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  • Writer's pictureJo de Blois

Trauma Frozen

I came across the term, "trauma frozen." Trauma frozen is the halt of human development when trauma occurs.

Trauma Frozen is like a waterfall of running water that, due to intense cold, freezes to a standstill. The river that flows from the fall below stops running. The character (the flow, the direction of the stream) of the river that depends on the flow of water, changes. The longer the waterfall does not contribute to the flow of water, the less water will be carried downstream, resulting pooling water standing still and no riverbed carved out for future flow. The flora and fauna around the riverbed will have to adapt to the river's change.

From Outward Growth to Inward Survival

When trauma hits a child's life, the child goes into survival mode. Rather than living a life dependent on and motivated by factors around the child, the child's emotional development stagnates. Rather than managing relationships and learning from each encounter with fellow humans, maturing and growing each day, the child becomes occupied with managing its emotional turmoil and its basic need for safety. Rather than learning its place in this world, the child tries to accept its place in its own body and survive its own environment. And when trauma does not end with childhood, this survivalist behavior is carried far into adulthood.

Instead than growing into a mature individual who stands strongly and confidently in this difficult life, a traumatized person grows into an individual that has one single full-time job: babysitting his or her own mind. This primal survival instinct trumps external cost and will lead to distressful and dysfunctional lives.

"Trauma Frozen" means the possibility of "Trauma Defrost"

Victims of trauma can heal. It is just not so easy. It is just not so quick. If the icy cold melts, if trauma ends and the environment betters, the waterfall starts running again. Yet the river does not immediately return to the state it would have been in if the waterfall had kept running. The water pressure is not enough to carve a path. The flora and fauna that has been disrupted by the decline of water levels is not immediately revived to its former state.

In other words, healing from trauma and catching up on emotional development is not simply a matter of someone now behaving his or her age. The brain is simply and physically not developed according to that age. The part of the brain that deal with fear and distress (amygdala) is physically enlarged and therefore over activated. The parts of the brain that deal with reason and calm are physically smaller and less active. Healing and developing is a matter of growing new brain structures and patterns over time by structurally practicing a healthy balance between fear responses and calm. Healing and developing takes much time. Healing and developing takes much patience.

The Challenge that Helpers Face

Loving someone whose life and mind is marred by trauma is for many people very difficult. Especially because trauma leaves very difficult and damaging behavioral patterns and the wounds that cause them are invisible from the outside. When someone is physically wounded, victims are treated with compassion and care. But inside wounds that are just as damaging, just as deep, are often treated with less compassion and less care. Many people may think or ask impatiently why someone thinks or acts or speaks immaturely and does not simply choose a right response to a certain situation. If it were only that simply.

  1. Most adult sufferers know that parts of their brain are damaged or lagging in comparison to those of their age. Frozen adults are not like children who throw a tantrum without understanding the reason behind it. Frozen adults often do know that they are causing damage and disruption, but do not have the skills to stop themselves, to manage their emotional pain, or to calm in the way that healthy adults can. Victims are repeatedly reminded of their inability to function "normally." This integrates self-hatred, self-loathing, and potential self-harm.

  2. Adult victims are frequently being abandoned and rejected by people whom they have trusted. This is simply because many people do not have the strength, resilience, or patience to walk with a hurting fellow human being, to carry the burden with them, and to patiently wait until healing and growth come. Trauma victims are used to abandonment, neglect, or harsh rejection. This abandonment has created distrust and suspicion and hampers the victim's ability to engage in healthy emotional relationships down the road, making the process of healing even more difficult.

Then How Can Helpers Help?

Warmth for Defrost

If trauma is compared to an icy cold blast of hurt, aggression, harshness and hurt that froze the flow of water, the melting process that leads to healing must naturally consist of the opposite elements. In other words, the temperature of a victims life needs to climb before the frozen waterfall can continue its course.

Nobody takes a pick axe to a waterfall to make it run again. The waterfall will simply crumble into pieces. Likewise do hard words, anger, and impatience not change the frozen trauma but break a hurting person even more. It further damages a broken personality that could potentially have been healed.

An environment that is conducive to healing is an environment that has elements of warmth and safety, elements not present in the trauma itself. Examples of conducive elements are unconditional love, kindness, and the vibrant sunshine of human compassion. It is the change of a hurting person's environment that is the very start to healing and the change of a life. Two important practical and biblical tools are:

  1. Love, acceptance, and compassion. For many trauma survivors, self-hatred is easier than self-love. Especially when people's confrontational criticism and abandonment have been a repeated refrain in their life. Someone who loves them unconditionally may be the rare but vital ingredient for the growth to functional adulthood. Loving someone unconditionally may save a life.

  2. Patience, and long-suffering. Nobody expects a 12 year old kid to have the emotional maturity of an adult man or woman. Yet some trauma victims are stagnated in the emotional state of only a child. These adult victims do not receive the same patience and grace that is given to a child. Yet if this patience is granted, one will see that the traumatized adult will catch up quickly to mature and stable adulthood.

Correction for Agency

Does that mean that only validation and love work, and that correction has no place in frozen trauma? No. Correction can be the right way to love. Correction makes the trauma victim an agent by pushing him or her to find creative ways to change. Correction can be necessary to lift a trauma victim out of his or her victim role and to force them to become agents of their own behavior. But correction must always be directed to the actions of a person, stimulating and pushing the individual to growth. Correction of a victim must never be pointed at a victim's personhood, their character, their spiritual life, their maturity, or the cause of their wounds. Do not damage an already bleeding personality.

God with His Wings

When I say that a trauma victim can heal, I must include one element: God the Healer. God heals and God heals through His people. People who have grown in the fruits of the spirit and can apply these spiritual balms for the healing of the broken.

  • Balm of Love: you are bought with a price and Jesus gave his life for you.

  • Balm of Joy: life is beautiful, I will show you that life is worth living.

  • Balm of Peace: in my friendship, your soul and wounded mind can rest.

  • Balm of Truth: I will constantly remind you of who you are if you can't see it.

  • Balm of Patience: you have time to heal, my friend. Just take the next step.

  • Balm of Friendliness: I will be your friend, no matter how you act.

  • Balm of Goodness: I will help you in the best way that I can.

  • Balm of Faithfulness: I will forgive your mistakes, no matter how bad.

  • Balm of Tenderness: I will make sure that you are safe from future trauma.

They that sat in darkness will see a great light. The sun arose with healing in its wings. Wings are safe. Wings shelter. Wings carry.

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