Not long ago, I was reading a great book about counseling someone with PTSD. When I say great, that might be a stretch… it was more like a long, detailed, boring college textbook holding the promise of buried treasure scattered within this “comprehensive manual.” I dug deep but what I discovered was gold. Here are the cliff notes version… you’re welcome.
When an traumatic event occurs, how we respond in the days and weeks following will impact the rest of our lives. How we process through what happened to us, or even what we did to someone else, has to power to shape vastly different outcomes. It can either bring life or death. A teen girl is raped. A soldier experiences his first fire-fight. A drunk driver T-bones a family. An officer is fired upon. A mother screams insults at her children. A CFO makes the wrong call and upends everything. An orphan quits calling for his mommy. A man wheels his SUV into the strip club for the first time. A nurse loses her first patient. A new widow cries herself to sleep. A student takes his first hit. A daughter stops praying for her daddy to come home. A pastor throws in the towel. A man finds his escape in the barrel of a gun.
If you’ve lived very long, I am certain that you have experienced a wounding event. Probably enough that you could be diagnosed with PTSD or at least some form of acute stress disorder (i.e. – anxiety, depression). What you might not realize is how powerful your response is to such trauma.
How did you handle what happened to you? What did you think about what happened? How did it change your beliefs about yourself, about God, about the world?
Think about what you’re going through like ABC: Action (the defining event), Belief (what you think about the event), and Consequence (what you are feeling or doing now). The action was the traumatic thing you experienced. The belief is how you processed what happened in the first few days and weeks. The consequence is how you’re coping with it today.
[A] Action – the traumatic, wounding event
[B] Belief – what you think about what happened [A]
[C] Consequence – how you feel about [A] and what you end up doing as a result of [B]
If you’ve ever been to counseling, perhaps you have dug into some of this before. But most of the time we try to deal with it ourselves. We tend to focus on the event [A] and how we feel about it or the habits that have come from it [C], not realizing that the [B] is
really the most important! We tend to wish A (the event) never happened and dream of a life without [A] (the trauma) but that gets us nowhere. In reality, our [C] (emotional way of coping) is to avoid the thought or the create new feelings about the victim or the oppressor. We might even create new habit or routines to avoid the trigger or arousal of the sheer pain of our traumatic wound (for example: strong negative emotions, social withdrawal, substance abuse, bingeing, avoidance, self-harm, aggression).
But we need to take a closer look at our new beliefs [B] that are formed by such an event [A]. We should take another look at what we believe about the traumatic and turbulent time and revisit how we responded and/or reacted internally to such negative stimulation. Traumatic experiences have a way of rewiring the brain and creating new neural pathways that almost immediately create new patterns of thinking, new beliefs, new absolutes in our psyche that could be as damaging (or more so) than the traumatic event itself. This is called a stuck point.
Stuck points are not the new behaviors and feelings [C] that have come from our trauma, they are the core beliefs [B] that changed due to the pain. Stuck points are new thoughts that took shape and solidified as a result of the fire of that particular trial. For example, a stuck point is not the addiction but the cause of addiction. Stuck points are at the root from which grows the fruit. Stuck points are not actions or feelings (both of which are byproducts of thoughts). Stuck points are thoughts about yourself, about life, or about God.
Let’s Get Unstuck
In order to really go further, you’re going to have to take a few minutes (more than a few, actually) and write a few paragraphs (a page, ideally) about your traumatic event. You’re not being asked to write specifics but focus on WHY the event occurred. Write about what caused the event. If you might have more than one, then you’re going to need to pick one event. Choose either the first one or the one that you thought of first as one of the most significant. We can work through others later. Please go ahead and write it. It’s important… I’ll wait.
Note: “Stuck point” and the “ABC” model were originally coined by Patricia A. Resick, in her book, “Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD”