CQM Blog: Concepts That Build Christ-Likeness

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Principles and Projects | Trauma In Our Lives

tsDon’t use your circumstance as an excuse for poor behavior. Let me introduce myself, my name is Tom Gussie and I have been married to my wife Sherri for 34 years and have been attending Christ Quest Ministries since 1999. I chose to go through the classes for 5 years before beginning the discipleship program to become a group leader. During this time, I was also studying to become a licensed trauma therapist. As I was going through my training, I was able to see how traumatic events in a person’s life have contributed to troubled marriages.

As a requirement for my licensure, I did an 18 month internship at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Of all the Veterans I counseled, only two were still married to their original wife. All the others were divorced, currently going through a divorce, separated, or having trouble with their second or third marriages. I even had one combat veteran tell me how his wife was boring and wanted permission to have an open marriage or he was going to leave her for more exciting pastures. I told him he was seeing the wrong counselor to give him permission to do something like that to hurt his wife.

I also have been working with veterans, first responders, and others who have suffered from traumatic events in their lives and discovered how trauma was a major contributing factor, not only to their life style, but also to their relationships.

I personally grew up in a very abusive family where my mother was my father’s most favorite punching bag, my brother was his second, and I was his third. I always tried to be the perfect child and would sacrifice a lot so my father would not beat any of us. I tried to be the best in everything I did; school, sports, gymnastics and motocross.

We looked like the perfect family. Our injuries from my father’s abuse were explained as a result of the sports we played. My mother cited accidents around the pool as her excuse. Growing up I thought this was normal behavior in a family i.e., to use intimidation, anger, physical force, the silent treatment, and other negative behaviors to keep your wife in line. Now, I have never physically assaulted my wife or children because of a vow I made as a young man to never hurt my spouse or our children. To this day, I still have vivid memories of hearing my mother crying due to my father’s treatment of her. My father ended his life by committing suicide and I helped remove his body from the back yard. Witnessing how he took his life has had a profound impact on me. These are some of the things I brought into my marriage and have had to deal with.
We have heard the metaphor “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names will never hurt me.” The reason I bring this up is because when I was 9 years old, my younger brother and I were with our father while he was talking to one of his friends. He made a comment that became a major obstacle in my life regarding ever having kids. He said, “Don’t ever have any children; these two have been nothing but a pain in my @$$ and it isn’t worth the trouble!”

As a trauma counselor, I constantly hear stories from my female patients on how they are suffering with trauma resulting from their family, boyfriend/s, or husband/s. Now for the hard part, when you have grown up in environments like these, how do you perceive God? I will only relate to my own personal experience. My perception of God? He is like a Commanding Spartan Warrior. He is always looking over my shoulder waiting for me to make a mistake and then sanction me for even the most minor infraction. I hear people tell me how they don’t feel God’s presence and God does not have time for them. I feel the exact opposite; He is always watching my every move, marking it down in His book of accountability and I am going to suffer a double jeopardy, here on earth and in heaven. I have been working hard to change my thinking of who God is. I hear He is loving, gracious, kind, compassionate, patience, gentle, and faithful. I have my days where I believe these words and then something will trigger my old beliefs and I default to that homepage.

When a person experiences trauma, the brain always tries to make sense of the incident. I tell people their worst experience of that trauma, was their last memory of it. I explain to them how we all have an emotional trashcan. During life, we have things happen where we put these incidents in our emotional trashcan and put the lid on it. After years of putting items in, we start to have difficulty putting the lid on because our emotional trash is overflowing. So what happens when our emotional trash is overflowing? It smells, people don’t want to be around us, it attracts negative behaviors like anger, bitterness, depression, anxiety, stress, isolation, alcohol/drug use, neglect of others, spending money, pornography, etc. This emotional trashcan also becomes very heavy where we can’t lift it any more and it will affect our physical body. You may begin to walk hunched over, you can have a sad countenance on your face, you don’t walk with a spring in your step and other things may manifest where people tell you how you are not the same anymore. Because of my poor representation of Christ-likeness, my wife Sherri would tell me, “You have become my joy robber” and I could see how her countenance, attitude, personality and even her posture changed.

Is there an answer for all of this? It begins by emptying your emotional trashcan, learning new coping skills from the Word and learning new Godly behaviors. What we think and dwell on determines how we feel; how we feel then determines how we act. We need God’s strength to get through life, not the speed to run away from it. In my professional experience, I see how women are more likely to seek counseling versus men. Like me, the only reason I went to Christ Quest was to get my wife to stop complaining that there was something wrong with our marriage. I thought our marriage was good, but she knew the truth and saw what was happening. To quote Ken, “Ladies, you don’t know the depth of ignorance you are dealing with.” In my case “SO TRUE.” If it wasn’t for what God taught me through Christ Quest I would likely still think I could handle my marital issues and get things straightened out by using the techniques that my earthly father taught me instead of what my Heavenly Father was trying to teach me.

I like to use the analogy of lifting weights. Sometimes, we are lifting a heavier weight than what we can handle by ourselves. We need a “spotter.” You still have to do the hard work and if you are struggling or get stuck, the spotter helps you through. That is what a counselor is; a spotter. You are not weak, you still have to do all the hard work and a counselor motivates you and gets you through those sticking points.

So husbands, if you find yourself struggling with trauma and relating issues that are resulting in a poor marriage and family, ask for a spotter. YOU ARE NOT WEAK, YOU JUST NEED A SPOT! God said I will never leave you or forsake you; and a spotter does not do that either in those times of heavy lifting. Let me encourage you to use Christ Quest as your marital spotter and a counselor for any other help. Remember, we can’t use our mental or physical issues or illness as an excuse for poor behavior.

Proverbs 4:20-22 My son be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh.

Acts 3:19-20 (TLB) Now change your mind and attitude to God and turn to Him so He can cleanse away your sins and send you wonderful times of refreshment from the presence of the Lord and send Jesus your Messiah