Trauma builds on itself.
Say you have someone who has gone through life with two securely attached parents who love one another and love their children, who model healthy conflict resolution in front of and with their spouse and children, who provide for them, help with their college education, set them up for success in every way, but that someone was occasionally bullied as a child, those comments may stick with that someone for life.
Years later, they might find themselves over-compensating in some way and think to themselves—with their relatively normal brain that doesn’t make a lot of excuses for not seeking therapy— “I should get help for this issue I have.” And in therapy, they remember that comment and it unravels a train of ways they’ve been trying to compensate their whole life for that accusation by a childhood bully. And of course there are times it still comes out sideways, but it has a pretty straight-forward path toward healing. This is an example of what a therapist calls little t trauma.
But then you have another someone who was raised in a home where there was constant arguing, nagging, physical or sexual or emotional abuse, angry rants, insidious themes that run almost imperceptibly through each family member. Or someone who was raised in the foster system, handed over from family to family, some of whom may be abusive too. Or someone who was belittled by a parent figure constantly. Or someone who witnessed the violent death of someone. Or someone who had a seemingly normal childhood, but was sexually abused by their father. Or someone whose life was threatened or who witnessed someone’s life threatened. These are what therapists call Big T trauma.
Both Little T trauma and Big T trauma build on themselves unless they are dismantled and healed and our brains are rewired for health. But when you have someone with a few Big T traumas in their life, the way they view life is going to be very different than it looks for someone with a few Little T traumas. Healing is possible for both, but it takes time, money, expertise, therapy, and support, and for the one who has experienced Big T trauma, healing takes exponentially more of all of that.
This is complicated by the fact that those who have experienced multiple Big T traumas often feel so overwhelmed by the brokenness they experience just waking up and moving through their day, that seeking help and finding it and sticking with it feels nearly impossible. Those who are privileged enough to have accessible help and the family support needed to endure the process and expense of getting that help are in the minority, not the majority.
Imagine with me for a moment:
Look at your life as an iceberg, at the very bottom, beneath the surface are all the Little T or Big T traumas you’ve endured. Above the surface are the ways those unhealed traumas are showing up in your life today. The mass of each of our icebergs is different, some are little and some are big, but everyone has them. Now imagine all of our icebergs floating around the water of the world, billions and billions of them.
Now imagine there are millions of boats trying to navigate them all. These boats are just the things that happen in life. A conversation. A disagreement. A miscommunication. A misunderstanding. Or an idea or a passion project, or a political leaning, an occupation, a parenting style. Any thing you can think of, that’s a boat. And a boat is going to crash into an iceberg eventually and it will sink the boat or crack that iceberg. Either way, someone is going down.
Our traumas cannot help but affect others. They all will. They will affect who we are as people, as spouses, as parents. Who we are as children. Who we are as white people or Black people or any people of color. They will affect how we do our job or maybe even what we choose for our career. They exist. But if we pretend they don’t, we will both be damaged by others or damage others with ours. Only when we begin to see and grieve and make space for lament over our own brokenness and the brokenness of others, can we begin the work of dismantling and healing these icebergs of unresolved trauma.
Something interesting happens when you set an ice-cube on the counter next to a handful of crushed ice: the crushed ice melts faster than the cube. And, as it melts, the warmer water spreads out, slips toward the ice-cube and helps it melt faster too. So an iceberg that’s melting (that is, doing the work to heal its own trauma) can begin to help the other, bigger icebergs melt too. Eventually boats can pass through clearer waters. This is what happens when we do the work we need to do with our own story. This is how we begin to heal. And how we can begin to help heal one another.
How do we end gun violence in America? There isn’t just one answer here. I have lots of thoughts about gun reform or mental illness care or restricting violence for entertainment, but mostly we end gun violence in America by healing. Healing our relationships with one another. Healing our childhood wounds. Healing our generational traumas. Healing our broken hearts.
One person at a time, doing their best to heal all the way through, so that doing the right thing doesn’t feel like an infringement of our rights or something we have to force others into, but the thing that makes the most sense for a peaceful, whole, and safe for everyone country. It’s not easy. It would be hardest thing we’ve ever done but it must be done. Gun violence won’t stop until we’re all in this together.
Have you ordered my newest book? A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and Wish Someone Would Ask Us. Available now, wherever books are sold: Amazon | Baker Book House | Bookshop
Also available: Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry
Find me on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | My Archives
*Some links are affiliate links and may throw a few pennies my way if you purchase through them.
Thank you for sharing this series in these smaller, bite-sized pieces. It has been a comfort in some ways to hear similar thoughts/stories/facts that have all be crossing my mind and heart as I wade through the events of this lack week. I appreciate your vulnerability and honesty in sharing, and your wisdom in not flooding us/maybe yourself? as you process this in a more visible way. I leave this series feeling more confident in my own beliefs and less alone.