A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Healing traumatic memories — and common misunderstandings about this.

The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished. (Psalms 9:6)

In the New Heavens and Earth, we will be completely healed of everything and anything hurtful. That has to also include being healed of painful memories which are the result of the trauma of living in a fallen world. How much will we recall about this present life? I don’t know. But however it plays out, there will never again be one of those painful, anguishing remembrances pop into our mind.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

I was hiking through the woods the other day and came onto a place up in the hills that jogged a memory. I recalled that I had seen a snake there the summer before. We don’t have any poisonous snakes here, but I don’t like any kind of snake. Anyway, it struck me that here I was walking along and had not even thought about that snake for a long while and all of a sudden, bam! — there is the memory in my head. It’s like something called it up out of a database where it had been filed out of sight and seemingly out of mind.

But it wasn’t out of mind after all, was it? I mean, it had to have been there in my head all the time in order for me to remember it. And yet it was inactive and hidden until something activated it, and I remembered. It’s a good thing that our brains have this ability to file memories in the “inactive” folder or else we would go insane. We would be flooded with active memories, like watching a thousand movies at the same time. I wonder if there is any type of mental illness that this might be characteristic of?

So this line of thought continued. If the memory of that encounter with the snake had been in my mind all the time, though I didn’t realize it, then what if the snake had caused me some kind of trauma? What if it had been a cobra? What if I had been bitten and nearly died from the venom? Interesting then that there seems to be a “filing hierarchy” in our minds when it comes to memories, right? I mean, I no doubt would have “remembered” a cobra encounter far more actively and more often than with this run-in with a harmless garden type snake.

I continued then to mull this over. Trauma (among other things, including the good things we experience) creates memories. Our brains apparently have a tremendous, virtually unlimited capacity for the storage of memories (did you see the movie Inside Out?)…good and bad. And, as we have already said, many of those memories are filed in the “inactive, hidden, out of sight” department of our brain. They seem to be gone, but they aren’t gone. I have memories of many people who I worked with over 40 years ago, but haven’t even thought of them at all — in fact I had “forgotten” them — until I saw their name on facebook or someone else made mention of them. “Oh yeah, I remember that guy now.” Memories, you see.

So, let’s apply this dynamic to abuse victims and other traumatized people and the nonsense “counseling” they are so often given.

Abuse is remembered. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings of it. All remembered, filed, often moved into the “inactive” drawer of our mind’s file system. As time goes by our minds apparently know how to shuffle more recent memories into the “happened further in the past” drawer where they become less and less visible to our consciousness. But they are there. They ARE there. Waiting to be brought to life in a moment. Sometimes even being remembered without us realizing we are remembering. That really gets sticky to sort out, doesn’t it? “Why am I feeling this way in response to what that guy just said/did?”

Abuse is remembered. And with this truth in mind now, consider how stupid, misguided, and even evil it is to tell an abuse victim the standard things they are being told — and told so often in their churches:

  • You are guilty of unforgiveness because you won’t just forget it and move on
  • That is all in the past. Stop dwelling on it
  • You need to reconcile with the person who hurt you
  • You are keeping a record of wrongs

See it? The memories are there. And in many aspects of our lives, it is very, very good that those memories are there else we would not be able to call out for justice, the guilty would get off scot free, and we would not be able to be cautious the next time our enemy comes our way. “Have we met before?”

Trauma creates memories that are in themselves traumatic. Coming to salvation and new birth in Christ does not mean all our hurtful memories are instantly erased, nor should they be. Not just yet. The good news is that the Lord has already begun His work of healing our minds and ultimately that healing will be complete. And I think that the nature of the healing He effects in us is more than just a mere erasure of our memory storage. I think that somehow we will still remember, but we will never again be traumatized by what we remember.

Until then, let’s not be so foolish and cruel to tell victims to start living as if their memories don’t exist.

***

If you’ve never commented on this blog before it is important to read our New Users’ Info page because it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog. And if you’re new to this blog we encourage you look at our FAQs.  The New Users Info page and the FAQs can also be found on the top menu bar.

18 Comments

  1. Anewanon

    I’ve recently discovered how this can work in reverse too … I recently went back to review what I “thought” was a “good memory” only to realize that it was really just smoke and mirrors. Another layer of healing to help in the “moving forward” process. And yet so many counselors would discourage revisiting that stuff out of fear that it wold keep the victim “stuck”. Prayer heals for sure as I have had a lot of people pray specifically for my release lately. God will never be put into a box regarding how He chooses to bring healing..

  2. A great post and good reminder. Also, we can learn from books like “The Body Keeps the Score” that traumatic memory is stored differently from regular memory, bypassing one of the stops along the way of the brain processing pathway, causing the memories to come out in weird ways like nightmares, flashbacks, and somatic memories. I’ve known of Christian counselors who have said those nightmares, flashbacks, dissociations, and somatic memories are sins because the person wasn’t “thinking on those things that are noble and praiseworthy,” etc. I know of ones who have said that because PTSD is a fairly new diagnosis (since Vietnam), it’s just trendy psycho-babble. This is not only ignorance, but it’s very destructive ignorance, heaping even more guilt and shame on wounded people who instead need to be tenderly healed with truth in Christ that the guilt and shame are not theirs to bear.

    • Seeing the Light

      Amen, Rebecca!

  3. The longer the trauma ..
    The longer the healing will take.

    The process can be painful.
    The sting of the cobra depends on how strong the bite was. How deep the wound went. How many times the victim endured the poisoness bites.

    Many times the abused turns into a Cobra.
    Either to inflict more poison on innocent victims.
    Or
    Have the wisdom of one.

  4. BetterEquipped

    It never ceases to amaze me how so many Christians out there absolutely push and push the idea that the reality of pain and suffering in a believers life should just not exist. These kinds of Christians come across to me as those trying to put a mask on the real Jesus because they’re so afraid the real Jesus and life in Christ will scare people from the gospel!! Or maybe the truth of the gospel empties their pockets, because church numbers decrease?

    I mean, who can honestly read the Bible and point to one single character in any of the 66 books that wasn’t miserable, in pain, suffering, depressed – or some other ‘negative, unhealthy feeling’? The only thing popping to mind is the nameless, stereotype person depicted in psalm 73 – except he wasn’t a believer, he was on his way ‘to destruction’.

  5. MarkQ

    Thanks, Jeff!

  6. anonymous

    “…and all of a sudden, bam! – there is the memory in my head.” It’s so true, Pastor. When a horrible memory comes to me in that “bam” moment, something evil he did or called me, it seems to come out of nowhere, like a tidal-wave, a Tsunami. It washes over me and if I don’t act quickly to compose myself it will carry me right back, “out to sea.”

    Among the many standard things we are being told by so many including those in the church is, as you rightly stated: “You are keeping a record of wrongs.” Not only do people in general say this to us, my ex would hurl this in my face on a regular basis. And quite frankly, I did begin to journal the nightmare I was living because so often I would be gasping in a total state of confusion just to come back to reality. If I did not journal and then later read it, I would have most likely dismissed in my own mind that what just happened actually did happen! I can remember so many mornings after (he would go off to sleep because of course he would keep me awake all night), just sitting in bed trembling in total confusion as to all that took place during the long, dark, sleep deprived night of abuse and terror. Your world becomes like a maze and you can’t find your way out. It’s a crazy-making cycle. It is part of their evil plot.

    So, remember? You bet! But thank you, Pastor, for reminding us: “The good news is that the Lord has already begun His work of healing our minds and ultimately that healing will be complete.”

  7. 3blossommom

    Thank you for the freedom this brings.

  8. bright sunshinin' day

    Thank you for the ointment of understanding…which helps heal the bad memory wounds and restores hope which comes when one cares…like Jesus who said:

    28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

  9. Anon

    This reminds me of two things;

    1. A Christian counsellor in training, who made me go back and over a lot of memories from my abusive childhood, which sent me into a deep depression for days after each session and only served to retraumatise me again. (I think there is something to be said for allowing our minds to keep things in the inactive folder should it so choose and reactivate them only if it needs to).

    2. A Facebook post I read today from a Christian woman admonishing those Christian women married to men who watch pornography and generally act like devils, to never stop praying for them, to “read scripture over them when they are asleep”, to submit etc, just like she did for many years and now she has a ‘good’ husband. That basically how dare anyone think of leaving their adulterous husband, if they only prayed as hard as she did they would have a righteous husband in the end too. Her crown jewel on top was to say that love keeps no record of wrongs.

    • healinginhim

      (sigh) … yes, Anon. I’ve been hearing so much of this so-called encouragement and counseling.
      Pity for the covert abuser is being labeled as the poor guy mental health issue and if he commits murder and then suicide well, he really didn’t mean it. He just didn’t know how to deal with life. Yeah, well innocent children are dying because he cannot live with the fact that they will not have custody because of their mental health issues which they will not deal with. 😦
      So often the mother is left to “just get over it”. SICK!

    • bright sunshinin' day

      That Christian woman appears to be greatly misguided and in the business of imprisoning other women instead of setting the captives free. She needs to keep reading her Bible to see why Jesus came and how He instructed his followers such as in the following verse:

      “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town…” Matthew 10:14

  10. jesusfollowingishard

    I forget, I block things out I’m separated no hope of reconciliation, I read over an old email from a year ago where I was afraid and emailed my pastor and his wife and read this that my husband kept saying to me, “You don’t deserve to live.” “I wish I was Islam then I could take care of my problem with you.” “I’d be better off if you were dead.”

    I forgot that he had even said that even though he said it every other day. I’m glad I forgot, but it’s good to remind myself so I don’t get back with him. That would not be good.

    • I’m glad I forgot,

      Yeah. Forgetting (or blocking out) pain-filled memory helps us get on with our lives, not to mention how it exemplifies Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

      ….but it’s good to remind myself so I don’t get back with him.

      Yes indeed! It’s very good to be reminded of why it’s not wise to get back with him. The Guardian of our souls brings us those reminders to help us in our pilgrimage to the celestial city. 🙂 Praise His name!

      • bright sunshinin' day

        I agree, Barb! You said:

        “It’s very good to be reminded of why it’s not wise to get back with him.”

  11. H

    I’m really struggling with this idea right now. I (unwillingly) think about this all the time at night when I’m trying to sleep. I feel that I have been permanently damaged, ontologically altered, and I will never ever be a whole person again since the abuse I’ve endured. I have hope for the future, and thankfulness for the escape I’ve had, but the past doesn’t go away and seems like it never will. The pain doesn’t lessen. So what I have is despair. Is it normal to feel like I will literally never heal from the trauma of what’s happened to me?

    I think about that promise in Revelation about how there won’t be any more pain or tears, and it just sounds like nice words about a distant place and time. I believe it’s true, and certainly I know there will be a day and a place where bad things won’t happen anymore. But right now it feels inconceivable that even in heaven the past could ever be erased, or that I could ever feel healed and whole and happy ever again. I’ve asked God, is that really true? Can you really heal me completely? Or maybe a harder question, you may be capable of doing so, but will you? When? Why not now? So many hard questions.

    • Hope

      For me, reaching out to people that knew me before I was married made all the difference. Last year I reached out to those Christian friends I trusted, even though they lived thousands of miles away. These people remembered me as a whole person, they knew me before I was dehumanized, before I was made nothing, and they reminded me and encouraged me and gave me hope. They each believed me, though they may not have fully understood. It didn’t matter, it doesn’t matter; being believed, being heard, being encouraged and being reminded that I am “not a machine!” (to quote my friend) began the healing for me.

      I don’t know how long it will take, I don’t know to what extent it will be successful, my situation is unusual and strange so I am making it up as I go, so to speak. Even so, real people make all the difference. They are the ones God sends to further His plan, His work in our lives. I often think God sends those we need when our need is the greatest.

      I would encourage you to find someone you can trust who will listen, find a shoulder to cry on, and give yourself time. You will learn how to rebuild yourself, this site is so important in helping to do that! There are a few others as well, and books of course, but find people too, actual human beings that care, so you will know that they really do exist, and that you really are deserving of their care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: