Unhealed trauma affects our spiritual growth
Events such as divorce, bullying, rejection, parental neglect, betrayal or abuse are all traumatic. Unhealed trauma has a negative impact on our thought processes and emotional health for a long time. Eventually, our spiritual life also suffers.
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 如何辨识情感创伤的属灵影响 | 繁體中文 > 如何辨識情感創傷的屬靈影響)
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines trauma as “a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time“. Why do we ignore things such as divorce or verbal abuse as traumatic? Here are three possible reasons.
1. Trauma is justified
This is more common among family situations, where people have direct insight into why those who caused or are still causing the trauma do what they do. People who have been constantly belittled, cursed or unkindly teased by their own family may try to find a reason for their relatives’ behaviour. They do this out of love, respect or deference – not realising that that doesn’t make the hurt go away but instead, only bury it deeper. They may even cope by blaming themselves.
2. Trauma is “normalised”
When one is exposed to enough trauma or bad news from people or the media, it’s possible to start having a skewed view of what is “normal” in the world. For example, someone who is surrounded by broken marriages will find it hard to believe that healthy marriages are possible, no matter what the Bibles states is God’s original intent for marriage.
3. Trauma is trivialised
Have you ever heard or given the advice to “get over it and get on with life”? One way that we may cope with traumatic events is to minimise it. We may say things like “it’s okay” or “it’s not a big deal” to ourselves or other people. But if we don’t have the tools or understanding to know how to get over our traumas, it can leave us stuck, unable to process it. One can end up carrying our wounds with us for the rest of our lives.
The spiritual effects of trauma
As a result of “invisible” inner wounds from trauma in our past, we will struggle to experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We may subconsciously cover up our unresolved innermost issues through a variety of coping mechanisms, including the hardening of our hearts towards other people and God. All these cripple our spiritual growth.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Proverbs 28:14 ESV Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
Here are a few more examples.
1. Turning to idols
When we turn to things other than God to bring us temporary comfort and some sense of security, we can create idols in our lives. Some people turn to self-worship, building up their earthly reputations, status and possessions in order to feel more “complete”. Other people turn to food binges, sexual gratifications, fantasy, television addictions etc.. All these amounts to idolatry.
If we take a minute to think about it, all types of idols require us to give up something personal in exchange for short-term relief. We may give up our time with God, our sense of purity and dignity, our freedom from strongholds or other valuable things. Idols provide temporary “false comforts” that don’t really satisfy us at the deepest levels in the long run. Only God is the source of all comfort for all time.
Colossians 3:5 ESV Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
2 Corinthians 1:3 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
2. Self-focused independence
When we have been hurt by others over time, we may decide that we cannot rely on or trust other people. We learn to take things into our own hands and develop a hard independent shell. Unfortunately, this shell will also make it difficult for us to turn to God 100% for all our needs.
Following the need to protect ourselves from past hurts and future trauma, we may learn to keep an emotional independence from other people – damaging our ability to develop real intimacy with others.
When we build walls around our hearts, how can we love God with all our might?
Proverbs 3:5 ESV Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
3. Isolation / Avoiding community
In the same way, people with unhealed hurts may also avoid community. They may feel that they have “nothing left to give” in their hearts and prefer to avoid relationship disappointments. Or they may try to control and manage (manipulate) relationships on their own terms, unable to consider others first before themselves.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
This is perhaps one of the most common consequences of trauma, where we turn from being hurt to being indignant and unforgiving. Unfortunately, this means that we also start to judge others for what they have done and condemn them in our hearts.
Forgiveness can be really hard, particularly when we see that those who caused the trauma have not apologised, changed or repented, but it is imperative for our own souls.
Mark 11:25 ESV And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
5. Latent anger
Frustration with unresolved issues due to past trauma can lead us to bottle up anger. This can lead us to all sorts of sin. Anger is not a personality trait one is born with, it is a response we learn to use against our environment. People with explosive temperaments could actually be suffering from unresolved trauma, and inadvertently pass on trauma to those around them.
The Bible talks about confessing our sins to one another so that we can be healed. Talking to and praying with others about our past hurts and wounds helps us release the emotions and hurts that have stained our spirits. When that is released, we can invite God to heal and renew us where we have been spiritually suffering.
Ephesians 4:26 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Psalm 107:19-20 ESV Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.
Pride is like a throne that we build for ourselves that says “I know better than others” or “I am superior”. Pride makes us trust in ourselves, over and above God. We end up making ourselves Lord over our own lives and over other people. Pride is actually a way to find strength through limited human ways, rather than having full confidence in God who is limitless. The Bible warns us that pride brings a curse.
Jeremiah 17:5,7 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
Proverbs 3:26 ESV for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
7. Fear / Control / Judging others
When we have been deeply hurt and traumatised in the past, we may develop a fear of people or certain circumstances. We may find it hard to trust others and to feel for others in a genuine loving manner. Because of this, we spend a lot of energy trying to decipher other peoples’ intentions and motives, so that we will not be hurt by them. However, this is an impossibility, because no two people are alike and we will end up offending each other at some point in time.
Fear can also lead us to try to control our environment, our children, our relationships, our workplace etc.. “Control freaks” are not pleasant to be around! Unfortunately, control freaks do not see themselves that way, because they have deep-seated fears they feel they need to overcome. To them, their behaviour is fully justified.
To heal, we actually need to release our fears and trust God completely. God does not just see what is coming up along the road ahead of us, but an entire network of past, present and future paths! Trusting Him is actually our best option.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
8. Blaming God
Many of us have asked at one point of time; “If God is good, why do bad things happen?” and doubt His goodness. We forget that we live in a fallen world where our enemy is prowling around like a lion to devour God’s loved one. Instead of trying to uncover our enemy’s schemes and defeat him in the name of Jesus Christ, we may end up shaking our fist at God instead. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong target!
1 Peter 5:8 ESV Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Psalm 27:13-14 ESV I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
9. Victim mentality / Pessimism
Someone with a victim mentality will think, “why is someone else chosen for good things instead of me?”. Or we may always find someone else to blame when things don’t go our way, instead of ever considering our own shortcomings and weaknesses. It can also evolve into a general pessimism about life, which in turn can lead to thoughts of suicide. Such mindsets can make us incapable of grasping the future and hope that God has promised us.
Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
It is true that bad things to good people. But we should not forget there is much we can thank God for, in the midst of all the bad. We should also not forget to seek God’s purpose and intent in our suffering, whether it is for other people’s or our own sakes. God promises us that He will never forsake us or forget us. He has given us a position of being more than a conqueror. Even if that’s not how we feel, that is our actual identity and position – it’s a matter of seeking God for revelation of this truth in our personal lives.
Isaiah 49:15 ESV “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Romans 8:37-39 ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
10. Inability to rest
This is a sign of someone who is trying to “escape” their pain. Many people thesedays are simply unable to be still and rest. Instead, they have to fill any free time they have with mobile games, social media, sports, talking, watching videos etc.. Or they spend disproportionate amounts of time at work or in ministry work. Life becomes about non-stop entertainment or labour and toil. I believe this is actually one of Satan’s most effective tactics to draw us away from resting and enjoying God, because we convince ourselves that we are doing something good, fun or meaningful.
Psalm 62:5 ESV For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Healing is available – and imperative
Praise God that full healing and redemption is available. We don’t have to suffer the consequences of trauma on our own, as long as we choose to confess and surrender it all to our loving Father in heaven – and with the help of loving godly counsellors who can help speak the truth in love to us.
It is imperative that we heal from our past traumas so that we can be a testimony of hope and comfort to those around us. God promises to enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we fully know the glorious hope He has for us and comfort those who also need comforting.
Ephesians 1:16-19 ESV I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
2 Corinthians 1:3-14 ESV Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
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