Unresolved Trauma in the CRC theory

I’ll try give a short definition of the operating theory, after a few background notes:

  1. None of us are immune from tragic things happening to us that are far beyond our control and have massive impact on our emotional/psychological well-being. Each of us “handles it” differently.
  2. When something very traumatic happens in someone’s life, and they are not helped to process it and move through it in an emotionally healthy way, they tend to ‘freeze’ in their emotional development at the age they were when the event happened. I saw this very clearly working at the addiction treatment center and hearing the life stories of recovering addicts. The vast majority of them had a story of a childhood trauma that reshaped their way of being and in big ways were the start of their slide into their own poor behaviour. I also see it to a lesser extent in my forebearers who shaped the CRC.
  3. Trauma, by its nature and by what it does to the human body, and by how the brain deals — or doesn’t deal — with it, is not often remembered. At least not in the same way we can remember other stories. Trauma is usually remembered in fragments, and in vividly relived feelings “as if the original trauma is happening all over again.”So an action or event with similarities to the traumatic event will “retrigger” the original trauma’s feelings. If you want to learn more about this, there’s a great book out by Bessel van der Kolk called “The Body Keeps the score” which explains the latest understanding of this and much more.
  4. Whether remembered or not, trauma shapes us. I recently heard the story of a buddy I had a beer with, who told of three traumas that shaped him. Two came around the event of his father dying when he was a teenager. On his deathbed the father told his teen-aged oldest son he now had to take responsibility for the family. This created a massive sense of responsibility for everything.  Along with it was the doctor recommending prayer that Dad fall into a coma so he could die quietly, and this guy, as a teenager, did this, had a very powerful experience of God in praying that, and soon after his Dad did fall into a coma. The boy told his buddies at school, and they chastised him for not praying for healing, because if God had been that close, then he must have been ready to heal… Trauma three was his mother’s lifelong fear of him having any pride, and doing all she could with words to warn against any sense of accomplishment he felt. In a sense, his adult life has been a journey of sorting out how these traumas shaped him. I have similar stories to his. He’s probably blogging my stories somewhere.
  5. Starting to heal from trauma — as we are learning from things like the Truth and Reconciliation actions in the world — means facing the pain and telling of it and acknowledging it and processing it and working those shards and fragments into a story. (I don’t speak of this as an expert, and have much to learn yet, but I have seen it work)

So, now the theory: I believe that many (not all) of the post-World War Two immigrants from the Netherlands to Canada carried serious un-dealt-with trauma. (I have heard about this as a truth directly from some, and in others I believe I have seen evidence but they did not know how to talk about it). In short, many experienced very very traumatic things in that war. For some families, believing they could leave that trauma behind was part of their motivation for immigrating. But then, the immigration experience proved to be another layer of trauma: living in shacks in cold they had never known before; living a hard-scrabble existence; missing “homeland” and family left behind. (In those days they left not ever expecting to see each other again). So, at least two layers of serious trauma. Some that I have known could have had what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I well remember an immigrant man who told me he had not slept a full night since WWII and having survived being in a concentration camp. If you can get hold of a book called “Uprooted: The Story of Dutch Immigrant Children in Canada, 1947-1959” by Anne van Arragon Hutten, you will find many stories that illustrate this, though a bit indirectly. In it people describe their experiences to the author but sound more puzzled and hurt than aware it was trauma they experienced. You find statements like “I went from age 10 to age 20 in a few weeks” and more like it that describe the experience.

Add to that War trauma and leaving their roots “forever”trauma the fact that these folks were of a rather stoic, cerebral, theological bent that was suspicious of emotion, in a time as well when showing emotion, even by women, was seen as excessive weakness and a ‘waste of time and tears’ and well, none of these traumatized folks had a way to ‘process’ the pain. There was too much actual work to do to take time to deal with deep emotions. Or they turned the pain into energy to clean and work hard. (no wonder our most admired addictions or near addictions are cleanliness and workaholism.)

With the unresolved trauma carried in their hearts, and few if any healthy ways to let it heal, and thereby mature emotionally, my theory is that many of the generation before mine developed a working, simple faith that allowed them to keep plugging along. When subsequent generations began to ‘complicate’ faith, and to disrupt the church as a safe spiritual living room, this badly confuses and hurts them.

There are also some very interesting studies on how the children of traumatized folks are affected, even genetically, by their parent’s unresolved trauma. If you want to read more take a look at this article.

And yes, my interest in this has two sides, a professional one, in terms of understanding the dynamics of the CRC in Canada, and a very personal one, being a product of a generation that carried unresolved trauma…

Now you know what I mean if in your company I refer to my Unresolved Trauma theory.


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