…human beings may be induced to sacrifice everything they hold dear and true—including their sense of self—for the sake of being loved and approved of by someone in a position of authority.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Yesterday my daughter shared a story with me that she’d heard on YouTube. It was about a young artist she followed who told in a video about a childhood absent of love and his desperate search to find it. He found what he thought he was looking for in high school when he opened up to a female art teacher who hugged him in an attempt to offer comfort. But what resulted was a strong connection and soon after an innapropriate and an abusive relationship with his teacher.
Needless to say hearing this story opened up all sorts of emotions for me. My daughter, who is only 14, does not know my whole story, yet she’d heard one so similar. I asked her what she felt for the young man in the story. She said she felt really sorry for him, although she didn’t understand the pain that had motivated him to have that kind of a relationship.
I explained to her how this teacher had taken advantage of her student’s vulnerability, and that she needed help and healing for her own brokenness before she harmed someone else. My daughter shook her head in agreement, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she really understood. How could she when I’ve struggled so much to understand it myself?
As I’ve said before, I do not understand what motivated my former pastor to step outside the lines of an appropriate relationship. Although, he fits the profile of a predator, and I have every reason to believe that he’s done it before, I still cannot know what was in his heart motivating him to harm me. I have to trust that God knows and will make things right.
But what I can and must do is be aware of what is in my own heart and ask God to help me.
I continue to recognize that there is still a desperate young girl inside of me who will do anything for the sake of being loved and accepted. I’d be a fool to think that she’s just vanished away. It’s at the core of human nature to long for someone strong who is able to bring control and stability to our lives. If we didn’t have someone like that in our lives growing up its that much more desperate.
There’s still a lot of fear that causes me to ask myself the big question of how can I keep this from happening again? What will I do if those overwhelming emotions kick in and I meet another person who comes across like the one thing I need in life to make myself complete?
Yesterday a man at work walked by the copier and smiled at me. He wasn’t innapropriate. On the surface, he does his job well and keeps things running smoothly. But there are also things about him that remind me of my former pastor. I have very limited contact with him, but there’s been enough to stir up emotions and memories that caused me to be afraid.
Living with PTSD sometimes feels like walking through a minefield. I’m constantly looking for the triggers that will set the bombs off, but the more I look the more I seem to miss them and set them off. One thing I’ve noticed over the past two years is when those emotional bombs have gone off is that the damage is not nearly as bad as it once was. I’ve learned to be honest about my feelings and write them down and communicate them with my husband, my friends, in group therapy, on this blog, and process them with my counselor. The more I get what I’m feeling out into the light, the more the demons are forced to flee and God can do His transforming work. I’ve also learned to have compassion for myself and to remind myself that God loves me no matter what. I listen to podcasts daily to remind myself of this. I read books on how to be emotionally healthy and to further my understanding of what trauma does to the brain. The aforementioned book by Dr. Van Der Kolk is probably one of the best I’ve read on the subject. Through his book I’ve been affirmed that I’m doing the right things to get better, and it’s a tremendous comfort to me. The brain has plasticity and can heal, so if you’ve been traumatized don’t give up. There’s hope! I’m also currently learning how relaxing the body by focusing on my breathing causes my body to calm and have even less damage from those emotional bombs that go off. So if you are a traumatized victim, consider yoga or meditation as part of your healing routine. A state of mindfulness is most effective in keeping our minds and emotions in a healthy place. I used to think it was ridiculous and a waste of time, but recently I’ve been reaping benefits from it. Yesterday is an example of that. Although fear stirred in me when the manager smiled, my emotions didn’t cause my brain to go offline. I sorted through what I felt, recognized how he reminded me of my former pastor, and understood that I was triggered. I smiled back at the man, reminded myself he’s not my former pastor and he couldn’t take advantage of me if I didn’t allow it. No, I’m not completely better. But I’m a lot better than I was, and I thank God for all the work He’s done in my life. The truth really does make one free.