An Agent of Change in a Suffering World

Ten minutes and her life was forever changed. It was a beautiful morning as my friend headed out the door for work. She called her husband to wish him a good day as she walked to her car.

Change
(Image from Unsplash)

During the phone call, she heard a sound behind her and looked to see what it was. She was being ambushed. A surge of “fight or flight” chemicals flooded her body just as the first punch smashed her jaw.

The hits kept coming, accompanied by a flurry of screamed obscenities. In an almost robotic manner, my friend kicked and attempted to defend herself against this violent stranger.

It seemed like hours before she could finally close her car door. Tragically yet thankfully, her husband heard it all and was by her side within 15 minutes.

Tragedies happen to “other” people, not to us or our loved ones . . . right? How I wish it were true, but the reality is we are promised in Scripture that suffering is part of all of our lives.

One of the most difficult trials to heal from is physical and psychological suffering. After the bruises fade, the trauma can unsettle us for years.

Fight or Flight

God created in us an amazing and immediate response to stress called “fight or flight.” An intricately orchestrated, instantaneous sequence of physiological and hormonal changes occur when we are threatened.

The amygdala, part of emotional processing in the brain, immediately sends an SOS-like signal to another area of the brain called the hypothalamus. This “command center” tells the body through the nervous system that the body needs energy to fight or flee.

The hypothalamus also connects to the autonomic nervous system, immediately signaling the body’s automatic functions to kick into high gear. Meaning, we immediately experience a surge in blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, and an increased capacity to flood our lungs with air.

In addition, other hormonal and physiological changes take place. The adrenal glands are alerted and begin pumping epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) into the blood. As a result:

  • The person starts to breathe more rapidly.
  • Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness.
  • Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper.
  • Blood sugar and fats are released from temporary storage sites in the body.
  • Corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) travels to the pituitary gland and adrenal glands, signaling the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. Both keep the body on “high alert.”

Only God could have created this intricate and immediate life-saving response (Psalm 139). As the psalmist observes, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Yet here is where things get complicated. When a trauma has been so overwhelming, such as with an assault or repeated abuse, the body stays in “high alert,” unable to register that the threat is over.

As a result, a person can develop high blood pressure or excessively high hormone levels which damage various bodily organs such as the . . .

  • Thyroid
  • Heart
  • Immune system
  • Ears
  • Eyes

Autoimmune disorders and chronic pain may develop. Neural and cognitive brain changes can cause chronic stress which contribute to . . .

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Migraines
  • Addiction
  • Obesity
  • Insomnia
  • Hearing
  • Vision complications
  • Impulse control
  • Memory decline

Arteries can become clogged with harmful, fatty deposits. When real or perceived threats become chronic, a person can develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). All this can lead to a shortened life span.

That’s just the technical stuff. Now to the practical issues and critical advice for those who want to help.

Due to her shocking assault and her history of various life traumas, my friend struggles with PTSD. She has flashbacks, nightmares, distorted and confusing thoughts.

She startles easily, blames herself for the assault, struggles to be alone, has lost 15 pounds due to digestive complications, and experiences ongoing anxiety.

The real kicker . . . she looks amazing. You would never, ever guess she is struggling.

My friend appears happy, rested, engaged at work, with friends, and at church. She’s healthy and happily married. Most would believe she has an enviable life.

Sadly, we make this assumption about others almost every day. It’s egregious to presume to know how any other person is doing without talking, listening—walking through life with him or her.

Galatians 6:2 says,

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (NLT).

Agent

(Image from Unsplash)

How to Be a Burden-Bearer

Here are some practical ways you can be a burden-bearer and assist in healing a wounded soul.

  1. Take time to listen without responding with advice. Listen empathetically.
  2. Encourage the person’s gifts and strengths—never offer pity or shame (“She deserved it.” “If only he had listened.” “Aren’t you over that yet?” These are damaging statements that never help).
  3. Offer to help with basic tasks. Some ideas to offer concrete help: bring meals, drive to doctor appointments, make a reminder list when his or her brain is foggy, help with kids.
  4. Make a CD of calming music.
  5. Offer to purchase a massage to loosen tight muscles (if the person isn’t triggered by touch).
  6. Do something with your friend that he or she enjoys: go for a walk, exercise, journal, color, go to the park, see a movie.
  7. Help locate trauma therapists in your area. Some reputable forms of psychological help for PTSD are cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
  8. Educate yourself on trauma. There are numerous Web sites and books on the subject. Invest the time to research, which will equip you even more.
  9. Make an authentic “Daily Affirmations List” for the person to read out loud morning and night. List his or her gifts, strengths, interests, abilities, and positive qualities that are true for the person such as . . .
    • I am strong.
    • I am smart.
    • I am a great teacher.
    • I am a great wife/mother.
    • I make good decisions.
    • I am resourceful.
    • I am loved deeply.
    • I am faithful.

Studies show that a list read out loud in the morning and evening for 60–90 days alters neurological pathways, promotes healing, and raises confidence.

Let Me Hear from You

In closing, the old saying goes . . . people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

Are you known for being a know-it-all or a caring person? Do you label or assume things about others or take time to know them? Your presence can be life-changing for someone with PTSD. How can you begin to help today?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Suggested Online Resources

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” by National Institute of Mental Health

“Caring for Those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” by James Cartreine

  • AnneMarie Ezzo

    Excellent article, thank you so much for this post and the encouragement about the importance of “speaking life” giving words to ourselves and others. May God continue to bless you in your faithfulness to provide hope and encouragement to so many.

    • AnneMarie.
      You’re comment is incredibly valuable. How often we need others to speak life into our dry, parched, weathered souls. It never helps to correct or raise the bar; but to love and help with basic needs fills the soul more than words can ever say. I so appreciate your awareness and comment. Thanks so much, Colleen

  • Lurlene

    I think this is a beautiful picture of what you do!! Thank you Colleen. You may not be here in person but the fact that you listen without judgment and allow us to grieve, vent, ask why, be real is a beautiful thing!!
    Doesn’t change the circumstances but has made mine bearable at times of despair. Thank you!

    • Lurlene,
      You are the best, thank you. It’s been through many season’s of trials I’ve been humbled and learned to shut my mouth, listen and love rather than direct or correct. In my “down times”, the last thing needed is someone showing up like a rescue team to fix me. What we all need to know is that we are loved, accepted for where we are, and supported in the needs we have. It’s so simple, yet we make it complicated when we try to “fix” others. I find through scripture that the love of Christ warmed others to Him more than anything else. He didn’t affirm their lifestyle or accept sinful behaviors; but He LOVED…loved them into righteousness which is one’s personal choice. You are always free to say anything…I’ve probably said and done worse anyways so I understand. I love hearing from you and hope things have gotten better since we last connected. In His great grace, Colleen

  • So

    Hello Colleen,
    I know you would not be surprised that I could not bring myself to read your post regarding your friend, I scanned through it, and I know the fight or flight too well and PTSD, avoiding reading is sure sign I still have healing and triggers. I am sorry that your friend had to endure a terrible assault and out of nowhere. It is something very difficult and with “looking great”, most believed I calm and for many many years I kept so much hidden until truly it all unraveled as you are aware by walking with me for the four years I hit my lowest point and could not any longer hide the anger and anxiety esp having so many areas challenged in addition to emotional healing I had undertaken, it was the house ,health of mold allergy, family,etc that I did find healing through your blog and ministry and insight and care as you are aware, and with listening to Jesus calling and building this loving relationship that I now have and could never imagine living without Him in my life, His love miraculous, His healing truly like no other therapy or physical offering. Our glorious and most faithful King!
    I know there is always more room for more healing and I so look forward to getting back home for all the openings of doors around me that simply appeared by Gods hand that will further my socialization practice and therapeutic counseling that is focused on the alternative therapies opening me to what still beneath surface that I can tap into deeper and resolve yet the other issues I may not have been aware or consciously aware that will benefit all relations in more healthful ways forward.
    I wrote earlier about forgiveness happening throughout my family relations, there is one wish I do have that still even with disxcussing hurts and how hurtful wounds that were discussed I come on other side with still a wish someone would have actually said “please forgive me” rather than I did not do anything wrong, I had to say well you may not have intentionally done anything but my feelings were very hurt. And I stuck to “you have to understand my feelings and how hurtful it was for me” when my mom said well your dad was hurt too and was sick from your not calling him. I did not let her disregard my hurt for the why I had not called him, so I made it very clear and felt a confidence that I was aware from all my work of self and healing, and I needed be sure I spoke in healthful way for my being ,my being so hurt . It honestly flowed in convesation as I spoke openly and both without blame and we did not dwell on these issues as much as expressed the pain each party shared in what transipired a long silence between me and my family, and I am the one who said are we good now we communicated this, I forgive you and you forgive me so we have clean slate to move forward. She said yes, Not as perfect I guess as your moms forgiveness with her mother in law, yet a big step I think forward for me and my mom. And I told my mom that my dad waiting for me as he died was the greatest forgiveness as I held his hand and he knew of my presence and the grace and forgiveness that occurred she not be concerned because that was a huge moment handed to us by God. She was emotional and agreed this was greatest of forgiveness to God provided us this final moment together .
    I certainly am not a pro. I do believe God has this a beginning and it ill become easier to communicate these difficult feelings, keeping my focus on Him, And to not dwell on the other person as much as my soul in that I am clearing the air for mutual forgiveness even if the other person does not own their side, if you have any further insight I am open to hear. I am grateful for what you have shared with this post and your friend I wondered of her forgivenss ,how she worked through, as you are aware of others I needed to forgive, not forget bad behavior and abuse but to forgive for this type of assault and trauma is probably the hardest to let go and let God . So thank you for this post and to enlighten others that may not have the insight of PTSD behaviors and truly not by appearances of beauty and what appears calm and how I know I light up a room when walk in, and am always told I am always smiling and a beautiful smile, even when at my lowest point with greatest outward signs of anxiety and anger which had begun to bubble over and outward to be able to truly heal, even then I know I had an outward appearance that could be misread of looking well. It is honestly a silent illness in many ways because of this, so I appreciate your insight to share for what one can do for someone with PTSD, and in the healing process how to be truly there for someone whether looking anxious, angry, sad, glad or exterior appearances of calm.
    Love and care,
    Sand

    • Sand,
      One of the hardest choices we have to make in forgiving other’s is to accept that they may never apologize. They may defend their position, still believe they were in the right….whatever. But, to not be validated for your pain is incredibly difficult to get past. I think without the Lord, it’s almost impossible.
      The one piece of truth I cling to is that those who hated Jesus, persecuted Him and eventually, killed him NEVER said they were sorry. Because quite simply, they weren’t. So forgiveness is YOUR issue and how God works in other’s is His job. You have done EXACTLY what God calls us to do; I affirm and believe you have been deeply hurt and am amazed at your response to it all.
      Forgiveness is rarely the picture perfect “everything’s lovey-dovey” now…wish it was different. But, when we release our pain to the Lord’s care and keeping, we also open space for healthy people to fill in those spaces. I’m so sorry no one took responsibility; but not thoroughly surprised. Expectations can be tough to deal with. Overall, I think you are doing amazing and am so proud of you. Collen

  • So

    Colleen, I intended write in last note that the greatest of my forgiveness conversation with my mom was that I could honestly say to her that I am not angry nor do I blame her for some things that we addressed, and how I am beyond that healing and I could honestly feel confident and able to express my feelings honestly that I had and have moved beyond, and what I believe was both parties contribution to expressing hurts and letting them go now for a step forward, only with the Grace of God with me in doing this was this all possible.
    Have a good rest of week,
    Love and care,
    Sand

    • Sand,
      You are an inspiration to me and to many others, I’m sure. To know the other side of forgiveness is freedom, confidence, security in Christ, trust in His good plan, and much more…how many never gain this because they focus on bitterness and resentment. Your ability to forgive, to trust God’s got you is amazing. I’m thrilled to know relationships are mending and you are finding a “peace that surpasses all understanding”…as God promises to us when we surrender all to him. I so admire your choices and the path taken on higher ground.
      Much love and admiration to you, Colleen