Do this sincerely and consistently, and you’ll soon realize that your burden is lifting.
- Allow yourself to hope again.
Examine your life—even if you are in a deep place of sadness—and seek to find hope. Practically speaking, you can say, “Today I choose to be hopeful for _____.” Or take a walk in nature and intentionally look for signs of hope (flowers blooming, birds chirping, butterflies fluttering). Or spend time watching young children and enjoy their exuberance and innocence.
Dr. Gregory Jantz
Dr. Gregory Jantz, PhD, is a bestselling author and the founder of the mental-health clinic The Center: A Place of Hope in Edmonds, Washington. He is the author of Triumph Over Trauma, Healing Depression for Life, and many other books. Find Dr. Jantz at www.aplaceofhope.com.