I’ve mentioned that it’s difficult as a survivor to know what the truth is. Truth can be sitting right in front of me, and I will trip over it before I will see it. I now have several real truths that have the power to free me stored up to use on bad days. But today, I want to give voice to WHY it is so hard for survivors to find the truth, walk in the truth, believe the truth or trust the truth.
If you are someone who is trying to help or understand a survivor, then what is obvious to you can be so hard for a survivor to grasp. Perhaps her fears seem completely illogical to you, or her self-destructive behaviors just won’t stop, no matter how much love and patience you pour over her. It’s hard to understand why nothing you say to her helps at all. You know you are speaking truth and you desperately want her to “get it,” but she just can’t. And often there is a stubborn defiance that seems to go with this.
Please understand that her view of the entire world is built on a paradigm that doesn’t even exist in your world. Her “truth” is so far from your truth that, without the healing power of Christ, she will not be able to understand things from your perspective.
A Somewhat Sciency Explanation to All of This: (And I am not a scientist; I am a survivor. So bear with me)
Trauma does funny things to the brain. I mean, actual altering of brain chemicals. Depending on how young she was when the trauma started, even the neural pathways being laid in the younger years take a permanently different route.
Here’s another fact about trauma that is seldom understood by well–meaning people: Overwhelmingly traumatic memories are stored in our brains in a completely different manner than normal memories. We all store recall of everyday events in both our short and long term memories, depending on the significance of the event. The more significant an event, the more likely it is to make it into the realm of long-term memory.
However, research shows that when we experience an overwhelming, traumatic event, the memory of that event bypasses the normal route in the brain and is automatically deposited into an entirely different part of the brain from where normal memory is stored. Traumatic memories are re-routed and stored in the brain as sensory experiences rather than organized and integrated into the flowing narrative of our lives. The traumatic experiences are often completely separated from our normal memories as if they are not at all a part of our lives. (I personally believe that this is truly one of God’s greatest gifts to us.)
While the “normal” events in our lives evolve into a flowing story that “captures the essence of what happened,” dissociated, traumatic memories are stored much more precisely, albeit in a sensory, rather than verbal narrative. These memories are remembered when triggered later by a similar sensory input, such as a sight, smell or sound. When someone experiences a sensation closely similar to the traumatic event, the memory breaks loose and enters normal consciousness.
Of course, not all traumatic memories are dissociated, but they are all stored as sensory memories that play themselves out over and over through the senses while trying to make their way into the normal life narrative.
I can credit Bessel A. Van der Kolk for my understanding of all of this – you can google him!
What This All Means and How To Actually Help:
It’s important for those who seek to help survivors that they understand that a survivor’s entire view of the world is built around two things: overwhelmingly traumatic experiences and lies. Everywhere she turns there is a sensory trigger that causes her to re-experience the trauma. In order to deal with this, the only thing she has to interpret those feelings over and over again with is LIES. And yes, this is why the self-destructive behaviors continue.
It’s a crazy, perpetuating cycle of irrationality.
Yet, there is hope! As she talks through her memories, or even just writes about them, she is able to move them from the place in her brain where she continually keeps re-living them through sensory triggers to a place where they can begin to fit into her flowing life’s story. Yet, please hear that talking about the memories and re-routing them will not bring healing to them. It’s so important that she be able to ask God to come and bring His healing to those places. The lies associated with the memories have to be identified and real, Biblical truth has to take root. This can only happen supernaturally through much prayer.
I’ll talk more soon about the kinds of lies that survivors walk around with in their heads without even knowing it, but I think this post is long enough for now! If you’re a helper, please just understand that rationalizing with a survivor will not help her. Only the healing process of integrating memories and re-framing life through the process of replacing long-held lies with truth through the supernatural power of Christ will bring lasting change.
If you are a friend of a survivor and want to help, then PRAY! Pray against the lies. Pray against the flood of memories; pray against the temptation to dissociate from the pain through self-destruction; and pray for her peace and healing. God is the One who really can and does do this stuff. Your prayers will help more than you can know.