Trauma: When your core beliefs are kicked out from under you

Trauma: lost, adrift
Trauma: lost, adrift

I once was a facilitator for a support group for adult trauma survivors. We think of trauma in connection with serious physical danger or injury, but there is a serious emotional danger and injury that is also incapacitating.

Our group member’s traumas varied and were too terrible to mention here. But why were they stuck, why could find no peace, why did they have intrusive flashbacks? I have thought a lot about this and have a theory.

We all have core beliefs about the world and our place in it. We may think people who love us would not harm us or the world is a pretty safe place in general or things only happen for a reason. These core beliefs are the foundation upon which we build the rest of our worldview.

We guard our worldview diligently; some scientists call this confirmation bias. If something challenges our worldview, we react angrily and defensively. We seek out information that bolsters our worldview and reject information that threatens it. We might say this is stupid and taken to extremes, perhaps it is. But understand, our core beliefs define us and we are truly lost without them.

Philosopher Tom Morris calls this the Principle of Belief Conservation. We can’t really prove anything, we choose what we believe and it is rational to keep our core beliefs intact unless there is a darn good reason to adjust them.

But the trauma victims did not have leisure to adjust their core beliefs-their core beliefs were kicked out from under them. They felt lost, adrift, as if the law of gravity had been suspended. They could and almost all did, recover, but they were forced to rebuild their view of the world as a safe place or their view that loved ones were safe people or even their view that everything happens for a reason that can be identified-and therefore controlled.

I sincerely hope you will never be a trauma victim. You are quite likely to encounter one at some point, though, so be understanding.

They have to rebuild the very foundation of their worldview and I can’t imagine any more difficult or painful work.

When someone pulls it off, we should salute their tremendous courage.

Forgiving the Unforgivable 


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