Recently, Mat-Su community organizations, schools, and health workers have been talking about trauma. A trauma-informed person or group knows that abuse, neglect, violence, or family distress can affect a person throughout his or her life.
Childhood trauma causes terror and confusion. The fight, flight, or freeze response to danger is our brain and body’s way to help us survive emergencies. But if we live in a dangerous situation, or continue to have experiences that trigger this response, we cannot function or learn normally. Trauma can rewire our nerves to react as if everything is an emergency.
Trauma often prevents us from accessing our higher thinking and decision-making skills. It keeps us from enjoying healthy relationships. Adversity is part of life, but the more we learn about its effects, the easier it will become to heal those wounds.
Trauma-informed professionals seek to provide services in a safe space. They recognize that children and adults who have experienced trauma need special care. They try to treat the whole person and to consider how their behavior has evolved as a way to cope. They talk about and measure Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs.
How could a trauma-informed church or faith community lift its members? How could we better serve our children and neighbors?
Jesus Christ’s taught the two greatest commandments. To love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” And to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:37-39).
We cannot know what burdens a person carries by simply watching them or talking to them. Loving our neighbors as ourselves does not mean we judge them against what we think we would do in their situation. It means we try to give the benefit of doubt. We forgive. We love and listen to children, teens, and their parents. We reach out in kindness and help where we can.
Some of our neighbors—at church, school, work, and in our community—carry burdens of trauma that have been passed on from their parents. Some use alcohol or other drugs to numb their memories of abuse or violence. Many fear that they cannot change their path or feel powerless to care for themselves or their families. Some of our neighbors are easy to love. Others are not.
An often neglected first step in the journey to love our neighbor is learning to love ourselves. In this fast-paced world, we are bombarded by marketing messages designed to make us feel unfulfilled and lacking. We compare ourselves to others on social media. At school and church, it seems we cannot possibly measure up. Even the well-adjusted among us struggle with degraded self-worth. Add depression, anxiety, adolescence, abuse, violence, trauma, or substance use to the mix and self-love can feel out of reach.
How can we nurture self-love?
Feeling God’s love is a good place to start. If you can’t remember a time you felt God’s love, think of someone who loves you, or a time you felt cared for and safe. God gives us family and friends to care for and nurture us. If our friends or family have fallen short in this regard, we can still choose to work on healing ourselves.
As we recover from traumatic experiences, we will come to know and inhabit our inner spaces. Feelings of love will follow. God’s spirit conveys his love. Feelings of love, peace, joy, patience, and kindness, all flow from this divine source (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Be patient with yourself. You are stronger than you think and more powerful than you know. Spiritual learning and emotional healing are incremental; it happens step by step. Even when we feel like God doesn’t hear us, he can guide our path to people and ideas that will resonate with our spirits and bring healing.
Love for neighbor and self can lessen the division we create between “us” and “them.” Our unresolved trauma separates us from those who believe or live differently than we do. It is easy to direct fear and anger toward those who don’t agree with our views. It is harder to consider our emotions and think about why those feelings arise.
The process of becoming trauma-informed can help us to develop compassion. We can overcome personal barriers that prevent us from reaching out to others in loving ways. We will be able to feel and share more of God’s love.
If you would like to learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences, attend or host an ACEs workshop. See the R.O.C.K. Mat-Su Facebook page or contact Lindsay Prunella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amity Condie lives in Palmer and enjoys reading, writing, and skijoring with her dogs and family. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.