The Experience of Trauma
Loss disrupts every aspect of life
Every aspect of a person’s existence is threatened when they suffer the loss of something or someone important to them.
Illness, violence, natural disaster, social change and many other events can cause loss. But regardless of the cause, this loss begins a painful journey of picking up the pieces of a broken heart. Trying to find new hope and new possibilities for one’s life.
You experience physical pain, mixed up emotions, social disconnections, and changes in your perspective. You may question your faith and beliefs, and God. You may become irritated with “foolish” thoughts or entertain the possibility that you are crazy --- the fear that you will lose total control of your life just trying to deal with this excruciatingly painful and confusing thing called grief. Grief can also exacerbate a pre-existing medical condition or cause new medical problems. All of these are normal experiences for those who are experiencing loss.
Healing requires time and hard work
Grieving is a process of repairing and reconstructing one’s life. It takes time, effort, preparation, patience, and persistence. It takes deliberate steps of courage to deal with the painful realities of loss.
When you choose to do what it takes to work toward healing you open yourself to new possibilities of hope. As you move forward you find that the risks you take open doors to new possibilities in your life.
Healing requires support
Receiving appropriate support is crucial to this recovery process. Grievers need unity with others who are willing to take deliberate steps of courage to stand and provide real support to those traveling the painful and difficult journey of recovery from loss. They need advocates who can help to provide the information, guidance, support, and resources they need to recover and heal.
The Center provides services for individuals, couples, families, faith communities, clergy and the community at large. Staff are trained and experienced in working with persons of all ages who face the pain of grief and loss.
1. If you are experiencing grief and loss of any kind, we want to listen and to help.
2. We can provide information and training about the criminal justice system, victims’ rights, the needs of victims, and the ways that you can find hope and recovery.
3. We can provide a support group where you can share your feelings with others who have experienced loss.
4. We offer comprehensive support to deal with trauma and with the stress factors that result from the impact of grief and/or violent crime. We can provide lay-counseling and information as well as connecting you with an individualized network of other support systems and personnel (both faith-based and non-faith-based) to meet your own unique needs.
5. We also educate helpers and raise awareness of the many struggles of those who are grieving and the ways that others can most effectively comfort and support them.
Understanding Trauma, Grieving, and Healing
“Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning … Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life … They confront human beings with the extremities of helplessness and terror, and evoke the responses of catastrophe (Herman, 1997, p. 33).”
Trauma is a fact of life. Trauma can result from natural disaster, or from “falls, serious illness, abandonment, receiving shocking or tragic news, witnessing violence, or getting into an auto accident (Levine, 2010, p. 9).” Trauma results when our life is horrifically threatened and we are helpless to do anything about it. Violent victimization is a type of trauma that is caused by intentional, criminal abuse by others. Particularly when those committing the violence are people we trusted, such as a parent, close friend, intimate partner, clergy, teacher, or military commander, this betrayal can severely exacerbate the trauma.
In South America the indigenous peoples use the word “susto” to describe the experience of trauma, which translates as ‘fright paralysis’ or ‘soul loss’. Traumatic loss disrupts every aspect of a person's life.
Recovery from trauma follows a common pathway. Although the stages have been conceptualized in many different ways, the basic underlying process remains the same: establishing safety, reconstructing the story of the trauma, and recreating the connection between the survivor and their community.
Just as trauma shatters every aspect of a person’s life, the journey to recovery and healthy healing involves reconstructing every area of life. Trauma has a dual nature: it robs victims of their ability to live life, but it also opens the door to a personal journey of healing that can lead to new hope, new life, and transformation.
Every victim of trauma must face grief and mourning before they can find new life (Bloom, 2013). Healthy grieving is vital to healing from trauma. But healthy grieving is hard work and requires appropriate support. Victims are often re-victimized by being told to “just get over it” and move on (Yoder, 2005). Grief is not something you get over - it is something you go through. Like being in a maze, there are many one-way paths that only lead to dead ends. Almost always, when victims try to "just get over it" they get stuck in a dead-end. When victims do not successfully work their way through the paths, this almost always prevents them from experiencing healthy healing.
Figure 1. WORKING THROUGH THE PAIN OF GRIEF. Advocates help to guide and support victims to find their way through the maze to achieve healthy healing. Advocates help victims avoid the paths of "just getting over it" because these paths lead to dead ends rather than to renewed hope, transformation and new possibilities.
Grief can cause painful and bewildering symptoms and experiences: physical pain, mixed-up emotions, a broken heart, social disconnections, and changes in your perspective. And it increases a person's resistance to change and new experience which are necessary for healing.
The stories of victims all have one thing in common: they grieve. And their grief is affected by the lack of awareness in the community concerning victims' rights and needs. In the case of criminal victimization their grief is also affected by the criminal justice process. All too often they are forced to keep their stories and their pain to themselves because they are encouraged not to talk about it. Many victims do recover to go on and live a life of new hope and possibilities. But for so many others the shadow remains, forever dark and painful. Breaking the silence that holds victims captive to the 'shadow of death' is achieved when victims are provided with opportunities to speak out.
Healing is a process in which repairing and reconstructing damaged areas of your life begin to create hope and transformation. But it takes deliberate steps of courage to overcome the natural resistance to dealing with the pain of loss. Grief makes it difficult to think clearly about the present and future. “… we need time to process our feelings, to mourn and to take stock of the meaning and value of life. True justice requires every ounce of reason, balance and judgment we can muster (Bloom, 2013, p. 10).” People experiencing loss can be expected to express feelings of anger or frustration. Expressing these feelings and emotions is essential to the process of healing. People who are grieving have a deep need to feel they are being heard. And although their initial concentration is primarily on the problem, this does not change the fact that the solution too is within them. With appropriate support they can overcome the natural resistance they feel so that they can develop and navigate their own unique path to healing in all areas of their life.
It is critical to break the silence and to raise awareness in the community
It's so sad that so many people go through life thinking they have something wrong with them because of the pain and the anger and all the things that nobody talked about. Too often those who are grieving are faced with hearing, “get over it" or "you have to move on". Because of this, many keep their feelings and pain hidden; it's not acceptable to grieve openly because nobody does it. But when people are able to share their thoughts and feelings, they can help each other to heal. Especially when they are allowed to share with those who have the same types of feelings that they are experiencing. Functioning support groups and victim impact panels make all the difference because they allow grievers to break through the silence, to share and to achieve healthy healing (Price, 2007).
“The foundation of storytelling is the capacity of human beings to empathetically listen to the suffering of others, an act that is therapeutic for the storyteller and beneficial to the listener. Not only can the storytelling establish a human connection with others, abolishing the isolation caused by violence, it can also enhance the biological extinction of traumatic memories and hasten the psychological recovery of a traumatized person. These positive outcomes emerge from the biological miracle of empathy (Mollica, 2006, p. 115).”
Faith is a very important element in this process of recovery
There are many complex, integrated stages of grief. Each stage of grief is a painful but necessary part of the journey to healthy healing. Faith helps to cure and repair broken hearts and souls. It serves as a blessing that strengthens the survivor’s ability to walk through this dark, painful time in their life. The function of faith in each survivor’s life is different. But whether they are relying on their faith to deliver them or to bless them with strength, faith is a crucial element in recovery. A system of true justice will inspire and encourage the use of faith. Faith is the healing balm that restores survivors and gives the blessings of goodness and mercy.
Advocates are a great source of comfort and support during the process of recovery
True Justice is only as strong as the advocates who believe in it. The work of True Justice advocates provides the foundation for hope, healing and transformation. The fruit of True Justice is healing. The survivor’s faith gives meaning to each step. Advocates guide them through the fears and life-destroying re-victimization experiences that pose a dangerous threat to their healthy recovery. Advocates identify paths to be taken and dark pathways to be avoided, hoping their own faith will offer comfort and encouragement to apprehensive survivors. As advocates, it is what we do in accordance with our faith that gives meaningful and healthy examples of victory for those we hope will follow. Faith guides survivors along the way, giving meaning to each step. An advocate’s support in guiding the direction of each step gives richer, deeper meaning and comfort to a survivor’s journey to recovery
Bloom, S. L. (2013). Creating Sanctuary: Toward the evolution of sane societies. New York, NY: Routledge.
Herman, J. L. (1997). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Levine, P. A. (2010). In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Mollica, R. F. (2006). Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to hope and recovery in a violent world. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Price, W. S. (2007). In pursuit of true justice. Fifth Annual Symposium of the American Society of Victimology. Baltimore, MD: American Society of Victimology.
Yoder, C. (2005). The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community Security is Threatened. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.