Trauma recovery in the wake of mass shootings

By August 13, 2019

USA (MNN) — The initial shock of three mass shootings within seven days may be wearing off. Kids in El Paso, Texas, headed back to school this week, and hundreds gathered over the weekend to remember victims in Dayton, Ohio. However, life is far from “back to normal.”

Now begins the journey through trauma recovery for individuals and communities. Set Free Ministries’ Dean Vander Mey says it’s a complex endeavor.

“People who have been traumatized oftentimes cannot grow spiritually or emotionally past that time of trauma, so you have a lot of people who will compartmentalize their pain, and they hold [on to] it,” he explains.

“There’s a different dimension to this and a different way to heal. Jesus says, ‘I’ve come to set captives free’.”

Fight, flight, or freeze: common responses to trauma

Though people respond differently to trauma, Cascade Behavioral Health Hospital identifies some “common” symptoms and responses here.  Sometimes, Vander Mey says, traumatic events leave people spiritually and emotionally “trapped.”

Suppose a group of 100 people experience a traumatic event during their lifetime. According to estimates cited here, 25 members of the group will develop PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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In the article linked above, psychologist Dawn McClelland and burn survivor Chris Gilyard describe how our brain processes trauma:

When a person experiences a traumatic event, adrenalin rushes through the body and the memory is imprinted into the [brain]… The [brain] stores the visual images of trauma as sensory fragments, which means the trauma memory is not stored like a story, but by how our five senses were experiencing the trauma at the time it was occurring. The memories are stored through fragments of visual images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch.

This is why trauma survivors sometimes perceive sensory input – images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch – from daily life situations as “dangerous” or “scary.”

For some survivors of recent mass shootings, an unexpected loud noise might “bring back the horror of watching people drop and get shot. It’s going to trigger that memory, and then all the fear, anxiety” would return in an instant, Vander Mey says.

“We have a fight or flight syndrome that gets triggered deep within the psyche; that’s what happens with traumatized victims.”

McClelland and Gilyard state in their article, “The rational part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex…. When a trauma occurs, people enter into a fight, flight, or freeze state, which can result in the prefrontal cortex shutting down.”

(Photo credit via Pexels)

If left unprocessed, trauma can “get stuck” in the brain and affect every aspect of a survivor’s life.  “Traumatized victims oftentimes cover up and in doing so, they get weighed down with… the horror and the evil that was done to them, and that causes depression,” notes Vander Mey.

“The best thing you can do is bring that out into the open and get it in the hands of Jesus.”

Next steps

Now that you know, how will you respond? If you’ve experienced a traumatic event and need to talk, connect with Set Free here.

“Don’t isolate,” advises Vander Mey. “Let’s cry out to God, but let’s do it in the context of the Body [of Christ].”

Using a Bible-based process developed by Neil Andersen, Set Free Ministries helps people find freedom from addictions, fear, suicidal thoughts, traumatic memories, and more. Learn about their work here.

Pray for comfort and peace for survivors and victims’ families in Dayton, El Paso, and Gilroy. Ask the Lord to turn these tragedies into Gospel opportunities.



Header image courtesy of Pexels.

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