Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Editor's note: This is an introductory abbreviated version of a chapter in Roland's new book BECOMING A FRIEND OF GOD. The complete chapter is one of the most important and comprehensive discussions of the spiritual basis of post traumatic stress. In this ground breaking work, Roland discusses childhood trauma, war and violence trauma and how to deal with the resulting issues. He also discusses how our over-reactions to life's vicissitudes cause us mini traumas and how to learn how to become less reactive and more calm. Roland's new book is now available at our Common Sense Counseling Store.
First some basics. A famous and well known questionnaire was created to assess the impact of various events--such as death of a spouse, change in living conditions, change in job, etc. The person is asked to check off which ones he or she has recently experienced and then add up a score. The higher the score, the more stress the person may be under.
What is interesting to me is how many, if not all of these stressful situations, are changes. It appears that change itself is stressful. A change in jobs. A change in homes. A change in living arrangements. A change in lifestyle (adjusting to the loss of a loved one, for example). A change in locale.
It may be interesting or even fun (though not necessarily) to go on a trip, move to a new apartment, or change jobs--but for the average person, there is stress involved.
So now let's look at the biggest change that occurred to the human race: the fall in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve went from being in Paradise to a living hell. They went from living forever to dying. They went from having God's approval to getting His disapproval.
Laugh if you will. But if you dare to keep reading this article your eyes may be opened to see the truth of it.
In our own lives, many of us will never go to a war zone, though some of us will. But we may experience somewhere along the way theft, mugging, attempted rape, racism, prejudice, betrayal or unfairness.
Do you see why these are so potentially stressful? They often involve a big change. A change from faith to doubt, and from love to hate. A change from living in an orderly trusted world to one of chaos, mayhem, fear, and insecurity. From a world that makes sense to one that doesn't. From a world of being loved to one of being used.
It does not have to happen this way. Two people can go through the same event--one is not bothered, the other is devastated. But since we are all human, sooner or later events and circumstances will get to us even if we hide it), and we will suffer the stress of having to adapt. Just remember that it is an even bigger and more fateful stress to lose faith and hope, or love and trust, and then have to adapt to that sort of world.
I must also quickly add that we may fully recover from the event if our faith and love remain intact or if we are restored to faith and love at some later point. This restoration most often depends upon a spiritual change of heart: awakening through the touch of God and a willingness to let go of resentment, and thereby finding the ultimate security in the love of our Creator.
I must say it again, no matter how devastated a life or worldview a person may have; and no matter what horrors he or she may have experienced--it can all become a distant thing of the past, with a whole new world of joy and discovery opening up. This is not mere fantasy, Pollyanna thinking or a placebo; but a real thing that is in store for those who love the truth and respond to this message with joy. (Christ spoke of this in the Beatitudes in His sermon on the mount).
Before again stating the solution (forgiveness), I will describe in more detail the nature of the problem. The trauma is a result of a loss of innocence, a loss of faith, a loss of trust, a loss of love for others (when we hate them). The psychic trauma (and resulting physical changes) results from a loss of faith in good or a loss of love.
More often than not, the losses are the result not so much of what happened to us, but of our resentment and hatred of another. Our resentment cuts us off from the inner fount of love. And when we are cut off, we experience the loss.
Let me repeat this important point one more time. What cuts us off from faith, peace of mind, innocence, joy, and even development (along the lines that God had in mind for us) is resentment and hatred.
When you hate, you are separated from innocence; and then you feel the loss. And then the typical egotistical response is to redouble our resentment of the other person because of the loss.
But again, here is a very important point. The fall and the loss do not have to happen. We do not have to lose our faith or love. If we do not, then we will not change or be rendered sensitive to stress. And even if we did fall, through loss of faith or through hate, we can still recover when we forgive. And to be able to forgive requires a reconciliation with conscience. This happens when we are repented.
When you were little, you were close to God. You were self contained and full of joy. You loved discovering things. You were probably fearless. You loved your mommy and daddy, your brothers and sisters, your pets, and your doll or stuffed animals. You also knew deep down in a wordless way that God exists.
But when betrayal and cruelty entered your life, it was at the hands of wicked people or people to whom it had been done. The evil action of another shocked you. It may have caused you to lose faith in what you know in your heart. It may have caused you to resent or hate. And when you did, the hate separated you from your own ground of being and initiated you into an animal jungle of beasts and evil.
Humans are very sensitive creatures. We have a soul or consciousness by which we can sense the presence of good or evil, right or wrong. We can sense love or the absence thereof. That is why if dad fails to protect you, it is a shock. If mother betrays you, rejects you, or brings strange men into the home, it is a shock. If other kids tease and are cruel, for no reason, it is shocking. But what really causes the fall is our reaction--especially when we resent, hate or judge the other person. Resentment and judgment separate us from love, from the Heavenly Estate within, and joins us to the world that tempted us.
Before your trauma you were innocent and close to Heaven. Afterwards, you became externalized and began to change. Slowly you fell away from the inner Light and drew closer and closer to the sensual source of trauma and the hell just beyond it.
You will also come to see that you never really had faith. What you had as a child was a natural naive faith. it was good and sweet, but alas not the kind of faith that develops in the child of God whose seeking draws them, later in life, to an inner rapport with the Creator Whose world dwell in our hearts and Who comes to abide in our innermost being. A young person may have, as I said, a natural trust in parents and other authorities, and in words and concepts he or she has learned, heard or read. Thus it is a surface, even cultural sort of thing. But when betrayal, violence, confusion, mayhem, and cruelty are encountered, the shallow trust begins to flounder. Simply realize that you are not bad or damned if your early beliefs and trust in what your parents and church taught you fail you. Just see that the good teaching or words you heard, even the good actions you saw, represented or payed lip service to a higher order of good, one which you are yet to discover.
In your own life you experienced a second fall from being close to Heaven and Paradise to a external jungle of cunning, treachery, deception, hatred, and injustice.
Do you see the magnitude of this change? Can you see that when you fell, you began to adapt to the the animal and devilish world that had penetrated you?
Christ said: the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. Refind the Heavenly Estate within. Begin responding to it again, and it will seal you off from the world of cruelty and hate.
The world of betrayal, cruelty, and meaninglessness won't be able to hurt you again. Learn the meditation so you can be still and refind the inner world of good, which even now silently testifies to the truth of these words.
What connects you to the wrong in the environment is, first of all, resentment. Hatred is the emotional connection to the wrong on the outside. And the other connection is that you are still looking for love and fulfillment on the outside. Can you see that any "love" or reassurance that the world offers is for the changeling creature you became when you reacted to injustice and wrong? The world's love only makes you more wrong and keeps you in your fallen condition.
But don't hate others for their phony love. They cannot help themselves.
Forgive others, for "they know not what they do." Seek within and find love from your Creator. You won't have to resent others anymore when they fail to love you in a way that is truly good for you. Your fulfillment will be from within.
Refind the inner door and live in a beautiful present. Slowly but surely the memories of the traumas of the past will diminish and become unimportant. You will be progressively freed to live a happy and productive life and be a better mom, dad, husband, wife, and neighbor.
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