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Six ways unhealed trauma destroys us

Pretty much anyone who struggles with unwanted sexual behavior will tell you they have a river of shame gushing through their guts. It's this feeling of shame that perpetually pushes them toward compulsive sexual behaviors in a misguided attempt to soothe and escape their pain.

At the source of this river of shame, where the water first gurgles up from the ground, is a wellspring of childhood trauma.

Trauma comes in all sizes and shapes. I like how Francine Shapiro, the developer of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), defines trauma: any event that has a lasting negative effect, usually found in earlier life experiences. These events can be big, such as the Big T trauma of childhood sexual abuse; they can be small, such as the Little T trauma of rejection by a friend; and they can be chronic, such as the Chronic T trauma of an alcoholic parent who rages at their child every Friday night.

What matters most about any trauma is the toxic shame message we take away from it. For example, sexual abuse often produces the lie of "I am bad and dirty." For the child of an emotionally absent parent, the lie is "I'm unlovable." Children who grow up in a performance pressure cooker often come away believing "I'll never be good enough." It is these unchallenged messages of shame that continue to inflict damage on our souls day after day, year after year, often in ways that we don't even consciously recognize.

Here are six ways that trauma and the river of shame it floods us with will destroy our lives if we refuse to face our childhood wounds and process the pain. They were outlined to me during my training as a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional by Adrian Hickmon, the founder and CEO of Capstone Treatment Center.

  1. Unhealed trauma destroys us as we try to medicate and numb the pain it creates. The list of substances and behaviors people use to compulsively medicate the pain of unprocessed trauma is seemingly endless: drugs, porn, food, unhealthy sex, alcohol, gambling, video games, shopping, …

  2. Unhealed trauma destroys us by exposing us to the long-term effects of cortisol. The chronic stress that stems from unhealed trauma creates overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, wreaking havoc on our minds and bodies and putting us at increased risk of many health problems, including: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, muscle pain, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory impairment.

  3. Unhealed trauma destroys us when we try to pray it away and live life with a smile. Often, Christians will attempt to spiritually bypass their trauma. In other words, we have a tendency to use spiritual ideas, practices and explanations to avoid complex psychological issues, such as facing and processing unresolved trauma. Spiritual bypassing is a defense mechanism that helps protect us from our pain, but it often comes at a great cost. In the long-term, ignoring trauma increases our stress and makes resolution more difficult later on.

  4. Unhealed trauma destroys us when its symptoms are misdiagnosed. People suffering from unhealed trauma often experience depression and anxiety, but sometimes the symptoms of their trauma are confused for bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among other things.

  5. Unhealed trauma destroys us when it is transmitted from one generation to the next. Priest and spirituality writer Richard Rohr summarized this concept eloquently when he asserted: "If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it." Unprocessed trauma is like a backpack crammed full of dysfunction that we strap onto our children, forcing them to lug it through life. In recent decades, scientists have also made discoveries that suggest our trauma can literally be inherited by our children. "There are a growing number of studies that support the idea that the effects of trauma can reverberate down the generations through epigenetics," a form of gene expression that can be inherited but isn't actually part of the genetic code, the BBC reported in 2019.

  6. Unhealed trauma destroys us by preventing us from experiencing life and relationships to the full. Simply put, unprocessed trauma prevents you from being you. If your brain is perpetually stuck in an unresolved fight, flight or freeze response, your ability to be emotionally present for your spouse, children and friends will be severely compromised. You will miss the best moments of life.

Are you ready to outgrow your unwanted sexual behaviors by facing your childhood wounds, processing the pain, and speaking truth to the lies of toxic shame? It's hard work but it's worth the effort. I'd love to help you get started on your journey toward healing and radical freedom. You can take the first step right now by signing up for a free coaching session below.

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