• TheCatholicPsychologist

Healing From Trauma

The Bear and the Thorn

Once upon a time in a forest not far away there lived a very fuzzy bear. Now bears usually go lumbering through the forest on all four legs, but this bear always seemed to be limping, as if something was wrong with her right paw. Other animals would question why she walked with a limp and the bear would reply: "I don't limp," or, depending on how she felt at the moment, "I don't know why I limp." Sometimes the bear could sense pain deep down inside her paw and she would hold it up and look at it, but she saw nothing unusual. It looked just like her other paws, with scarcely any signs of scars or cuts or problems that would cause her to limp.

Now this bear also had problems getting along with the other bears in the forest. She didn’t want to tumble and play with the others, and didn't understand why any bear would want to tumble with another bear. She didn't even enjoy getting honey out of trees. Often the bear felt a deep sadness within her, but she wasn’t quite sure why. She seemed unable to feel the feelings that other bears told her they had or to enjoy life as other bears seemed to.

One day, as she was walking down a path with nowhere in particular to go, the bear came upon a little cub who had fallen into a clump of prickly bushes and now had a huge and sharp thorn lodged in its paw. The little cub was whimpering and crying because it was very afraid and did not seem to know what to do to get rid of its pain. Gently the bear held the little cub and pulled the thorn out of the paw. The cub whimpered and cried for some time after the thorn was removed, and the bear watched and comforted the cub as the bleeding stopped and the wound began to heal.

All at once as the bear looked down at the young cub, from deep within her, in the hidden corners of her memory, a picture from the past began to appear - a picture from a time, when she too, had fallen into a prickly bush and lodged a huge thorn deep within the pad of her right front paw. The memory became clearer as she realised that when she was younger she didn't know how to get anyone to help her. So gradually the skin on her paw grew around the thorn, covering up the thorn and also covering up the knowledge that it was even there. But the sharp object lay deep within her paw, surrounded by infection that spread throughout her whole body, leaving only numbness Instead of feelings of being a bear.

As she found this memory, the bear understood what she had to do. She soon helped the little cub find its mother and then set off to find other bears in the forest and ask for their help in removing the thorn. Before long, she managed to find a bear that had much experience in thorn removal. "This is going to hurt some,” said the wise bear. "It's been buried so long that as we bring it up you may wonder if you shouldn't leave it in place so you won't have sharp pain now. But,” she went on "this thorn has hurt you far more than you now understand. It must come out so that the infection that it caused in your body can be healed." Then, using pressure and persuasion, the wise bear eased the sharp thorn nearer and nearer to the surface of the lonely bear's paw until at last it was visible and could be removed. The other bears helped too, and before long every bit of the thorn was out.

Getting all of the pieces of the thorn out after such a long time was painful, but the bear understood that in order for her pain to be completely gone every bit of the long embedded thorn had to be released from her paw. As she began to heal her paw sometimes hurt, but she noticed that each day she felt better and better. It was amazing - she was experiencing feelings in a new way and seeing the world through the eyes of a bear who was healthy and who, at last, loved being a bear. And to make sure she learned from her experience she told other bears how powerful a mind can be to hide the pain of a thorn buried deep in a paw. For she understood the lesson of the thorn that pain not remembered can be the most destructive pain of all.

- Copyright 1989 by Nancy Davis, Ph.D.

I often use this story in my trauma work. This story is powerful in capturing the importance of working through trauma vs ignoring, or trying to forget the trauma. Ignoring a trauma we experienced can feel easier for some, or maybe even make more sense so a person does not have to relive the pain. However, ignoring our trauma can be dangerous and hurtful to our well-being. As we see in the story, the bear forgets about the thorn in her paw, and this does not necessarily allow her to live a happy life, instead she is unsure as to why she often felt this deep sadness within her. Similarly, if we ignore or try to forget a trauma, our body and unconscious mind will still remember and we will be robbed of truly feeling joy.

Unresolved trauma impacts each individual differently. The common symptoms we hear of are those related to PTSD: having flashbacks, nightmares or unwanted memories, experiencing distress related to trauma reminders, avoidance of trauma reminders, negative thoughts after the trauma, negative affect/mood, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbance. Symptoms of having experienced a trauma can also look like (but are not limited to): depression, anxiety, engaging in risky behavior (substance use, sexual encounters, speeding, fighting, or other dangerous activities), substance use, suicidal ideation, isolation, poor social relationships (difficulty trusting others or difficulty letting go of toxic relationships), etc. If we allow a trauma to go unresolved, we rob ourselves of our potential in life, and although a person may feel fine forgetting the trauma, there will be moments in which it will come back and impact them negatively.

For this reason, and also because we each deserve to be happy, it is so important that we engage in the healing process of trauma. We each are created in the image of God, we are each created to love and be loved. Trauma may taint this image for us, but if we allow ourselves to be healed, we can once again see our beauty and our worth in the way that God intended it to be.

Healing from trauma is never easy, nor is there a trajectory of how the healing process should look like. The healing process is different for each person and unique to their experience; therefore, let us be careful in comparing our journeys and let us not be discouraged in our process. Joy, love and renewal are always at the end of the healing journey.

Where do I begin? First and foremost, pray, reflect and prepare yourself. It is never an easy decision to get started and does take courage and strength. So, pray for courage and for strength to start the process, and make the commitment to yourself that you want to heal for yourself because you love yourself and you deserve it. Also, invite God in the process with you. Yes, He is always present with us, but when we actively invite and ask Him to be a part of our healing journey, we can feel His presence even more. Next, it is important to work with a trauma-informed clinician (which most are), and to work with a clinician in which you feel connected with. We will not be a good fit for everyone that we work with and it is okay to find that right fit for you. From there, you will develop a relationship and begin your journey. In the therapeutic relationship, you will have a safe space to process and work through your trauma. And yes, it is not easy. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, it can be painful. These are all common reactions, but working through will ultimately lead to your healing. You may not understand how at first, but you will after. Remember to be kind to yourself in the process, because again, healing is not a straight trajectory, it can look like this:

Do not be discouraged and do not be afraid. Because at the end, there is true healing. Most importantly, trust that the Lord will be on the journey with you. God wants nothing more than for us to be happy and to be loved.

"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31

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