Today was a difficult day for both the attendees and the presenters. The first two days the ground work was laid to help the students understand the word and scope of trauma by giving them exercises which helped them anchor to a place of safety (primarily through drawing and sharing with one another) in order for them to process in the days that would follow. Roxane did such an excellent job of taking some very Western concepts regarding the biological and emotional effects of trauma (hyperarousal, intrusion, emotional numbing, and powerlessness) and breaking them down by using relevant examples from her own life enabling the participants to understand them.
Mama Nora shared part two of her story using her broken heart panel to illustrate her childhood neglect and sexual abuse. She spoke of the shame she felt and how she believed that the abuse was her fault. The students were really taken by her story which led to much discussion between the attending pastors and among the women during lunch regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse within families in their communities. After taking the students through a progressive relaxation exercise, we had them move onto an expressive art exercise so they could begin to explore their own heart wounds and then share their personal stories with one another.
After lunch we addressed the very important topic of Satan and trauma. In the West, we explain trauma symptoms and responses with science. In Africa, often the same symptoms and responses are believed to be caused by demons and Satan. When we explore the Bible fully, we see the reality of Satan and demons, and at the same time scripture speaks of very real biological effects that occur when people experience trauma. Clearly Jesus experienced some very real and significant trauma (both physiological and emotional) from the time he was arrested through his death on the cross. And yet we also know from Scripture that Satan had been waiting for an opportune time to attack him. It truly is a both/and situation. One member of the team shared her experience of the both/and within her story of trauma. The attendees were amazed and, at some level, comforted that what they have seen and experienced around trauma symptoms of complex emotional responses in Africa also occurs in the West.
We finished the afternoon session as Shanell taught on the relational impact of trauma. Pulling from her own trauma story, she spoke of the impact that trauma has on one’s relationship with others: the impact of toxic shame, the importance and role of healthy shame (legitimate guilt) and the need to rebuild intimacy with others. Shanell spoke directly to the importance of rejecting the toxic shame (false guilt) others have placed upon you and handing the shame back to the abuser. Her ability to create a safe and peaceful home after the chaos and abuse her children had lived through before she left her husband both encouraged and amazed both the men and women attending. We have such an amazing and courageous team of presenters here!
By the end of the day, we were all very tired. The life stories that are told by the presenters are used as a means of showing the attendees that sharing one’s story (with safe people) is a very important and necessary step towards healing. We know that our stories will bring up emotions and memories of past events, and this is why we follow each section with directed, individual and group expressive art exercises so that attendees have an opportunity to identify and process their emotions and then practice sharing with one another.Read More »