3621 Brierhill Dr , Island Lake - Illinois +1.812-345-6941,Message Me
I specialize in working with people who have experienced adverse life events. Whether you’ve suffered abuse, neglect, relationship betrayals, domestic violence, rape, accidents, natural disasters, or other traumas, you need not suffer alone. I can help you regain your life and peace of mind. Even if you’ve tried therapy before and didn’t get the relief you hoped for, please don’t despair. This field is evolving rapidly and I am confident that I can help you find lasting relief. Don’t just tolerate the painful symptoms of PTSD, dissociation, anxiety, depression, and grief. It IS possible to heal even your deepest wounds.
In addition to helping people cope with trauma, I'm also experienced with performance enhancement. I can help you prepare for public speaking, athletics, and academic events (such as dissertation completion.) If you are a creative type, I enjoy helping people prepare for theatrical, vocal and instrumental performances as well as assisting writers facing the dreaded "writer's block" --
My approach is warm and caring.
I am deeply respectful of all spiritual paths.
I am GLBTQI supportive.
I have been a trauma specialist providing compassionate, comprehensive counseling services for adults, children, teens, couples, and families since 1990.
I provide consultation and training to other clinicians on trauma-focused care. I am a national trainer and consultant for the DNMS Institute and am a certified consultant, facilitator, and trainer for EMDR.
Have you ever felt like a secure, confident adult one moment, then after something triggering happens, suddenly felt like a sad, angry, or fearful child? When we’re significantly wounded in childhood, child parts of self get stuck in time. From then on, those wounded child parts feel hurt, powerless, alone, and lost. They hold negative, untrue beliefs about self and world. Reminders of a painful past can trigger a flood of overwhelming emotions, evoking a felt sense that the past is still happening now. Some child parts manage those painful emotions with troubling behaviors – like overeating, starving, withdrawing, gambling, or drinking.
There are 2 kinds of childhood wounds – trauma wounds and attachment wounds. Trauma wounds form when safety needs are not met well. This occurs when bad things happen – like a tornado, hurricane, or school shooting. Attachment wounds form when emotional needs are not met well. This occurs when important good things do not happen – like when parents fail to make a loving connection, soothe painful emotions, or attune. When parents are physically abusive or threatening, they inflict both trauma and attachment wounds.
What if there was a therapy that could heal wounded child parts stuck in old trauma and attachment wounds by helping them get their unmet emotional and safety needs met now? What if this therapy could help child parts come to feel emotionally secure, valuable, lovable, and safe? Would that interest you?
The DNMS is a gentle, multidimensional, comprehensive, strengths-based, client-centered, ego-state therapy developed by Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, LPC. It helps heal childhood trauma and attachment wounds by meeting the needs of wounded child parts to help them get unstuck from the past. The DNMS starts with mobilizing a team of loving internal Resources. The Resources join the therapist in providing all the emotional support, compassion, empathy, and radical acceptance wounded parts needed in childhood but didn’t get. They’re gently given all the information they need to come out of the past and into the safety of the present moment. As more and more wounded parts heal, unwanted behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and urges diminish. Internal conflicts fade out and self-esteem grows. All this makes it easier to handle the stresses of life with adult skills and strengths.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is an 8 phase approach to psychotherapy that is internationally recognized as an empirically supported treatment when provided by a clinician who has completed an EMDRIA Approved Basic Training in EMDR.
Scientific research has shown that EMDR is effective for trauma; in addition, clients and clinicians are reporting that EMDR is successful in treating other issues.
(Does this stuff really work?)
EMDR is a research-based therapy with over 20 years of scientific validation. There are more controlled studies validating EMDR for the treatment of PTSD (post- traumatic stress disorder) than any other treatment method.
The Evidence on E.M.D.R. (New York Times)
The practice guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association (2004), American Psychological Association, and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense (2004) have placed EMDR in the highest category of effectiveness.
EMDR is currently a top rated treatment for trauma, both single incident (car accident, natural disasters) and complex (chronic childhood deprivation and abuse). Brain research has shown that trauma significantly alters not only brain chemistry but also brain structure; PET brain scans have shown that EMDR facilitates neurobiological repair.
If you would like to read more about EMDR, including case studies I recommend:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKrfH43srg8 EMDR video
I provide professional training and group and individual consultation.
Feel free to contact me if you would like to schedule a training for your agency or your area. For currently scheduled trainings click here: https://www.dnmsinstitute.com/livewebinars/
The DNMS is a multidimensional, comprehensive, strengths-based, client-centered, ego-state therapy developed by Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, LPC. It’s informed by ego-state theory, developmental psychology, self-reparenting therapy, attachment theory, EMDR therapy, and an understanding of mirror neurons. The DNMS addresses unwanted behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and urges rooted in unmet emotional needs from childhood trauma and attachment wounds. It’s based on 2 important ideas.
(1) Childhood trauma wounds form when safety needs are not met well. This occurs when bad things happen – like a tornado, hurricane, or school shooting. Attachment wounds form when emotional needs are not met well. This occurs when important good things do not happen – like parents failing to make a loving connection, soothe painful emotions, or attune. When parents are physically abusive or threatening, they inflict both trauma and attachment wounds.
(2) When we’re significantly wounded in childhood, child parts of self get stuck in time. From then on, those wounded child parts feel hurt, powerless, alone, and lost. They hold negative, untrue beliefs about self and world. Reminders of a painful past can trigger a flood of overwhelming emotions, evoking a felt sense that the past is still happening now. Some child parts manage those painful emotions with troubling behaviors – like overeating, starving, withdrawing, gambling, or drinking.
The DNMS helps heal childhood trauma and attachment wounds by meeting the needs of wounded child parts to help them get unstuck from the past. It starts with mobilizing a team of loving internal Resources. The Resources join the therapist in providing all the emotional support, compassion, empathy, and radical acceptance wounded parts needed in childhood but didn’t get. They’re gently given all the information they need to come out of the past and into the safety of the present moment. As more and more wounded parts heal, unwanted behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and urges diminish. Internal conflicts fade out and self-esteem grows. All this makes it easier to handle the stresses of life with adult skills and strengths. To learn more, click on the video link below.
As an EMDR training, facilitator, and consultant I provide consultation for clinicians who are recently trained in EMDR, those who would like additional guidance on using EMDR with complex cases, those seeking EMDR certification, and those needing consultation toward their hours to become certified EMDR consultants.
Please contact me if you are interested in bringing an EMDR or DNMS related training to your area.
Trauma-Informed Care trainings are available in formats ranging from from 2 hours to 3 days. Please contact me for more information or to discuss customizing the training to fit the needs of your agency.
Forgiveness as an act of defiance
Since 1990 I have worked counseling survivors of all kinds of violence. I have listened to brutal details of atrocities that happen daily in people’s homes and lives. Over and over again troubling polarities are imposed on victims about forgiveness. These include that:
Demands for forgiveness are all too often heaped upon victims' already broken backs. Judgments against victims' righteous rage become fuel for their self-hatred when instead anger is necessary to mobilize victims to protect themselves, to set boundaries, and to create whatever safety is possible. The impulse for retaliation is normal even inevitable, a feeling that when accepted and validated is actually less likely to be acted upon.
It has become my conviction that the only forgiveness necessary for the violated to heal is forgiving themselves for being vulnerable and then doing the extremely hard work of healing, of cleaning up the fallout from destruction that they did not cause.
With their pain in mind, this is my reflection on forgiveness at this point in time. I recognize and honor with humility that it is but one response among many and that each survivor has the right to determine what forgiveness means and does not mean within their own unique healing process.
What if sometimes forgiveness is an act of defiance and can be offered simultaneously alongside anger and demands for justice?
A message of forgiveness to my perpetrator
You. Hurt. Me. You hurt me not just once, not twice, but endlessly, relentlessly…. you are hurting me still. You destroy me over and over again in my mind, my body, my soul. For me it is not over. I am shattered. Day and night the terror of you grips me like your fingers around my throat, your words battering my heart. Even worse, you sowed your seeds of hate into me. Hatred is a parasitic worm and violence is its symptom; I REFUSE to be its carrier. You will not use my body or my heart as its host.
Although you have evoked within me the urge to seek revenge, the impulse to destroy, I will resist your impact on my emotions. I will not permit you to degrade my true self. I will not be crushed by your hands into a bitter or cruel person. I will not be desecrated by you.
I am not like you, and I will never become like you. Even in my vast human imperfections I am and will remain a kind person, a compassionate person. I will never become one of you. Not even to punish you will I align myself with your vile, violent energy, your foul, defiling focus that emanates still from your eyes into mine.
I will not allow you to dictate my reaction to you. My response is my own. My response will reflect ME, who I am. My response will not be determined by who you are or by any wish that you may have that I become contaminated by you and therefore become one of you. You will not provoke me to lash out in violence so that you can feel less guilty if you prove that I am hateful too. I will not give you that satisfaction. I will not be a receptacle for the poison within you. My protest, my ultimate resistance, my action against your actions, will be my refusal to bow or even bend toward your pull upon my life. I oppose all that your brutality has stirred within me.
I will resist hatred’s magnetic urgings, as if you have placed within my very core an electric force that pulses with negative charge, a loaded bomb that reacts to the slightest quiver of movement, ready to explode. With every fiber of my being, I will refuse to hate you back. I will dismantle this bomb. I will not allow the sordidness that you have driven like a sword into me to dictate who I will be and how I will live. These bundles of nerves that will not cease fire, automatic shots like a machine gun in my brain, my mind that you have shattered into so many pieces I cannot find peace. I will disarm, I will quell, I will soothe, I will bring serenity to my own body and mind.
You may not fight your war here. I will not allow you to turn my body into a battlefield, my mind into a minefield. I will defy you and I will recover. I will not abandon this wreckage that remains. I will demolish your destruction by repairing what you have ravaged. Your ugly marks upon me will not stand as a monument mocking what used to be. I will build that monument. It is mine to determine what remains and it will bear no resemblance to how you left it.
What you debased, I will exalt
What you poisoned I will purify
What you diminished I will amplify.
Where you soiled, I will plant gardens.
Where you spit, I will build a fire and burn there all remnants of your contempt. Upon its embers I will place a caldron and cook a soup; then I will feed the hungry from its warmth.
What you have left in pieces I will fasten together to form a mosaic that tells the story of never-the-less, of hope, of love and kindness.
What you have torn apart, I will sew with needle and thread and offer as comforters for the cold and the lonely.
What the force of your destruction has split apart and scattered across the landscape, I will gather into my arms; then with hammer and nails I will construct from these a shelter for those who have no home.
What you have twisted I will turn and I will turn, like a potter turning clay, so that what you left misshapen will become a cup for the thirsty to drink from.
I will not be your mirror. When you look to me, you will not see your hatred reflected back. You will not recognize your eyes in mine. You will not watch your ripples be carried upon my waters, within my tears.
I will cry for you too, not just for what you have done to me but for what you have done to yourself. I will cry for the child you once were, for the person you might have been.
I will cry so that you will not be able to harden my heart as yours has been hardened. I will cry for all those who have become what you are.
I will cry for those who have also been wounded by you and by those like you. I will reach out to these others and together we will survey the devastation before us. Together we will raise our voices in songs of protest, in outcries of caring. We will not sound the battle call as you have done. We will not answer your call to arms. We will use our arms for binding up wounds and for encircling the vulnerable so that they will be held safely in our embrace, so that they will not have to know what we have known or feel what we have had to feel.
And every night I will count the stars. Every day I will name the beauty that surrounds me. When I cannot see it clearly, I will remember the true color of the fields and the sky; I will remind myself that they are not grey. I will recall color even when it has been washed from my eyes. I will relearn its subtlety and its power, and I will carefully color in the spaces that you have turned to ash.
I will paint the laughter of children, of the gentleness of the parents who carry them singing, nose to nose, their eyes that pour love- pure and passionate, ready-to-die-for-them love. I will mix these with the holiness of a baby’s first smile and an old person’s last breath and paint the world with them. I will gather goodness like shells on the beach and I will make necklaces from them to ward off your evils, and I will teach others how to make them too.
I will count the moments of mercy that fall into my life daily: an “excuse me” on the sidewalk, a moment of civility in the checkout line, a Meals-on-wheels delivery down the street, a donation made to causes that fight against you: a gift to a battered women’s shelter, toys for children in foster-care, peanut butter each week to the food pantry.
Where you have taught me to hate, I will rebel by loving.
I turn your presence, invasive and destructive, over to God, so that you do not remain within me, within my spirit, contaminating my life and my soul. I banish you from me. You belong to God and may God have mercy upon your soul.
I will pray for your transformation. I pray for the goodness and gifts that you were born with, that were part of your original blessing. I pray for all of those who have loved you, those who continue to care about the parts of you that may yet be redeemed, that their love might work its way into your hatred and turn your heart around.
I will pray for my own hatred toward you, that it be on fire in the furnace of God’s warmth, God’s love, God’s power; that it be as a crucible, an alchemy so that it no longer will be what it is, seething, hurting, horrified, hateful, hungry for revenge, consumed by the pain of what you have done. I pray that from this crucible might emerge something stronger still, some form created from terror’s transformation, some structure that is stronger than any weapon.
You laid across my life curses upon curses; but I choose to give to you blessings upon blessings. I find no pleasure in adding to the agonies of hell, either on earth or after death. There is already too much hell, too many who are tormented. I wish for you what you do not deserve: life, not merely survival, but fullness of life.
May compassion be carved into the core of your being. May the pain that will come with knowing fully what you have done be a cleansing and healing suffering, growing pains announcing authentic change. May you find the courage to see yourself as you are and as you have been, and the strength to look beyond that at who you could yet become.
May the harm done to you that has made you what you are be transformed and healed with each amends that you make. May you experience God’s complete knowledge of you and love for you and from that may you learn to care for yourself and for others. May you develop the potential that is uniquely yours and may you find deep joy as you discover your true purpose. The meaning of any life is always holy, sacred, and of benefit not only to you but to the needs of the world; offering it is an ultimate amends.
I have no more time to give to you, either in hatred or in striving toward forgiveness. I have much work to do and in doing my own healing work, I am unbinding you from me and from the havoc you have done, from the consequence of your violence. The rest is between you and the One who holds your soul. Amen. (Copyright Lynn James, September 2014)
SPIRITUALITY, EVIL, AND SUFFERING
As a trauma therapist, I hear daily how people’s spiritual beliefs can be a deep source of comfort, strength, and wisdom or sadly at times can literally reinforce the messages of abusers.
Abusers tell their victims:
Research shows that when someone is traumatized but receives support and help afterwards their distress is reduced and they are less likely to develop PTSD. Sadly, many become retraumatized by those they turn to for help.
I believe it is certainly not most people’s intention to inflame the wounds when they make these comments. Most people are sincerely trying to be comforting while also protecting themselves from feeling vulnerable. The cost for this defense is that it blocks compassion. If people are getting what they deserve, are being taught some lesson, or can contaminate others with their “negative energy”, care and connection are displaced by disdain and rejection.
This is an age old spiritual and philosophical problem that we all grapple with. Why is there so much suffering? Here are my reflections to credibly and compassionately respond. These are a result of my own personal struggle with the question of spirituality, evil, and suffering. I offer these thoughts humbly, respectfully, and with heartfelt wishes and prayers for healing, well-being, and peace for all.
Ultimately, what matters more than what we believe is how we live and love and serve.
Theodicy is a name for grappling with the problem of evil and suffering. If the word God is replaced by: Higher Power, Buddha nature, Allah, Brahman, Goddess, Higher Self, Karma, Source, Collective Unconscious, it is addressed in every belief system. Each “answer” to the theodicy question is an attempt to solve the often-unbearable problem of how to live with hope and meaning in the midst of evil, violence, and suffering.
Theodicy seeks to explain how the following three spiritual assertions can all be true:
1. Evil and suffering exist
2. God is all good (Omni-benevolent)
3. God is all powerful (Omnipotent)
When people are struggling to make sense of suffering, they have to let go of or redefine one of these spiritual assertions.
Usually, it is some version of #1, Evil and suffering exist, that is redefined. This inevitably leads to some form of victim blaming or a minimization of traumatic experiences.
My standard, the center around which all my reflections about suffering must revolve, is this quote by holocaust survivor Irving Greenberg:
“Nothing should be said, theological or otherwise, that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children.”
Years later, in need of a way to balance the nihilism this engenders (and after reading too much Camus and Nietzsche), I added:
“Nothing should be said, philosophical or otherwise, that would make their deaths less tragic by insisting that life is absurd, meaningless, and not worth living.”
1. AN EXAMINATION OF THE SPIRITUAL ASSERTION THAT EVIL AND SUFFERING EXIST IN A WORLD WITH AN ALL- GOOD AND ALL-POWERFUL GOD
How can the vast amount of evil and suffering in the world be compatible with an all-powerful and all-loving God?
To resolve this, evil and suffering are often explained as being an illusion, not real, or a misunderstanding of reality.
Here are the arguments most commonly put forward:
A. “Everything happens for a reason”
In this argument, what appears to be evil is viewed as what is necessary to achieve a greater good; if it is necessary for greater good then it is not actually evil. It is an “ends justify the means” belief.
Some people find it comforting to believe that something bad is happening in order that that something good will come of it or that the suffering they are enduring is a temporary “pain” in order to bring about some greater “gain.” Sometimes this is true. The ability to endure discomfort to accomplish a goal is an essential life skill called self-discipline. It helps people exercise, practice difficult tasks, study, go to work, fulfill responsibilities, and save money. There is an enormous difference, however, between discomfort and true suffering, between pain chosen freely for a positive purpose and pain inflicted through violence.
Sometimes, even extreme pain can be transformed in remarkable ways. When suffering is responded to with kindness, skillful assistance, comfort, and loyal witnessing, survivors of trauma may gain many things including increased strength, extended resiliency, deeper compassion for others, and powerful self discoveries. It is not the perpetrator of the traumatic experience that gave these gifts but the supportive allies and a survivor’s hard work!
If everything happens for a reason, most often the reason traumatic suffering happens is because a there are people who intentionally inflict pain on others, people who are sadistic, selfish, greedy, or otherwise terribly broken and they make a choice to do harm. The victim is never responsible for the perpetrator’s choices and violating behaviors.
If a woman is passed out at a party, rape is not inevitable; a man could choose to cover her up and protect her, or simply understand that he has no right to touch her without her consent. Interviews with batterers tell us that the decision to beat up his partner is made long before she has burned the dinner or otherwise displeased him. The decision to batter is also made before he gets drunk; in fact, the alcohol is often a pre-planned excuse for his later behavior.
Even so called “high risk” situations are only “high risk” because of the likelihood of a perpetrator being present; if no perpetrator is present, nothing bad happens. The vast majority of violence and abuse happens in the home or other supposedly “low risk” places and at the hands of people who are known and trusted.
Both painful and joyful experiences also happen randomly, being in either the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time; in life there is both randomness and causation.
B. “Suffering teaches us lessons we need to learn”
Perpetration is not instruction.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the idea that suffering teaches us necessary lessons implies that the victim should send the perpetrator a thank you note on teacher’s appreciation day for teaching him or her a lesson.
Abusers are NOT being instruments of cosmic goodness but of destruction and harm. Any healing, growth, deepening of soul that comes out of that destruction is because of the love, the support, the inner resiliency, the courage, the hard, hard work, of survivors and their allies. The evildoers do not get credit. They are not the in the service of God, Karma, etc. They are working against the evolving spirituality, light, love, and compassion at work in the world and within each soul.
It is important to distinguish between the necessary sorts of suffering that are inherently part of being human from traumatic suffering that is the result of violence, torture, and cruelty. Necessary suffering includes growing pains, healing pains, the natural cycles of living and dying, creation and dissolution, mistakes, and amends-making. This suffering is universal and embedded within it is the potential for the comfort of connection, loving memories, shared humanity, and even beauty.
Grief and loss, growing pains, humbling moments of mistakes and the painful vulnerability of amends--these sorts of suffering do indeed mature us and help us evolve spiritually. These are not “sent” to teach a lesson; they are the result of the laws of nature and human imperfection. How we choose to respond determines whether we grow, mature, deepen, increase in empathy and compassion or allow our pain to make us bitter, despairing, and closed-hearted.
Traumatic suffering is caused by abuse, neglect, violation, and atrocity. In my own personal experience, and sitting with clients describing unbearable horrors, I am unable to abide with any belief that suggests that extreme suffering is purposeful, to teach a lesson.
No child is born cursed to a life of suffering to learn lessons. All children are born blessed within, spiritually, which makes the injustice of the global inequalities of our world even more tragic. Children achieve their fullest potential through being nurtured, taught, allowed to struggle, to safely fail, to make mistakes, to make amends, to experience both hurt and healing, and to know that all of this is all part of being human. Shame, terror, unbearable pain, and traumatic suffering are not teachers; in fact, when the mind/body/spirit are overwhelmed, the frontal lobes, which are essential for learning, are literally shut down.
C. The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction puts forth that every positive or negative event that happens to you was attracted by you; your thoughts manifest/make your reality.
This idea has been around for a long time but was made popular recently by the book The Secret. The Law of Attraction states that everything that happens to you, positive and negative, is caused by your thoughts; whatever you focus on will be attracted to you. Negative thoughts cause negative things to happen to you and positive thoughts cause positive things to occur. People are taught to ask the universe for what they want and think positively expecting these things to happen, including obtaining items of material wealth and cures for diseases.
The problem is that this often leads people to become phobic of the healthy range of human emotions and to avoid people who are experiencing suffering. This belief system often becomes a block to compassion, support, and intimacy.
It is normal for people to have all sorts of thoughts--positive and negative, anxious and hopeful. Many mental health interventions are intended to help people understand that they are not their thoughts, that their thoughts are not magic, and that having a thought does not cause something to happen outside of their mind. Those whose hearts are open to the tragedies as well as the joys of others, often report higher levels of satisfaction with their lives. Those who choose to live simply and not to pursue excessive material wealth also score higher on happiness inventories.
Human beings are not islands of isolation where causation is linear and immediate. We live within circles of community, of family, of relationships, and are even affected by ripples that past generations set in motion. There are numerous and complex influences that have an impact on us at any moment, many of which are beyond our control. We live in an interdependent ecology where all aspects of creation are so interconnected that they cannot help but affect each other.
Most spiritual belief systems have the concept of meditating or praying on your goals and seeking to set yourself in the creative, spiritual flow that will guide you to reach them. This may include getting in touch with your deepest dreams and yearnings, writing down your goals and being mindful of choices that are in sync or out of sync with reaching them, seeking the wisdom of your intuition as well as your rational mind, seeking connection with God, spiritual guides, and people you trust. All these actions are considered part of a spiritual discipline that can help people fulfill their life’s purpose. Spirituality can be part of both setting and working toward the goals which are part of that. In most spiritualties the idea of setting goals for obtaining more material things than necessary is discouraged.
I love many aspects of Buddhism and am a grateful follower of many Buddhist practices especially Metta, the loving-kindness mediation. I believe the Dalai Lama is an embodiment of sacred compassion and wisdom. I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of Karma as Buddhism teaches, but out of my experience, I reject the notion that whatever someone is experiencing in this life is because of what they did or didn’t do in a past life and that therefore the suffering they are experiencing is because it was needed to evolve their soul.
I personally cannot place this statement, “Whatever happens in this life is a consequence of what you’ve done in a past life,” next to burning children. To interpret the meaning of Karma in this way is to insist that the universe is “just” and “good” by saying that atrocities are necessary and even instruments of healing and purification.
Tremendous growth may be possible in the healing process, but traumatic suffering neurologically inhibits the healing process making it much harder. It is an overwhelming effort just to survive extreme, traumatic suffering. People who have experienced horrific events find themselves not only in pain but also suddenly blocked from access to the innate, hard wired, healing resources within their body/minds and communities.
The biological mechanisms for processing trauma and then archiving it in the brain as something that happened and is now OVER disrupted by the physiology of survival terror. The hippocampus, the part of the brain that sorts and archives experience, is shut down during traumatic events. This leaves the trauma locked in the right hemisphere of the brain, stored in fragmented capsules of vivid sensory experience and strong emotions.
Survivors of abuse are often consumed with self-loathing. They may fear allowing themselves to experience positive emotions because relaxation and happiness mean a lowering of defensives. The physiology of trauma experience causes them to frequently become flooded with flashbacks of being unsafe, vulnerable, violated.
In cases of extreme abuse, many survivors were calculatingly programmed by their abusers to self-destruct if they feel an impulse of compassion for themselves, or any self-affirmation that would undo the abusers’ control over their lives. All people are born with intrinsic healing capacities; in cases of extreme abuse the perpetrator not only inflicts suffering but also attacks the victim’s innate resources for healing.
For me, it is essential to affirm that all children are born good, full of blessings and potentials, innate compassionate capacities, brimming with light and love, yearning for safety and connection in addition to the potential for aggression and cruelty. The triumph of healthy development, the achievement of their soul’s purpose, is best served when they are well cared for. When they are fed, soothed, and celebrated and when they are supported to grow in resiliency through the naturally occurring difficulties and sufferings of life, the ebb and flow of pain and relief, tears and laughter.
Research has shown again and again that patterns of aggression and cruelty are often linked to extreme childhood neglect and abuse. The difference between survivors who become perpetrators and most survivors, who do not go on to abuse others, is whether the child developed empathic connections to other beings, even to an animal.
We learn life lessons best when they are taught with love, with patience, and with a profound, unconditional belief that children and all human beings everywhere are deserving of respect and are meant to thrive. The human brain is hard wired for empathic attachment, to experience joy, to heal, to be comforted in grief, to gain strength and courage in order to overcome adversity, and to live in harmony with self and others.
I believe it is essential to assure people that adversity is not being sent to them to refine them like they are metal in a fire but because that it is simply part of being human. It is the warmth of loving connection, healthy self esteem, and the hard, courageous work of standing in the truth of one’s life, that may transform suffering, even extreme suffering, into infinite possibilities. Karmic destiny is fulfilled despite evil, not because of it.
Finally, I had a client who was very attached to her suffering as a way of achieving enlightenment in the next life. I suggested gently, hesitantly, wondering if she might have chosen to become embodied in a horrific situation in order to bring healing and hope to others who suffered as she did. In other words, I suggested that she may have chosen her path, not because she had to experience horrific abuse in order to attain enlightenment, but because in her soul’s compassion, perhaps she looked upon the suffering of others and chose to enter into it in order to help transform it. This was, for her, a powerful and helpful shift for her depression. I’m not saying that would work for everyone, but perhaps it could change the experience of being “cursed” and the victim deserving their fate, into a more heroic story, which is much more accurate.
E. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
This premise is absolutely NOT true. Suffering often kills, if not physically, then mentally, spiritually, and morally. Every 65 minutes a combat veteran commits suicide. The Adverse Child Experience Study (ACES) proves a strong correlation between child abuse and neglect and both physical and mental illnesses. All too often, suffering breaks people.
I repeat: When people do emerge from hell and heal and are even, some of them, especially strong at the broken places, it is my experience, my belief, that it is because of the love, the comfort, the attuned connection, of the listeners, the helpers, their own inner wisdom and healing abilities, their courageous hard work and determined, and tenacious struggling to heal, NOT the atrocity that made them strong. The love at work in their lives deserves the credit for their healing, NOT the hatred, not the perpetrators. Again, I REJECT anything that implies that anyone must someday thank their abusers for “helping” them.
2. AN EXAMINATION OF THE SPIRITUAL ASSERTION THAT GOD IS ALL GOOD EVEN THOUGH THERE IS EVIL
A. If God is all-powerful and evil/suffering/atrocity happen, then how can God be all-good?
There are versions of redefining the goodness of God in most belief systems, usually by making God exempt from morality, outside of ethical standards. It is common in many religions to invoke an angry, vengeful even violent deity at times and tell sacred stories of the deity behaving in immoral and destructive ways toward humankind in order to either execute punishment or bring about some greater good.
Even the notion of hell, sending people into an eternity, forever and ever, of torture and pain, is considered an appropriate response to “sin” by a “good” God. Some religions have different deities that “destroy” or make war. Some refer to different faces of the divine or that there is a “shadow” side of God. The message is that fear is part of faith, and they teach followers ways to appease the wrath of God. This includes teaching that people should pray, perform rituals, make offerings, or otherwise cajole the deity into mercy.
This is chilling in its similarity to the way abused children respond to those who hurt them, especially when they are being abused by parents or people they are attached to, dependent upon, or love. It reinforces the distorted but common perspective that victims bear responsibility for abuse because the abuse could have been prevented if only they would have prayed the correct prayer or performed some other placating action. I believe the opposite is true: It is when victims are able to connect to their anger at the abuser, to shift from appeasement to protest, to know bone deep that there is nothing they could have possibly done to deserve being abused, that there is healing.
I am an avid student of the novels of holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel because they are a powerful description of his healing journey. In his first novel Night, Wiesel describes in excruciating detail his experiences as a child in a concentration camp. There is no hope, no comfort, no meaning making. There is only a survivor’s speaking of the evil endured, telling the story, and asserting that there is meaning in telling the story if only to fulfill his promise to bear witness on behalf of those “turned to smoke”.
In the book Dawn, the character decides whether he will kill, will take revenge. In The Accident, the character wrestles with the pull to commit suicide. In Town Beyond the Wall he takes on those who stand by and do nothing, the culpability of those who hide behind their “neutrality” as spectators and observers as if not taking sides can keep their hands clean.
In Gates of the Forest living becomes a protest against an all powerful and morally corrupt God. There is a scene at the end of that book that I must have read 100 times. Holocaust survivors are ecstatically dancing, angry, defiant, pronouncing God as less moral than they are and that God is the one in need of forgiveness. In that moment of rage however, they are deciding to live if for no other reason than to protest against an unjust God.
There are no platitudes in Wiesel’s novels, no happy endings, no whitewashing of the agony of surviving and the ambivalence of living, but there are moments of human transcendence, courage, tenderness, love, compassion, and healing.
I will never forget the moment when I saw a newspaper photo of Elie Wiesel throwing out the first baseball in the 1986 world series. It is one thin moment of simple happiness that stands in profound contrast to the thousands of words he’s written that paint pictures of horror and evil. It is especially meaningful because he is not a baseball fan; he agreed to throw the ball because of his son’s excitement about him doing it. I have a copy of the photo tucked away in our fireproof safe with our important papers. It sounds ridiculous, silly, but this little newspaper clipping showing a look on his face that is boyish and playful, connected to the happiness of his son, is sacred to me.
B. “God is testing me”
If this premise is true, then God is sadistic. Any parent or teacher, who causes harm to the student, inflicts pain and suffering in order to “test” them, would be considered immoral. What exactly should infliction of suffering measure? If God is “all knowing” anyway, why is testing necessary? Profound suffering (as differentiated from growing pains) is not instructive but is destructive. Again, what transforms all suffering is love, care, support, compassion, comfort, and for me, THAT is where the Holy is found, as a Source for healing, comfort, and transformation, and not as the source of the torment.
Once suffering has overwhelmed, has broken, the mind/body/spirit, causing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex PTSD, Dissociation, Dissociative Identity Disorder, it cannot be called a test. Torture is toxic and cruelty is catastrophic. Sadistic hunger for the pain of others and the need for control over their minds, spirits, and bodies is an atrocity. All of these are evil. When inflicted upon children, these harm our very DNA and create cycles of abuse that corrupt generations.
If we do not heal our shared human potential for these kinds of extreme violence, for genocide, for war upon war upon war; if we do not protect all children and teach them how to nonviolently seek justice, and to make peace within and between, humanity will not survive.
3. AN EXAMINATION OF THE SPIRITUAL ASSERTION THAT GOD IS ALL-POWERFUL EVEN THOUGH THERE IS EVIL
The notion of an “all-powerful” God is what I have had to let go, to redefine. I miss it. I often find myself inadvertently believing it again, especially in moments of sudden fear (like airplane turbulence and medical scares), seeking comfort from it again and that too is human.
For me the only spirituality I can credibly place next to Greenberg’s quote is rooted in and adapted from Process Theology. From here on I will write Higher Power or G_d instead of “God” to convey that I am not referencing the traditional God and not even describing a deity per se, much less a male gendered one. When I write Higher Power I am referencing the Source of love, life, connection, healing, compassion, courage, justice, radical possibility, and creativity. Higher Power is beyond religion and even spirituality because secular humanists and those who don’t believe in soul/spirit do usually affirm that there are non-tangible realities like love and compassion, unity, and collective wisdom and power.
Process thought offers that it is the TYPE of power that needs to be reconsidered. We are conditioned to imagine power as force, domination, combative. For Process Theology, the highest power is not force but love, not domination but compassion, not competition but connection and collaboration. Higher Power and humanity, indeed all of creation, are interdependent.
For Process Theology, there is no God “up there” who is going to come down and fix things for us and magically save the day. At every moment a Higher Power is actively, passionately, powerfully at work to bring about the best possible outcome and at every moment this is also but one power among many, especially human free will and natural laws, and is therefore necessarily limited. No matter what is happening, this Higher Power is at every moment working with us to bring about transformation, peace, solutions, and healing.
I think of this as in line with Mr. Rogers’ message to children, that when bad things are happening, look for the helpers. Stories of helpers, of kindness, of courage, were true in the horrors of the concentration camps, in the barbarity of slavery, in places of genocide and epidemics. There are, everywhere, in all times and places, ordinary heroes and heroines acting with courageous compassion, self-sacrificial generosity, and quiet humility. That is how Higher Power works. What we do matters. We are co-creators of reality. G_d is at work doing what only G_d can do and we are called to do what is ours to do-- to serve, to offer our presence, our abilities, and our efforts.
Praying, meditating, performing rituals, making offerings, and other spiritual practices become ways of connecting more deeply to the presence of G_d, the energies of transcendent guidance and help, and of the power of loving connections to our own individual body/mind/spirit as well as between one another. The complexity of our human capacities for kindness and cruelty, service and selfishness, are explored and accepted instead of denied; this reduces the need to project what we’re ashamed of about ourselves onto others.
• When we believe that the ultimate power at work in the universe is nonviolent then nonviolent resistance becomes our power too.
• If we believe that there is a power at work in the universe that is infinitely creative, then every moment is full of possibility and hope.
• If we believe that no matter what happens, our soul, the essence of who we truly are, is eternally part of, connected to, infused with, the Sacred (by whatever name) then everyone is equal and worthy of deep respect, and we are all spiritually eternal.
• If we believe that everyone has a sacred path, a unique calling, special gifts and abilities to contribute, then we are pulled beyond competitiveness fueled by ego and instead instinctively encourage, support, and celebrate each other.
• If we believe that when bad things happen there is a Higher Power working to create new paths and new possibilities, working for us not against us, there is comfort.
• If we understand that we are interdependent and interconnected with the earth and all living things, models of domination and exploitation fall away.
• If we believe that anger is a spiritual gift meant for helping and protection not vengeance or violence, then we become empowered to seek justice and speak truth to power.
• If we believe that Higher Power is within and between us, is interdependent with us, then the question changes from “How could God let this happen?” to “How can I be part of the creative, compassionate, loving power at work in all that is and is to be?”
May the power of compassion and loving-kindness for self as well as others, of courageous gentleness and humble self-awareness, be yours in all that is and is to come.
Rev. Lynn James, LMHC. Ordained Minister/Licensed Counselor. www.lynnjames.net firstname.lastname@example.org