Trauma fundamentally changes the way people think about everything. Thought processes shift from a basic human selfishness to a profound self-preservation that pervades every area of life. Every slight by another becomes a major assault to our character. Every off-handed comment becomes a stab in the back. Every missed cue becomes an indicator of hatred, or at least disrespect. Every oversight or incident of forgetfulness is a personal affront against us.
This is a concept not well-understood, either by the person suffering the impact of trauma or by those who interact with us. It is a concept that needs to be better understood by all of us! It is also a concept we, as survivors of abuse, need to entrust to those who love us, because our interpretations are almost always skewed.
It became a clearer understanding to me as I was working on some household chores. I became personally offended because my expectations for the condition of my house were violated. Suddenly, everyone who lives with me hates me. Suddenly, nobody respects me; nobody cares; everyone just wants to take me for granted.
Until recently, I would have thought these ideas were justified and not at all blown out of proportion, while my husband and children would become bewildered by my overreaction. Then I would become more angry that they considered my response to their slovenliness an overreaction. Couldn’t they see how they had offended me? Or didn’t they care?
Then as I was alone with my harping thoughts I realized that these thoughts were not original to my situation currently. They are ancient thoughts in my life. They stem from a very painful time when my being taken for granted and treated like a servant were a reality. They are thoughts that are rooted in truth, but not in today’s reality.
These thoughts existed back in the time when I was expected to fill my mother’s shoes in the household; the times when my parents would leave the house after a meal, and I was expected to tidy the kitchen by myself; the times when I was left alone in the house for hours to clean up after the 5 of us all by myself; the times of being deathly afraid of failure to measure up and knowing my performance had little or nothing to do with what my father’s response would be when he returned; the times when my being pleased with myself for having created a beautiful home or kitchen were met with harsh criticism and demands to do it over again; the times my negative attitude were met with extreme consequences.
These were not just innocuous times of a rebellious teenager being asked to do chores she didn’t want to do. These were times of abusive parents neglecting the needs of their children and the household. These were times of threatening and fear. These were times I never knew if I would measure up, and if I didn’t, what the consequences would be. And I knew better than to complain about the injustice of it at all, because in my home consequences for insubordination were quite extreme.
These times, and many others like them, left me deeply imprinted with a sense of consistent failure. They left me certain I would never measure up. They also left me with a sense of entitlement to erupt all over those who are weaker than I when my expectations in my own home are unmet, or worse yet, violated. My anger with people who don’t measure up is something I learned from a very young age, and I have felt justified in it all my life. My sense of being taken for granted and being unable to do anything about it was also impressed upon me at a very young age, and I have felt those same feelings throughout my adult life. It makes me angry, and because of the environment in which I grew up, a part of me has always felt justified in being angry.
As I have matured and healed from the impact of the abuses I endured as a child, I have come to see my behaviors are not acceptable. As I have walked with God and known more about him and observed as He has revealed more about myself, I have come to see that the ways I think and act have very deep roots.
For decades, I would condemn myself for the ways I thought and felt. I knew they were wrong, yet I felt powerless to change them. I felt like if I would only trust God more, pray more, read the Scriptures more, my thoughts and feelings would change. But they didn’t. At least not all the time. Sure, I would have times where my behaviors were pretty well under control, but only because I was white knuckling through the challenging times, ignoring the rage that was flowing beneath the surface of my consciousness, but it would always resurface again, in part because I am a sinner, but in part because the issues that created the seed of rage inside me were unresolved.
People who have been wounded by abuse have deep-rooted issues that need to be resolved as they mature in Christ and heal those wounds. The wounds are healable because of Christ. He is renewing us, rebuilding us, restoring us to the people he created us to be. He only allows to the surface that which He intends to work in us. If rage is surfacing, it is because the Holy Spirit brought it there because He wants to work on it in us. If feelings of worthlessness have surfaced, it is because God says it’s time to work on those feelings. Our biggest problem as humans is that we tell God we’re not willing to actively work on what He is bringing into our lives.
We tell Him we would rather work on our anger our own ways. We tell Him our feelings of unworthiness are just silliness and we need to put them out of our minds and focus on Him. We fail to see that these are true feelings, with a root and a purpose, and that God has brought them into our lives in that very moment for a profound purpose. He intends to use those thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and desires to grow us more fully into the person He created us to be. God has not made a mistake, and He has not neglected to see what you are going through, and He has not simply allowed these difficult times for you to learn a lesson. HE HAS BROUGHT THESE TIMES ON PURPOSE, FOR A REASON; TO MAKE YOU MORE LIKE CHRIST.
God doesn’t miss a beat. He hasn’t overlooked the things you are struggling with. He isn’t more focused on other things and you are on His back burner. Whatever it is you are struggling with today, God put it on the surface of your life. Now you have to choose. Are you going to listen? Are you going to pay attention to those unresolved emotional issues? Or are you going to keep white-knuckling, as if God made a mistake in allowing this to be a reality in your life today?