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You Are More Than Your Pain, Shame, and Trauma

I don’t know your story, but I can see the carefully disguised undercurrent of pain in your eyes. Most people look right past it (you are a masterful actress), but it’s plain to those who slow down enough to really see you. Those people are few and far between. It’s not just your eyes that betray you. The thick walls you have built around your heart reveal themselves in the set of your jaw. The crippling fear, stress, and anxiety that you try to cover up with self-assurance escape in the twitch of your knee, the tugging of your earlobe, or the restlessness of your fingers that just shredded that plastic tablecloth. The insecurity that relentlessly whispers that you are not good enough and that everyone must be thinking horrible things about you sneaks out in a harsh word, a loud joke, or a false dismissiveness. Even now as you sink deeper into yourself to hide (or to lash out to gain back control), the rigidity of your body announces to the world that you are shutting down and raising all your defenses.

Being a young woman in today’s society is not for the faint of heart. Some of you have had your reputations shattered because of a choice you made while you were still too young and naïve to understand the implications. Now you understand them all too well. Others had your innocence stolen from you at such a young age that you really don’t have a clue what it is like to have a childhood. Still others of you have experienced so much rejection and broken trust that you have become jaded, calloused, and numb. Many of you blame yourselves for the horrors, the neglect, and the abandonment you’ve endured (or at least for the way you responded) and live with an unbearable weight of shame and guilt. Some of you have no concept of what a healthy family looks like, and you ache for a sense of belonging and stability. Some of you bristle when your parents try to take care of or parent you because you have already been forced to take care of and parent yourself for far too long. On top of everything else, your hearts have been broken by boys and betrayed and forgotten by friends. A few of you have experienced all of the above and more.

It makes sense why you don’t want to depend on anyone but yourself. It makes sense why you’ve tried all the textbook ways to cope and maybe even become addicted to some. Your pain, your sadness, your anger, your distrust, and your fears are valid. It’s okay to let yourself feel; in fact, you need to give yourself permission to feel your emotions fully in order to move forward. No one (including you) should ever downplay, disregard, or disbelieve the reality or significance of your suffering and struggles.

At the same time, I know you don’t want those things to define you or stunt your growth. Of course they will influence you and who you become depending on how you respond to them, but I am here to tell you that what you hope to be true is in fact true – you are more than the sum of your regrets and painful circumstances. You may have made some bad choices, but you are not bad. You may have been victimized, but “victim” is not your name. There is hope for your future. You do not have to remain trapped in or held down by your past or present sins and circumstances. You have a choice in who you become.

The Bible tells us that change begins in the mind (check out Romans 12:2). Our hearts are not changed or healed by changing our circumstances or by changing other people (my husband is constantly reminding our youth group students that we can’t control other people – we can only control ourselves). True and lasting change comes by changing the way we think. The things we believe in our mind will inevitably come out in our actions and form our character. This is why believing lies is so dangerous. There are four lies in particular that I have seen pop up again and again in conversations with young women who are carrying a lot of pain, shame, and trauma. Please take a few minutes to be really honest with yourself about whether or not you are believing any of these lies.

1) I can keep people at arm's length and still have good relationships.

We were created with an innate need for relationship. Not just “I know her name and her favorite color” relationships but the close “she’s like my sister” kind of relationships. We need people who see through our masks and call us out when we need to be called out. We need to be seen, understood, loved, and accepted for exactly who we are – flaws, scars, and all. We crave it. If we never let anyone see us exactly as we are, we forfeit depth and closeness in our relationships. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should bare your soul to just anyone and everyone (it’s true that some people will manipulate you with the information you’ve given them), but if you refuse to ever be vulnerable, all your relationships will be a weak substitution of what they could be. All relationships carry an element of risk because we are all sinners in great need of grace and mercy. We hurt each other and let each other down. But the alternative – having only surface level relationships or no relationships at all – is no way to live. We will wither away into an empty shell, and when we find ourselves with a need or in trouble – no one will be there to catch us.

Verses to Read: Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

2) I don’t need anyone. I can and will take care of myself because no

one else is safe.

Whether we like it or not, God created us to be dependent. We are first and foremost dependent on God – apart from Him, we could not even take a breath. However, we are also created to be dependent on other people. God created us all with different temperaments, personalities, histories, talents, gifts, and preferences, and we need each other’s strengths to complement our weaknesses. It is true that no one else (besides God) is 100% safe because of the presence of sin. The alternative of leading a lone wolf existence is not 100% safe either. Safety is also not the most important thing, though it may sometimes feel like it. Character is built through the fire. To live completely safe, risk-free, and pain-free in this life is impossible, and to live that way robs us of strength, growth, and character. Also, we are fooling ourselves if we think that we ourselves are safe – we are often our own worst enemies.

Verses to Read: Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

3) Harboring secrets won’t hurt me.

Covering up your unhealthy coping habits and the relationships you rely on that you know aren’t good for you will only lead to more heartache. Secrets have power over us. They keep us imprisoned in cycles of lying, shame, hopelessness, self-loathing, impulsiveness, and addiction. They don’t allow us to be completely honest or vulnerable, so they hurt our relationships. I’m not talking about betraying a friend’s confidence. I’m talking about hiding certain aspects of yourself and your life from people who love and care about you. When we live in the darkness of hidden sin and rebellion, we are much more vulnerable to all of the other things that reside in that darkness – severe depression, anxiety, loneliness, selfishness, and even suicidal thoughts, to name a few. All secrets will one day be brought to light. The good news is that if you trust in Jesus and the work of His death and resurrection, there is no condemnation for you. He already took the punishment for your sin and set you free. Why bind yourself up again in the chains of secrets?

Verses to Read: Proverbs 28:13; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 10:26-28; Luke 12:2; Romans 8:1; James 5:16

4) What they did was my fault.

Honestly, this lie makes me more passionately angry than all the others. I’ve looked into the devastated eyes of far too many girls who believe with all their heart that the abuse they’ve experienced was their fault. I’ve held a shuddering teenager who was crying inconsolably and afraid to sleep because of the nightmares of her past and who was still convinced that those events were her fault. Sweet, beautiful, precious girl, please hear me when I say it was not your fault. I don’t care what role you played in the scenario. I don’t care if you flirted, if you were defiant, if you were wearing something revealing, or whatever it is that Satan uses to twist your understanding, to suffocate your heart, and to tear at your soul. You are not responsible for the sinful choices of other people. And they always have a choice. Please do not carry the weight of their guilt on your own shoulders. Allow Jesus to take your shame and to show you the truth that no matter what you’ve thought, done, or said – He still loves you, He values you, and He cares about your pain. He still freely offers you forgiveness, and it breaks His heart when you refuse to forgive yourself. He does not blame you or see you as damaged. He gave up His life for you even when He already knew every tiny detail of your story, and He will make things right someday. You may not see it on earth, but there will be justice. Let Jesus carry the weight of your burden until then.

Verses to Read: Psalm 33:5; Psalm 147:3; Jeremiah 31:30; Romans 12:19; 2 Corinthians 5:10

Father, I pray for each and every girl who reads this. Please replace the lies they have believed with your truth. Gently guide them to be honest with themselves, and reveal to them which things they may need to change their mind about. Give them the strength, the understanding, and the courage to make that change. Bring healing to their still-bleeding wounds. Wrap them up tightly in your love, security, and compassion. Help them to understand and accept your grace and to allow you to carry their burdens, knowing that you are just and good. Enable them to feel Your joy again, and help them see that they are free. Let them be so secure in You that they can enjoy their relationships to the fullest without fear and with the ability to extend the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness to others that You’ve offered to them.

Shine Your light into the darkness, and surround them with people who are reflections of You. Give them a deep sense that You understand them, You see their tears, and You love them for exactly who they are. Shape them into the women You designed them to be, and help them to believe the truth that they are worth so much to You. Show them the beauty of who You are, Lord, and the magnificence of what You have done for them. Thank you for loving us so perfectly and unconditionally. Amen.

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