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Hope For Healing From Trauma

Self | Michelle Stiffler | 7 mins

Before the age of twenty-one, I already had a lot of living under my belt. I’d earned my Associate’s Degree, moved to a new state, secured a full-time job, and had my own apartment. Oh, and I was a single mom. My life had been full.

When you’re twenty, your daughter is two, and the father is no longer in the picture, people know you’ve experienced a few things. I knew this, too. But my experiences were viewed as the past, often categorized as circumstances I’d overcome. This was true, but it promoted a giant misconception (by others as well as myself) that my past could no longer touch me.

What most people didn’t know, and I couldn’t articulate, was that my teen pregnancy and the turbulent relationship that ended during it had deeply affected my body, mind, heart, and spirit. My beliefs about people and myself had been shaped by my experience. I appeared to be strong and situated, but I was suppressing and minimizing complicated emotions, pain, and frequent trauma responses. The effects would be long-lasting.  

Here's what I wish I had known as a young adult who was post-trauma but still suffering. Let these words point you to hope.

That was Hard

You survived adversity. You are resilient. Do not minimize what you went through or the effects of that experience. (Minimizing is not the same thing as healing!) Healing is a tough journey, and the suggestions below are challenging. The work is worth it, I promise. There’s a lot to learn and unlearn, so don’t expect to understand everything about your recovery process. Depend on the Lord’s strength the whole way.  

Notice Your Body’s Responses

Your body talks. Discomfort, tension, and reactions tell you about your perceptions. Observe your behaviors and patterns. Which of the stress responses is most familiar to you?

Fight: Your approach to unwanted, frightening, or stressful situations is defense, anger, or resistance. You protect yourself at all costs, no matter what destruction results.

Flight: If you sense danger, you leave the situation as quickly as possible. You forfeit much, but you figure that’s the price of escape.

Freeze: Inaction is your go-to in crisis. There is no plan, no argument, no movement. You don’t choose to be stuck, but the stress is too paralyzing.

Fawn: In conflict, you kick into people-pleasing mode, usually at the expense of your own needs, comfort, and desire.  

**Note: Hypervigilance is a common effect of trauma. It involuntarily (and/or voluntarily) drives you to live on high alert—looking over your shoulder in public places, finding exits, planning ‘just in case’ scenarios, and fixating on sounds and movements. The physical and mental tension of hypervigilance takes a toll, and eventually, it can cause pain or symptoms of sickness.

Trauma responses, or triggers, are normal because they are your body’s response to circumstances that feel abnormal and unsafe. The problem with stress responses and hypervigilance is they use old information to perpetuate coping behaviors that aren’t helpful. What’s more, decisions made in a reactive state are not often responses we’re proud of, nor are they focused on our purpose, our faith, or our wellbeing. You are human, so complete control over triggers isn’t realistic, but the Lord wants to grow that space between stimulus and your response. He wants to create a space of pause, regulation, and wisdom.

Practice Silence with the Lord

How do you go about noticing your body and the places that need restoration? Reflection. Silence. It’s uncomfortable at first, but as Henri Nouwen writes in “The Way of the Heart,” “Silence teaches us to speak…it is the safest way to God.”  

Practice silence by walking through the Prayer of Examen—a contemplative prayer of reflection for the end of the day. Ask God to guide you through your morning, afternoon, and evening. What did you experience? Who did you encounter? What thoughts or feelings come up as you recall these interactions? Where did you see God? Did you notice beauty? Pain? What reactions or responses need exploration or repentance? As you build a practice of reflective prayer, you’ll develop a better ability to recognize what the Lord is revealing as He draws you closer to Himself.

Express Rather than Suppress

Trauma and stress = survival mode. Safety takes priority to emotions, creativity, and communication. Anger and exhaustion, frustration or apathy often stand in for the more complicated emotions of grief, disappointment, rejection, and even joy. We can’t fully express what we actively suppress!

I experience the world through thought more than emotion. If you’re a thinker, get to the heart of a complicated experience and begin constructing a trauma narrative (a powerful part of the recovery process) by responding to four statements: What I lost. What I gained. What I learned. What I hope.

Answer freely and acknowledge the emotions that surface. Allow your brain to integrate all the pieces. Because God made us as relational beings, it is important to talk through your story with a professional or trustworthy person who is further in their post-trauma recovery. This is how we break cycles of holding back and suppressing. Vulnerability is uncomfortable, so try an entry point for story telling:

Art and creative projects.
Writing a letter to your younger self or to someone who hurt you (it doesn’t have to be sent).
Making order.

Again, you cannot circumvent the need for support. You need other people—and they need you. Finding ways to tell and understand your story privately will help you share it publicly.

Healing is Long Game Work

There is no shortcut to healing. Unlearning takes conscious practice, and it usually feels small and inconsequential. Trust the practice will do its work. Find support people. Choose honesty and expression. Entrust your heart to God’s Spirit, stay open to Him, and He will faithfully work newness into your whole being. Thank Him for each step of recovery and keep trusting Him more.

Written By

Michelle Stiffler

Trauma Specialist, Personal Trainer, Barre Instructor, married mother of four, plus two sons-in-law, and proud Mimi. Michelle writes about responsive faith through a trauma-informed lens at and a variety of other publications.

Published on Jun 23, 2023