How To Prevent a Painful Event from Becoming a Lasting
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Does every painful event that happens to us inevitably become a trauma?
The good news is: NO!
To understand how this can be--and more importantly, to prevent a life event from
becoming a trauma--you need to understand why and how something becomes a trauma.
Trauma and UDINS
I've written before about life events that become
traumatic because they are UDINs: Unexpected, Dramatic, Isolating, and having No resources, recourse, or
elements are what make something traumatic.
Notice that one and a half of the elements of a
UDIN are unpreventable.
You can't control when some crisis will happen, or
You can't control how bad it will be (half of the
That's the one and a half you can't
What you can control of the Dramatic part, though,
to at least some degree, is how it will affect you.
And you can control whether you will let it
Isolate you, and whether you will believe that there are No solutions or resources.
According to Dr. Karl Lehman, there is a
pain pathway in the brain that needs to be traveled all the way through in order for a
painful event not to become a trauma. If we can go all the way through the pain processing pathway, we
"metabolize" the experience and it does not become a trauma that can then get triggered again and again, and
cause all kinds of physical, emotional, or relational problems.
The main reason a painful event becomes
traumatic is that we feel alone in it. Relationship has been withdrawn. We become disconnected.
Dr. Lehman explains that "because we live with brains that configure all our reality and experiences in relational terms,
we must learn to stay relational in the presence of our pain."
How do we do that?
Staying Relational in the Pain
Many of us grew up in families that themselves
never learned this. When they or we were in pain, it led to withdrawal. The "relational circuits" in the brain
(RCs) were switched off. If this happened in our experience, we may come to believe that when we're in pain, love
is going to be withdrawn. Thus we turn off to the pain, or we go off by ourselves to try to deal with
Which, if we're to believe the brain science
experts, never works.
So how do we stay relational in
the pain, so we can actually process it and not let it become a trauma?
Look for Someone Who Knows How to Be With
You in Pain
It can be difficult to
reach out to someone when you are in pain, because not everyone will know how to deal with it. Most people will
instinctively try to make you feel better, make the pain go away. You may instinctively turn to
something to make you feel better, make the pain go away.
way out of the pain, is through it. Preferably with someone else.
If you know someone with
whom you feel safe, you can kind of coach them along as to how they can help you.
Approach them at a time when you both can talk.
Ask them if they would be willing to just listen to you and reflect back how you're feeling without attempting to
Note: That someone can be
God. God is always with us, and if you believe his Word, he has promised 14 times never to leave you or forsake you. You can journal or pray your way
through the sequence below. (For more help with this, I suggest the book, The Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel. You can also contact me for some Healing Codes. This is a big part of what I do in my Healing Codes
Let's say you just lost someone dear to you, and
are feeling great grief.
The VCR of Relief
Here the three steps to working through the pain.
Again, ideally you will do this in the presence of someone who has the capacity to be with you in this
- Validation: name the feeling and/or
belief you have as a result of the event. "I miss my friend so much. She was like a mom to me.
Who will I go to now when I need the wise, down-to-earth advice she always knew how to give? I have lost so
much, so unexpectedly...."
If you're processing
something with someone and they reflect back your words to you with empathy, you will feel validated and
understood. The first step is to stay connected with the experience rather than try to escape or minimize
it. Doing this with another person removes the Isolating factor.
2. Comfort: Look for the origin of
the negative feeling or belief attached to the event. You may be upset by the event itself, but it
may also be triggering an unhealed memory from the past. You may or may not remember what that is, but naming the
origin of it as best you know can be helpful.
"This sounds silly, but it reminds me of the time my father accidentally killed my cat when I
was young. I used to tell my cat my problems, and I never felt she judged me." So now we're dealing with more
than losing the friend; we're dealing with an unhealed memory from the past, that amplifies the pain in the
current memory. Just realizing this can be comforting. It can help you begin to make sense out of the pain.
"Oh, this is not just about this incident." (And you will want to address both incidents with The Healing
Codes and/or healing prayer.)
it is just about this incident, because in itself it's so huge. "I've never lost someone
this close to me before. I don't know how to handle it." Understanding the level of intensity of the emotion is
also part of comfort.
3. Repatterning, or Returning to Joy.
When the first two things have happened--validation and comfort--you are then open to new perspectives on the
situation. A skilled listener will know just how to help you come to the new perspective yourself, rather
than trying to give advice, fix you or make the pain go away. This is where you realize you are not
without resources, thus eliminating the N-No recourse or resources--of the UDIN.
The last step in the Pain Processing Pathway is finding meaning in the experience, so that it
leads to wisdom and maturity.
This process can take time, or it can be fairly
quick, depending on the intensity and scope of the painful event.
But when you deliberately reject Isolation and
seek help from someone who can Validate, Comfort, and help you Return to Joy, you need not fear that the event will
become a trauma that you never get over. You will emerge stronger, wiser and more mature.