Why don’t you just pray about it? ** Possible Trigger Warning
The quick reply I’d give is: What makes you think I don’t?
The number of times this question is asked by persons of faith to survivors of child abuse [childhood trauma] is impossible to count. While those who ask this question are usually sincere and have a fairly decent motive, the fact remains that this question reveals more about the questioner than the questionee. For example, this person may…
- need more education re the real and lifelong physical and emotional injuries that result from child abuse – aka – asked out of ignorance
- be avoiding addressing his/her own childhood trauma
- feel uncomfortable watching someone do their work for it may evoke own feelings that have been ignored or denied
- be afraid of these possible awakened feelings
- carry own underlying shame due to the past
- feel powerless to help or feel overwhelmed by it all, said out of shame or frustration
- be afraid to go to therapy for self for whatever reason[s]
While none of these points are bad nor wrong, if you, the reader, have ever felt this way towards someone who is struggling, then be rest assured you are not alone. It is important to note that although well-intentioned, this question lands on an abuse survivor as victim-shaming and guilt-tripping dialogue. It is not helpful.
Or perhaps you, the reader, have said such things to yourself? If so, I’ve been there too. Saying things like this is dismissive, disrespectful re the level of your own pain and literally hurtful to your physiology. Oddly enough it is a type of self-gaslighting.
Not saying that praying about a matter of concern is wrong. However, prayer can be used to avoid doing the hard work of healing/recovering from various abuses. It is important to be clear – using prayer in this way is a type of Avoidance behaviour. This is called SPRITUAL BYPASSING. To bypass something means to go around it, jump over it, etc. It is the opposite of going through it and dealing with it head on. While bypassing the work of trauma recovery is appealing, it does NOT help the individual to really *get over* the issue. The only way one can release [get over] the pain of child abuse is to go through it – experience the feelings and detox from them hopefully with the support of professionally trained individuals. Only then will the undesirable feelings stop surfacing.
You have to feel it to heal it.
What is Spiritual Bypassing?
Spiritual Bypassing is using God, any religion or belief system, Amulets, Spiritism, New Age Mysticism, etc., including the latest trend of toxic positivity to “just think positive thoughts and positivity will come your way” – anything – to NOT deal with the pain from the past. For those of you who pray and read/study the Bible – have you noticed that when you pray, you may get some relief, but it doesn’t last? The past keeps coming up repeatedly, right? This verifies that childhood trauma is not just a brain memory, it is also stored in the body, the tissues, the nervous system, at a cellular level. This explains why the initial relief isn’t permanent and that medical intervention is needed.
Ignorance assumes that the child abuse survivor has a spiritual problem. The level of faith doesn’t have the correlation to childhood trauma as most think. Emotional pain is way more complicated than that. The truth is – feelings buried are buried alive and they will always find a way to surface.
Would you say to someone who has survived a serious car accident, spent months in traction healing, and now can potentially live a full / active life – that they should not bother going to rehab nor that they should just pray about it and thereby wait for God to do the healing / recovery work? I hope your answer is NO because that really isn’t sound thinking, is it? Rather you would encourage this individual to go to rehab, do the exercises, build up muscle tone again, etc. so that s/he could have mobility and live as healthfully as possible, right? Yes!! And this is what it’s like doing the necessary work of healing from childhood trauma. Survivors of various childhood traumatizations need trauma-informed professional medical help to live life as best they can and accomplish what they want today. They need emotional physiotherapy to develop strong *coping muscles* and healthy strategies to manage whatever is needed to thrive, not just survive.
Most childhood trauma survivors have felt stuck, frustrated, mentally foggy, isolated, emotionally dysregulated, dissociated, have social anxiety, carry unwarranted guilt and shame, deal with poor health, some are in severe mental and emotional anguish, etc., all stemming from the child abuse/neglect. Therefore, it is not wrong, nor a lack of faith nor a sign of poor spirituality or poor decision-making to want and need to recover from the damaging results of childhood trauma sooner rather than later. God is labelled as a happy God. He wants us to be happy and thrive, now. Unprocessed childhood trauma impedes this.
So please, let’s stop assuming, judging, criticizing, finger-pointing, shame-throwing and fear-projecting onto the victims of childhood trauma. Haven’t they suffered enough? A suggestion – if you want to use the Bible please do so as it is intended – as a mirror.
My ask is that others who haven’t done their own trauma recovery work not impose their opinions onto childhood trauma survivors who are. Please be careful of what you’re really saying, how it’s landing and … be aware of where these opinions stem from. One who is in distress doesn’t necessarily need spiritual counselling. They need comfort instead. Timing is everything.
Together we can create safe spaces for those who choose to work through their childhood trauma.
**Trigger Warning – some religious beliefs are mentioned. Normally I do not blend trauma recovery with religion because there are many who’ve been traumatized by religious and spiritual abuse. I remain sensitive to this. If this has triggered you, please resource yourself healthily or email me.
If any of the 7 points above hit a nerve, perhaps your body is telling you something. If comfortable, click on the question: Is Trauma Recovery Coaching Right for Me? If you’ve done a measure of therapy already and are seeking further support, reach out to me and let’s have a chat.