Newsletter #543 – Continuous Traumatic Stress

This month, Monitor on Psychology (September, 2013) stresses the need for more psychologists and other care-giving professionals with training in trauma management. Of course this includes working with victims of natural disasters, military combat, political turmoil and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Continuous stress 1But the Monitor introduced me to continuous traumatic stress (CTS), a term that originated years ago in South Africa. CTS is ongoing and often inescapable. Unlike stresses that occurred in the past, these are ever-present daily realities that include living in poverty, crime-infested areas, abusive environments and constant famine. I have a friend, a college graduate and young professional who was brought to the United States illegally as a child but has grown up living in the fear of being discovered and deported to a country that he has never known with a language that he does not understand. Unlike victims of past stress, these are people with no place to go for help or safety and often with no hope or way of escape.

Could on-going stress in the workplace be similar ? The Monitor describes bullying and other stresses at work as well as in schools. Undoubtedly these are easier to tackle than genocide or human trafficking but they too provide continuous trauma. For people with no job alternatives and limited credentials for finding alternate employment, entire lives may be spent trapped in jobs that bring constant misery. This is worse when there is job insecurity, long hours or lack of social support at work.

I did some cursory research that confirmed what the Monitor demonstrated in its articles. Describing CTS is common. Providing treatment options is much more difficult. Individual treatment is of limited help when whole communities are impacted—like gang dominated neighborhoods or racially prejudiced environments. Community-wide interventions are difficult and governments rarely take action. Sometimes businesses, schools, churches or community activists work to bring changes but how often does this work?

Is the only alternative to look the other way and get on with our lives? I like these weekly posts to be upbeat and positive but that’s not today. Some courageous people try to take action and bring improvements but it can be thankless work. What’s the answer to this depressing story? What would Jesus do? What have you done?  Please comment.

  1. We need to continually remember that:
    1. God has plans well beyond our ability to understand.
    2. We are not God, therefore somethings are beyond our ability to do.
    3. God “calls” us to work with Him in selective areas.
    As we do this, will work intently with God in areas He calls us to be involved in, learn from our working with Him, and leave the results to Him. So we don’t “look the other way” when we are “called” to be involved. We don’t get involved when God “calls” us to be involved in other things.
    To often we are asking the wrong questions: like
    1. What is the likelihood of success?
    2. How much difference will it make?
    3. Does it really matter?
    As we seek and follow God with all of our heart, soul and resources, He will make it clear where we should be involved to make a difference were we can.

    • Once again Bruce you score with a thoughtful response. Even as I wrote and sent out this post I thought how God does not call any one personb to do everything (even though some people think they have to do everything.) We seek to determine where God wants us to be involved, we do what we feel called to do as faithfully and as effectively as we can, and we leave the results to God. Only he knows what to do with this stress-filled world even though it looks to us like he is not doing much. That is our imperfect and limited human perspective.

    • Rufaro
    • September 5th, 2013

    As an immigrant to North America, I have personally lived CTS and those around me have also lived CTS. Having a background in in social work and being an active Christian, I use every opportunity to give advice and console those that reach out to me in person, by phone, by email. From my personal experience, I am able to emphathise and provide believable advice. Above all, I pray for everyone that reaches out to me, especially those who are not yet ready to receive advice even when they reach out for it. I have found one on one encounters to be more effective than a group approach, especially if help is not in a formal / official setting. I have also found that the one needing help has to ask for it as a means of giving the consoler / helper permission to connect. So, even when I have seen individuals in need, I do not engage with them (unless there is an emergency, e.g. bereavement), I do not make a move. This is because people are very protective of their emotional space and can react very negatively to unsolicited help.

    • Thanks Rufaro. I hesitated when I included the story about my immigrant friend even though I hid some details that might identify him. This morning we had breakfast and I brought this up. He still lives in stress even though he now has papers that will let him stay a while longer – legally. Once again I felt sad as we talked. And I could tell that he felt sadder.
      With him I think the biggest issue is trust. It has taken him several years to build trust in me – probably in part by watching me, listing to me, observing how I have reacted to him and maybe testing me at times. I think trust is a huge factor with anybody who lives under CTS. How can these people know who they can trust?
      BTW, I’m an immigrant too but I came from Canada when I was 25 and when getting here legally was relatively easy despite the well-attested rudeness of people in the INS.

  2. Obviously there are many areas in our culture in which CTS manifests itself. I would like to draw attention to one that I believe we have all become numb to. Over 54 million abortions have been conducted in the US since Roe v. Wade. Having worked closely with Life Services and as a pastor, I know there are countless women and men who carry around the guilt and shame of an abortion. In many cases, their “choice” has incapacitated them for life. Just last week a woman communicated to me her deep regret for assisting her sister with an abortion many years ago.

    In addition to the personal continuous traumatic stress that these individuals experience, I am convinced that within our culture itself exists a deep sense of guilt and shame over the innocent lives that have been taken. We’ve shed “innocent blood”. We also clearly deny justice to the unborn every time we abort, or do nothing to prevent abortion. God asks us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

    My friend, Perry Underwood, has just released a book, Change the Shame, that calls for a radically different approach to this shameful practice and its effects on individuals and our society. I challenge all reading this to get the book, take it to heart, and act on it. (It’s available on Amazon.com.)

    • Thanks for your post Rob and for the book recommendation.
      You mention something that we have become numb to but here is another. My daughter has a passion for alerting churches, adoption agencies and counselors to the pain of birth mothers. My daughter did a thesis on this last year at Baylor University and has searched all the literature she can find on birthmother grief.
      Ponder this. We affirm mothers who carry their babies to full term and then put up their babies for adoption. Then we forget these mothers. The research is overwhelming: Large numbers (probably a majority of these women) carry guilt and grief with them for years. A significant number sink into depression, substance abuse and a variety of psychological problems. These people have little support and few people who take their CTS seriously.
      There are probably other areas like this, where people suffer in silence. It is overwhelming, isn’t it!

  3. You actually make it appear really easy with your presentation but I to find
    this matter to be really something which I feel I’d by no means understand. It seems too complex and very vast for me. I am looking ahead to your next publish, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

    • Thanks for your note Daniele. I think I miscommunicated to you. I did not imply that CTS is easy to control. It is just the opposite – hard to deal with.

    • Rodger Bufford
    • September 5th, 2013

    At an individual level each of us can choose to provide personal support and encouragement for one or two persons we know with these sorts of challenges.

    We may be examples for others, and may encourage others to do what they can at a personal level as well.

    We may also pray that God will send others to engage in this difficult but also rewarding work.

    We can also vote for policies and persons who support this more local and personal form of assistance rather than institutionalized forms for solutions.

    We can also reflect on and guard ourselves against the various forms of perversion that Wolf Wofensberger identified. We are all prone to them . . .

  4. I resided 13 years full-time, and part-time since then, in countries where CTS is better known as “daily life.” Far as I could tell, folk there who flourish, do so as members of mutual-help bands. Band members keep each other informed of opportunities, prefer each other for jobs, provide their own entertainment, shared material stuff, and, sometimes, protect each other from violence. Such bands usually form within same ethnic and religious communities, or quickly adopt same beliefs. Funny, that sounds curiously like NT house churches! I wonder…

    • Good observations Galen. I appreciate the way you bring perspectives that can bring formal academic discussions down to the ground of everyday life. Thanks.

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