Trauma and Desire: The Spectrum of Trauma, Part Two

This week on The Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender continues our series on the Spectrum of Trauma by wrestling with trauma and desire, engaging how the existence of seemingly small, daily experiences of harm fit into our broader understanding of trauma. Dan is joined by Abby Wong-Heffter, a licensed mental health therapist and member of The Allender Center’s Teaching Staff, whose article “Post Traumatic Single Disorder” prompted this series.

“The reality is, we live in a traumatic world,” says Dan.“We live in a traumatic season between the already and the not yet. And the more we taste of goodness, the more the reality of small t and large T Trauma is actually part of our worlds.”

As they talk about the reactions to the article, some of which Dan read in last week’s episode, Dan asks Abby why she thinks her words stirred up such a strong response. “We have such a hard time with desire,” says Abby. “And I think so much of what I was speaking of, what I named as traumatic for me, was to live with constant desire with a sense that you don’t know if that desire is ever going to be met or responded to. It’s a place where you can feel, so often, the absence of God, or the sense of being left, abandoned. There is a fierce response to someone speaking desire.”

Dan and Abby talk about our inclination to comparison, the tendency to minimize one experience of harm or trauma because it pales in comparison to the horror of another experience. While this kind of awareness can be helpful in avoiding self-pity, far too often comparison is used to ignore, belittle, or shame our own wounds. “The problem, I think, is where we are unwilling to look at our own tragedies, our own traumatic experiences, because we know someone else whose story seems so much more horrific than our own,” says Abby.

“I don’t think we do well for the Gospel when we make small things that have broken the heart of God.”

Dan continues the conversation by highlighting a few concepts from the article and asking Abby to engage them in more detail—like the way that suffering can become a “new normal” when we’re struggling to make it through each day, or how old wounds can be triggered by present circumstances, or the ways that we are confronted with the prospect of loss.

Dan: “We need to be faithful with the pinpricks, the microaggressions, the heartaches that come with something that does not feel so big that it seems to fit the word trauma. I don’t think that ameliorates the capital T Trauma, I think it helps us understand it as part of living in a fallen world.”