Over the years I have worked in disaster long term recovery and with critical incident stress response teams. In the training I have learned a rule of thumb from a couple different teachers. I am not sure I can cite the research which lies behind it, but there is an anecdotal and experiential wisdom that supports it.
It takes 25 times of telling the story to begin the healing.
In trauma, the most primitive parts of our brain deeply record the experience. It is a part of the brain that has no sense of time. Everything is the present moment. In that place trauma tends to get stuck and keeps relooping over and over. When the trauma was the predator that nearly had you for supper, that loop creates an essential lesson and reaction response to ensure survival. But that wiring may not be so helpful with traumatic events.
Telling the story helps unstick the loop and move the psyche along towards healing and integration; so that you can learn how to live within the new normal in which you find yourself. But how you tell the story is crucial.
Too often the telling is a reliving. You put yourself back into the situation and relive it. That just reinforces the loop.
Telling the story the 25 times requires stepping outside the story and telling it as an observer and not a participant. It needs you to tell the story from a different angle or perspective or frame of reference; even a different order to the sequence of the telling, or letting the scene be a bit more gray or fuzzy. It helps to remember in the telling that you are here and not there. It helps to tell the story to others familiar enough with the situation to fill in some of the blanks or offer another view. It helps to ask how the story has changed the way you understand or experience yourself, your world, and your faith. Mostly it needs you to tell the story to someone who can hear and hold it in love without judgement, evaluation or trying to fix it for you. And sometimes the stuckness is so persistent that you need to seek the help of those who have the spiritual and therapeutic skill to walk with you through the journey.
Of course, this is not THE strategy, it is just a strategy. And there is no magic in the number 25. The human psyche and soul are far too complex for simple formulas.
But we are a people who know the power of the story. So be a teller and be a listener and let the story move towards healing one telling at a time.
Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.