If you want to support friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers suffering from trauma, Rule #1: Skip the "everything has a purpose" line.
Please don't place "purpose" on other people's trauma. The purpose may eventually exist around our devastation, but only because we found it. We worked for it, answered the hard questions, and cried for hours trying to release enough pain to grab hold of it.
Sure, I can see purpose in why God made the sky blue, the grass green, and the sun shine. I can get behind that; but, I don't believe God somehow expects us to find purpose in our trauma. We can choose, however, to find purpose after we first open ourselves to healing the wound itself.
Healing from my own trauma has been largely a self-serving mission. For the longest time, my trauma owned me ... which really pissed me off! It was the driving force behind the jobs I took, the men I dated, and the way I parented my kids.
I subconsciously recreated environments that mimicked my abusive experience, and I was sick of it.
It was one thing to accept that when I was just a girl—more than 30 years ago—a grown man put his twisted desires before my innocence, dignity, safety, and worth. Did that mean the pain, suffering, and fear that persisted long after the incident passed was mine to carry?
When I began to seek healing, I had to let go of the hope of "finding meaning". The distinction is subtle, but it is critically important. After years of trying, I realized I will never be able to find meaning in rape, child abuse, or the tragedies of war. No, there is just no meaning in those atrocities.
I do believe God has a purpose, but I refuse to accept that purpose is in the trauma itself.
The only real conviction I have that God actually exists lies within my understanding that healing from trauma is possible. The purpose is possible only through and after healing. Personal purpose intersects with trauma when you are able to look at a friend or stranger and offer genuine compassion by saying, "I've been there. It sucks, and I'm going to walk through it with you."
Personal purpose intersects with trauma when you can replace your shame with compassion and find a way to love yourself again (or, perhaps for the very first time).
If you haven't experienced personal trauma, or even if you have, don't try to comfort me (or others) with some bogus line about "everything has a purpose." You insult me (and them) and offer an offensive excuse to the villain of the story.
Would you EVER console a rapist or child molester by telling him—"It'll be okay because she'll find purpose in it?"
I didn't think so.
Who decides what the purpose even is? The woman battling breast cancer while continuing to move through her life and make it to work every day? Soldiers coming home from war, choosing to face the demons they brought with them? The woman sharing her story of sexual assault so that others won't feel alone? Or, are any of us willing to show vulnerability to join our collective suffering without the need to dress it up in meaning?
Those of us who find purpose are strong enough to look at our unimaginable stories, accept the pain and suffering for what it is, and decide at that moment (or decades later) whether or not it defines us.
Trauma, in and of itself, serves no purpose. And, yet, somewhere in the pain there lies ... opportunity. Those of us who seek healing may find purpose. In doing so, we can find the freedom to live our lives again, fully and with passion.
If you are in the midst of pain and suffering, here are five personal practices that helped me create purpose from trauma:
1. Make it personal.
My burning desire to reclaim my life from the trauma drives me, rather than an expectation that I "should" forgive, find meaning, or make amends. Though you may encounter forgiveness on your healing journey, the expectation is overwhelming in the beginning and prevents you from getting started.
2. Write about it.
Julia Cameron's morning pages from her book The Artist's Way inspired my journaling practice. For the last 8 years, I've started almost every day by writing. It is my gateway to deeper understanding.
3. Find an EMDR professional.
In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. van der Kolk explains how our bodies hold onto trauma. One of the therapies he recommends is EMDR. For me, it made a world of difference.
4. Get a Thai Yoga Massage.
A wonderful compliment to EMDR, Thai Yoga Massage is like wringing out my body to release the remaining trauma. This is the step that gets to the grime in the corners. You can learn more about my personal experience with Thai Yoga Massage on my blog.
5. Clear your energy.
After you've healed your mind, your heart, and your body, there's still one more step. Working with an energy healer to repair and restore your energy empowers you to break those subconscious patterns, and intentionally create a new experience; and perhaps, a new life.
Jeannie Sullivan works with her clients to maximize strengths, unlock courage, and go for their big dreams. Visit jeanniesullivan.com for more about her.