Hope from Trauma

Trauma has always affected the lives of many individuals throughout history. Trauma brought on by COVID-19 is no different. However, what makes this trauma different is that we are all experiencing the trauma in one way or another.

A volunteer worker from Texas who came to New York City to help with the COVID-19 crisis in the hospitals there. The first day on the job his supervisor addressed the new workers by saying, “Welcome to hell”. One of his first assignments was to find room to place the body of a newly deceased individual because the makeshift morgue at the hospital was full.

In another state, a woman is notified that her mother tested positive for COVID-19. The woman wants to see her mother but is told she cannot because the nursing home where her mom resides is quarantined.

Two spouses both have high level jobs and are now working at home. No longer having availability to outside childcare, they need to take turns providing childcare at home. Tension develops between them as both have less time to meet work deadlines as a result.

These are real problems affecting real people that will leave emotional damage brought on by trauma. The details and severity of the trauma may differ in each case. But, for each one, the damage from the trauma will not disappear on their own. They will need to be healed.

A Different Type Of Trauma

There has never been a similar experience in our lifetime, except for maybe those who were alive during the last World War. But, unlike the last World War, this time we all have a common enemy. Having a common enemy allows us to have a silver lining in our suffering in that we can address this enemy with a common purpose. And the advantage of this common purpose is lost if we try to conquer the effects of this trauma alone. We need one another.

Amongst all the stories of incredible tragedies there are also amazing stories of effective community support. Someone I had counseled is struggling with the corona virus at home. Her husband asks her to look out her window. She sees over 30 neighbors, all standing at least 10 feet apart, having a time of prayer for her. Another client of mine reports that the residents of her condo complex meet at the common in the center of the complex at 6:00 p.m. daily, stand at least 6 feet apart and have 6 ounces of their favorite beverage.

Personally, I receive daily emails from people reaching out for advice or just to be assured that they have the strength to get through another day. We can tell ourselves that we are strong enough to get through this crisis. However, it is amazing what power hearing this from a voice other than our own can have on our emotional strength. Having the support of others is a key factor in our ability to endure trauma.

Effectiveness of Hope

The encouragement given by others in our support network can go a long way in instilling hope in the midst of a crisis. And hope plays a vital role in giving us the resilience needed to endure hardships. Studies have documented that hope mobilizes thoughts that strengthen our perseverance and increase our ability to endure hardships. It has been documented that workers with higher levels of hope have less absenteeism and greater productivity.

But hope does not only help in our resolve to not quit. It can have a powerful impact on our physical health as well. Medical studies have shown that belief and expectation, the key elements of hope, have been linked to the release of endorphins and enkephalins in the brain that help block pain. Hope also has a powerful impact on physiological functions such as respiration, circulation, and motor function.

But hope also plays a role in our ability to develop strong social support systems. Research has shown that people expressing a high level of hope also report more social support, demonstrate greater social competency, and experience less loneliness. Studies also show that “high-hope” people tend to have closer connections to others. This seems to be the case because those who are hopeful tend to enjoy interactions with others and show greater interest in the goals and aspirations of others.

It’s no wonder that Richard Rohr states that hardship is the only thing that produces greatness. We like to believe that our heroes achieve greatness despite the suffering they endured. However, the truth is that the greatness came from their overcoming trials and tribulations. Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, all achieved greatness because they overcame the suffering they endured.

We are in a time that has brought on hardships none of us contributed to. However, we can take heart in that none of us are alone. This is a community hardship that we are enduring and we will endure it if we strengthen each other as a community. Given encouragement and hope to others as well as receiving it may make us stronger as a result of this pandemic than before we experienced it. It can lead us to achieve great things that we could not have imagined before. We may not have had a choice as to whether or not we had to experience this crisis. But we can choose to allow the suffering we’re experiencing to lead us to greatness. After all, suffering is the only thing that ever did.

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