Does every painful event that happens to us inevitably become a trauma?
The good news is: NO!
To understand how this can be–and more importantly, to prevent a life event from becoming a trauma–you need to understand why and how something becomes a trauma.
Trauma and UDINS
I’ve written before about life events that become traumatic because they are UDINs: Unexpected, Dramatic, Isolating, and having No resources, recourse, or solutions.
These four elements are what make something traumatic.
Notice that one and a half of the elements of a UDIN are unpreventable.
You can’t control when some crisis will happen, or how.
You can’t control how bad it will be (half of the Dramatic element).
That’s the one and a half you can’t control.
What you can control of the Dramatic part, though, to at least some degree, is how it will affect you.
And you can control whether you will let it Isolate you, and whether you will believe that there are No solutions or resources.
According to Dr. Karl Lehman, there is a pain pathway in the brain that needs to be traveled all the way through in order for a painful event not to become a trauma. If we can go all the way through the pain processing pathway, we “metabolize” the experience and it does not become a trauma that can then get triggered again and again, and cause all kinds of physical, emotional, or relational problems.
The main reason a painful event becomes traumatic is that we feel alone in it. Relationship has been withdrawn. We become disconnected.
How do we do that?
Staying Relational in the Pain
Many of us grew up in families that themselves never learned this. When they or we were in pain, it led to withdrawal. The “relational circuits” in the brain (RCs) were switched off. If this happened in our experience, we may come to believe that when we’re in pain, love is going to be withdrawn. Thus we turn off to the pain, or we go off by ourselves to try to deal with it.
Which, if we’re to believe the brain science experts, never works.
So how do we stay relational in the pain, so we can actually process it and not let it become a trauma?
Look for Someone Who Knows How to Be With You in Pain
It can be difficult to reach out to someone when you are in pain, because not everyone will know how to deal with it. Most people will instinctively try to make you feel better, make the pain go away. You may instinctively turn to something to make you feel better, make the pain go away.
The only way out of the pain, is through it. Preferably with someone else.
If you know someone with whom you feel safe, you can kind of coach them along as to how they can help you.
Approach them at a time when you both can talk. Ask them if they would be willing to just listen to you and reflect back how you’re feeling without attempting to change anything.
Note: That someone can be God. God is always with us, and if you believe his Word, he has promised 14 times never to leave you or forsake you. You can journal or pray your way through the sequence below. (For more help with this, I suggest the book, The Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel. You can also contact me for some Healing Codes. This is a big part of what I do in my Healing Codes Coaching work.)
Let’s say you just lost someone dear to you, and are feeling great grief.
The VCR of Relief
Here the three steps to working through the pain. Again, ideally you will do this in the presence of someone who has the capacity to be with you in this process.
- Validation: name the feeling and/or belief you have as a result of the event. “I miss my friend so much. She was like a mom to me. Who will I go to now when I need the wise, down-to-earth advice she always knew how to give? I have lost so much, so unexpectedly….”
If you’re processing something with someone and they reflect back your words to you with empathy, you will feel validated and understood. The first step is to stay connected with the experience rather than try to escape or minimize it. Doing this with another person removes the Isolating factor.
2. Comfort: Look for the origin of the negative feeling or belief attached to the event. You may be upset by the event itself, but it may also be triggering an unhealed memory from the past. You may or may not remember what that is, but naming the origin of it as best you know can be helpful.
“This sounds silly, but it reminds me of the time my father accidentally killed my cat when I was young. I used to tell my cat my problems, and I never felt she judged me.” So now we’re dealing with more than losing the friend; we’re dealing with an unhealed memory from the past, that amplifies the pain in the current memory. Just realizing this can be comforting. It can help you begin to make sense out of the pain. “Oh, this is not just about this incident.” (And you will want to address both incidents with The Healing Codes and/or healing prayer.)
Or maybe it is just about this incident, because in itself it’s so huge. “I’ve never lost someone this close to me before. I don’t know how to handle it.” Understanding the level of intensity of the emotion is also part of comfort.
3. Repatterning, or Returning to Joy. When the first two things have happened–validation and comfort–you are then open to new perspectives on the situation. A skilled listener will know just how to help you come to the new perspective yourself, rather than trying to give advice, fix you or make the pain go away. This is where you realize you are not without resources, thus eliminating the N-No recourse or resources–of the UDIN.
This process can take time, or it can be fairly quick, depending on the intensity and scope of the painful event. But when you deliberately reject Isolation and seek help from someone who can Validate, Comfort, and help you Return to Joy, you need not fear that the event will become a trauma that you never get over. You will emerge stronger, wiser and more mature.
If you would like some personalized help in healing your trauma, please check out my custom Healing Codes Coaching. I have wonderful tools for helping you process such pain successfully–and permanently. And I can be that validating presence that will help you get through the trauma to the other side, where wisdom and peace reside.