Episode 2: Trauma is Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

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Stories impact who we are and how we understand the world. What we mean by this is that our narratives hold our unique context, biology, identity, history, generational impact, and experience which shape who we are and how we experience the world. People are unique because of this beautiful and messy diversity. No single life story will be exactly the same.

In the same way, trauma is descriptive. Not prescriptive.

What one person may find to be harmful or healing is not a prescription for how others do or should experience their reality. This is the inherent challenge when communities try to hold one narrative as the truth — it coerces others to fit into that experience. And oftentimes, the experience that is held as “redemption,” as “truth” is what is most acceptable and/or understandable to those with most leverage and power. Rather than fully engaging in the complexity of our stories, we’d rather sit in our safe assurances and abstract antidotes for difference.

It would be foolish for us not to name the immense heartbreak and suffering that is currently being caused by the current conversation in large evangelical churches and their initiatives of highlighting people who have ‘overcome’ same-sex desires. These stories are treated as prescriptive of all people and therefore coerce, traumatize, and inflict real harm on people who do not experience wellbeing in the same way. This can overwhelm an individual’s sense of meaning-making and capacity to cope. I (Michael) currently struggle to find the words to adequately process through my own wounds that have been exposed in recent days through these conversations. Even more so, therefore, I believe this conversation on spiritual and religious trauma is so profound and important.

In this week’s episode, we discuss the clinical definition of trauma (and its limitations), the spectrum of harm, and the unique impacts of traumatization within faith contexts. While we did not record this episode specifically on the topic of conversion therapy and practices, we find it to be extremely timely to the current heartbreak. Within the mental health profession, we so often focus on curing symptoms rather than addressing sources of harm and fully healing and transforming our wounds. The Bearing Witness Project hopes to provide both a space to heal and to address the systems of traumatization.

Intro Music: Alumroot by Isaac Joel

Transition Music (8:30): Lights Burning by Alsever Lake

Transition Music (19:51): Drift by Scott Holmes

Outro Music (26:45): Atlantic by Acreage

Image: Photo by Eneida Hoti on Unsplash

Resources:

SAMHSA’s definition of trauma

Dr. Judith Herman’s definition of trauma

Public Policy approach to violence-informed and trauma-informed systems

SAMHSA Trauma-Informed Care and Services Guide — Variability of Interpretation of traumatic experience (p. 51)

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