In Western culture the response to being asked “how are you” is almost reflexive: “good” or “fine” or “great!” We tend to take a similar approach to trauma–who really wants to know how we’re doing? And when other people have gone through so much, isn’t complaining awfully ungrateful to God? Trauma, like any other type of pain, is entirely subject to the person experiencing it. And just as everyone has a different pain threshold, we all have a different threshold for trauma. Your response to trauma doesn’t have anything to do with your strength, nor is it gauged by the experiences of others–your trauma is your own, how it affects you is important, and how you are feeling is valid. Taking ibuprofen for a headache isn’t a slap-in-the-face to God, and neither is seeking help when you’ve experienced emotional pain.
Trauma is common among missionaries. Trauma can be primary (something traumatic happens to you) or secondary (you witness someone else’s trauma). It can be sudden or gradual. You may feel depressed or anxious, have trouble sleeping, or have recurrent nightmares. A traumatic event means that you have felt helpless, powerless, and maybe life-threatened in a situation – it might be for some losing a phone because it is their only lifeline to the outside world or it is being in cross-fire.
Sometimes when someone is living with trauma he or she will have only physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, or body pain. Often it isn’t the traumatized person who notices changes–people around you might notice that you are more “on edge” or that you are avoiding certain areas or activities. They may say that you “zone out” sometimes.
While nothing can undo trauma, the Tumaini Counseling Centers in Nairobi and Kampla offers debriefing after traumatic events, assessment for post traumatic stress, and treatment for it. There are effective trauma treatments available, such
as EMDR and others, which the counselors at Tumaini have been trained in.