There are many reasons why Christians may be tempted to downplay or minimize the impact of complex trauma on adult survivors. However, such attempts to deny the far-reaching and long-lasting impact of childhood complex trauma exposure can inadvertently serve to cheapen God’s amazing grace that offers forgiveness and cleansing for both the offended and offender, depreciate the wisdom of God’s created order that was designed to provide children with the optimum conditions for thriving, and can leave victims with unrealistic expectations regarding the speed of recovery and the extent to which the damages suffered can be reversed or ameliorated.
There is an alternative.
We can acknowledge the inestimable and devastating impact of complex trauma on the soul of a child and in the same breath thank God that in His wisdom, He charged parents with the responsibility to protect and nurture their young, warning against the choice to abuse or neglect a child.
We can praise the God of the universe who, unlike those who may have abused or neglected their positions of authority and power, stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to invite Him in so that He might bind up our broken hearts and set us free from all that keeps us bound up in fear.
We can thank God for the provisions God has made to keep children alive and intact in the face of horrendous abuse or soul deadening neglect through such mechanisms as dissociation.
We can thank God for providing safe people who are willing to courageously and sacrificially bear witness to the painful realities of complex trauma, persons who refuse to talk survivors out of their pain or to rush them along in their journey toward wholeness, but instead look to God to set the pace.
We can thank God that He is worthy of the trust of survivors who, if they desire to get well, will be required to invite the Worthy One into those painful places that they have worked a lifetime to deny or keep hidden.
We can thank God for the gift of forgiveness as a powerful means of containing the devastating effects of complex trauma so that those victimized are able to break sinful bonds that may have been formed by trauma, hatred or resentment, or sexual abuse.
We can thank God for the finished work of the cross, where survivors were given a new identity that is not based on anything that may have been done to the survivor (i.e., child physical abuse, child emotional abuse, child sexual abuse, child ritual abuse) or not done to the sufferer (i.e., neglect or a failure to be cherished and delighted in); or anything a survivor may have done or failed to do in response to their abuse.
As we consider the power of lies that were unwarily embraced in the context of abuse or neglect – to bring devastation to the lives of survivors, we can stand in awe of the power of God’s truth to set the captives free as those lies are exposed and replaced with truth!
We can thank God for His provision through the body of Christ, for survivors to become members of God’s forever forgiven family, where they can experience true community, safe connection, and be reminded of who they truly are in Christ Jesus!
We can thank God that those who may have been deeply impacted by complex trauma can be set free from an idolatrous focus on their abusers or from a pathological insistence that those who failed to nurture them as children now fill that void in their adult lives.
Christians may be tempted to minimize the impact of complex trauma on those who continue to reel from its consequences even as these sufferers courageously seek to find in Christ and His church a place of safe connection where they can heal and be set free. The truth is that the experience of complex trauma brings with it an inestimable and incomprehensible set of soul devastating consequences that are far-reaching and long lasting. However, all is not lost! For it is into such a fray that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords marches, even as He declares, “To the depths of the devastation that my children have suffered, there does My grace much more abound.” (Coleman, 2013)
Coleman, S. A. (2013). The forgiveness clinic: A Christ-centered counseling approach for those who continue to suffer with unwanted anger, bitterness, or hurt associated with traumatic events of the past. The Forgiveness Clinic. Chattanooga, TN.