Playing The Trauma Card

the trauma card

Several years ago a “naturopathic” medicine group in New England sold a “trauma card” that supposedly cured numerous illnesses.  The trauma card simply had to be held for about fifteen minutes per day and the healing was forthcoming.  According to trauma card co-founder, Mary  Miller, “It’s a non-toxic, non-invasive way to help some people get their mental and emotional stability back.”  The Toronto Star (September 24, 2004)  reported, “The trauma card, a little bigger than a postcard, has certain herbs, minerals and cell salts in homeopathic amounts embedded between the layers of the laminated card, which has symbols, colours and shapes on both exterior sides. Miller says the contents of the card and its colours and patterns all have their own energies, and work together to give it its impact.”  Up until this fine service was shut down for fraud, you could have had your own personal trauma card for only $650.

Those of us in the mental health profession are familiar with another kind of trauma card.  That card usually comes out when people attempt to excuse or explain their behavior based on bogus or severely exaggerated trauma claims.  Please understand, I am not talking about genuine trauma.  I’ll get to that in a second.  I’m talking about a pattern of victim logic that is pervasive in American society today.  People regularly demand  a pass on personal responsibility by playing the trauma card or its close relative, the victim card.   For example, I was talking to a guy recently who told me that he doesn’t attend church because he was made to go when he was a kid.  He added that he had “religion crammed down” his throat and now he wants nothing to do with faith of any kind.  Apparently, the horrors of church attendance and moral teaching still haunted him today.  I wasn’t buying it.  Sitting for an hour in a place you don’t want to be and aren’t interested in is not abusive or traumatic.  Annoying, uncomfortable, boring and tedious experiences aren’t a setup for post traumatic stress disorder.  Most of us call that dynamic simply “going to work every day.”

Trauma is a tricky subject because we seriously do not want to throw the genuine baby out with the bath.  I have done post trauma debriefings with missionaries around the world.  In missions, trauma is not someone needing a hug after getting scolded or denied a snack after school.  I have worked with people who lived through wars, extended captivity, life threatening assaults, and natural disasters.  There is real trauma out there.  And I also understand that trauma is in the eyes of the beholder.  Individual trauma definitions seem to follow a person’s pain tolerance.   People who are capable of handling more physical and psychological discomfort usually raise the bar on their particular trauma definition.  Most missionaries are in that higher bar zone.  They have had to adapt to greater levels of all kinds of discomfort.  So, when we talk about trauma in the missions context it is always a big deal.  The trauma card isn’t played lightly.

Genuine trauma is not a life sentence to avoiding the triggering contexts.  People actually work through the pain and come out on the other side stronger.   Contrary to popular wisdom, trauma is not necessarily a source of ongoing weakness, but is more commonly a springboard for growth.  Survivors of real hardship rarely pull the trauma card out the deck.  Most don’t even know it’s in there.  Many of you are familiar with the story of Joni Eareckson-Tada.  In 1967, Joni broke her neck in a diving accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down.  At 17 years of age she suffered a devastating trauma that goes well beyond a mere childhood inconvenience.  Since then, Joni has had a successful career as a musician, author, and artist and is the founder/CEO of Joni and Friends, a ministry to people with disabilities.  In the past year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  This person understands the effect of real trauma.  In reflecting on her life, Joni writes,  ‘In a way I wish I could take to heaven my old, tattered Everest & Jennings wheelchair. I would point to the empty seat and say, “Lord, for decades I was paralyzed in this chair. But it showed me how paralyzed You must have felt to be nailed to Your Cross. My limitations taught me something about the limitations You endured when You laid aside Your robes of state and put on the indignity of human flesh.” At that point, with my strong and glorified body, I might sit in it, rub the armrests with my hands, look up at Jesus, and add, “the weaker I felt in this chair, the harder I leaned on You. And the harder I leaned, the more I discovered how strong You are. Thank You, Jesus for learning obedience in Your suffering…You gave me grace to learn obedience in mine.”

You can play Joni Eareckson-Tada faith card as often as you need to.  You have my permission.

Hey…it’s fortnight.  Get out there and enjoy it.  And no more whining…

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