It was an unusually warm Sunday afternoon. As I savored the sunshine and reflected on Lorraine Taylor’s book Hope Rises from A Shattered Innocence, Francis Crosby’s timeless hymn Keep me near the cross kept on playing in my head:
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain—
Free to all, a healing stream—
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
The lyrics and the music brought tears to my eyes. There is still a well of tears deep in my heart—tears of gratitude to God and tears of sufferings ready to overflow whenever I hear a hymn about God’s saving grace or a testimony of another broken human being made whole by God.
The last time I was moved to tears was when I read Laura Hillenbrand’s (2014) bestselling book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It is a biopic of Louis (Lourie) Zamperini’s struggle for survival after he experienced a plane crash and was interned at a brutal POW camp, and his recovery from PTSD and alcohol addiction. Later, when I reviewed the movie adaptation of Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie, I wrote about faith as the key contributor to Lourie’s resilience (Wong 2015):
“Brought up in the Catholic faith, not exactly a practicing Catholic, his faith still sustained him in his darkest hours. His flashback of the homily of the Catholic priest ‘Accept the darkness, live through the night, and love thine enemies’ was a source of strength and support.
While adrift on the ocean, he said to his two fellow crewmen, ‘Pray at night. Pray in the morning. That’s how you survive.’ Under the blazing sun, tossed around in a raging sea, dying of thirst, and attacked by killing sharks, he dedicated his whole life to serving God, if he saved them. Years later, after liberation, he indeed fulfilled his vow.”
Unbroken is relevant to Lorraine Taylor’s book because at the end, what saved Lourie Zamperini from the horrors of mental torture and addiction was his faith in the transforming grace of Christ, the one who willingly died on a cross for our redemption.
It is unfortunate that in our sophisticated, scientific community, such beliefs are routinely dismissed as supernatural, irrational, and unscientific without scientific research on the role of faith in God’s grace in overcoming addiction and mental illness. There is only limited research on the benefit of perceived forgiveness from God on forgiving others (Krause and Ellison 2003) and on self-forgiveness (Hall and Fincham 2005; McConnell and Dixon 2012).
What really struck me was Lorraine’s remarkable transformation in turning her childhood abuse and weaknesses into her strength as a writer and counsellor. Her book was not only written beautifully, but also full of spiritual wisdom and practical help, such as: “Taking time each day to engage in certain practices that develop healthy habits can reduce bothersome symptoms. Regular training with consistency can help decrease anxiety, frustration, depression while fostering emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.”
I often ask myself: How would a child’s brain react to the unimaginable horrors perpetuated by people they love and trust, such as parents, grandparents, or priests? How can they cope? Where can they find safety in a dangerous world?
In such traumatic situations, it is probably normal for an innocent and immature brain to shut down, black out, or create an imaginary friend to make the world more tolerable.
I also wonder: What will happen to severely abused children when they grow up? Will they become sadistic criminals because their hearts are full of anger and hatred, bent on revenge against a cruel world which has robbed them of their innocence and hope? Alternatively, will they become depressed, suicidal, or psychotic, because they feel that they are not wanted in this world and they desperately want to hide and become invisible?
I wonder how many people labelled as mentally ill are actually sane and their “crazy” behaviors are actually perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. As suggested by R. D.
Laing, “Insanity [is] a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”
Fortunately, Lorraine’s memoir gives me hope that God’s love is greater than the worst case of childhood abuse and God’s grace is sufficient to transform any broken life.
Although adverse childhood experience (ACE) has received a lot of attention from researchers (Larkin et al. 2012; Zarse et al. 2019) and mental health professionals (Larkin et al. 2014; Lorenc et al. 2020). The most commonly used intervention is based on CBT. However, after reading over Lorraine’s spiritual journey of healing, I am even more convinced that CBT would not be able to produce the kind of personal transformation Lorain has achieved. Here is the extensiveness of the devastating outcome of her ACE:
“I suffered abusive treatment my entire childhood and spent decades as an adult living in the aftermath of this ‘hell.’
Witnessing the harmful actions against my mom and siblings’ and as a recipient of
violence, I was severely affected by Trauma that caused out-of-control behaviors,
numerous mental health symptoms, and internal turmoil.
Childhood trauma adversely impacted every single area of my life as an adult. These violent actions resulted in unhealthy thought patterns, distorted beliefs, and hindered consistency.
How I came to view God, a self, others, and the world became sorely warped. I perceived myself through the eyes of the perpetrator.”
Here is her description of the futility of traditional psychotherapy:
“Instead of finding myself improving, after years of therapy, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into this twisted tornado of agonizing torturous living.
I was eventually diagnosed as mentally ill, with chronic anxiety, paralyzing panic attacks, depressive episodes, obsessive ruminations, and endured years of persistent insomnia.
I experienced intrusive nightmares, flashbacks, diagnosed with CTSD. Eventually, an astute psychiatrist diagnosed me with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) – formerly known as MPD – (Multiple Personality Disorder).
Wow, did I feel like a nut with a basket full of mental maladies – all affecting me negatively and significantly impeding the ordinary course of developing as a healthy adult!
Being diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders further distorted my skewed concept of who I was. Mental illness intensified the feeling; I was a failure and an abnormally flawed human being. In this prison of Trauma, my life went from bad to worse.”
From the perspective of a clinical psychologist, the prognosis of her eventual discovery does not look very promising. I have seen similar cases where victims of abuse spend the rest of their miserable and unproductive lives on medication.
There is limited research on how religious/spiritual coping can have a moderating effect on childhood abuse (Walker et al. 2009) and religious beliefs may play a useful role in childhood trauma recovery within the context of secular psychotherapy (Ross 2016). But Lorraine needed something much deeper and powerful to transform her life. Here is how she described it:
“I recognized the missing piece was for me to put to death who Trauma had made me become. In my desperation and helplessness, I discovered the depth of my most essential and necessary need.
I came to recognize the missing pieces and my highest need was to release and let go of this unstable, insecure, beaten down, desperately shattered woman to hide my very life in the safety essence of my Lord’s love.
All this time, my Lord waited and wanted to shepherd me, just as he wants to shepherd you. He wants to shepherd us as a community of the people of God in his created vision of a new world, where we relate from his love as our very breath. On that day, I surrendered my madness and the insanity I felt trapped in.
Suddenly in that instant, it was as if a hundred thousand weighted shackles broke, and my blanket of depression lifted. It felt as if an oppressive heavy chain was suddenly cut loose and left human body. The loosing and releasing of this blackness was the evidence of receiving his love into the entirety of my being.
I could feel the drawing power of the Lord’s love telling me he wanted intimacy, and with me, the woman who felt ashamed and guilty. God let me know he desired communion with me, this woman who felt like a nobody.
I surrendered my anguish, tormented mind, and lost hope to the Lord. I repented of my sins – idolizing other sources to help me – in an absolute abandon of who I had become to this stunning and wondrous love.”
Her phenomenological experience of conversion is very similar to my own Christian conversion (see more on www.drpaulwong.com) in its immediacy, vividness, and validity. Yes, this was something real happening in our lives, and this transformation was not just some subjective feeling but a fundamental change in our core values, life attitudes, and life goals. It was a transition from death to a shameful self to a new birth in Christ. It represents a re-orientation away from the self and the world to living for God and others; a process similar to self-transcendence (Wong 2016). This new birth marks the beginning of learning how to live a Christ-centered life. Lorraine hastened to add: “In our journey’s ebb and flow, we must learn how to navigate challenging obstacles, barriers, road-blocks, and trenches. We must learn to cope with these and the challenging events that happen to us: Trauma, abuses, losses, injuries, mental illness, sickness, death of loved ones, etc.”
Throughout this book, Lorraine provided numerous exercises and tools necessary to equip readers to cope with obstacles and develop self-discipline and new habits. She took pains to show that it is an exciting life full of new opportunities and possibilities as we abide in Christ and draw on his exhaustible resources.
I cannot imagine what kind of courage Lorraine needed to write this memoir and bare her soul. On the day of receiving the fullness of the Lord’s love, she stopped hiding, and began the process of healing, growing, and flourishing. She has so much to share with her readers about her spiritual journey. The take home message from her book is: I am not OK, and you are not OK, but it is OK because we are all vulnerable and imperfect human beings, and our weaknesses could be made perfect by God’s grace.
One final thought on healing: Out of the shattering and from brokenness, God’s love restored Lorraine to wholeness and oneness. Indeed, effective psychotherapy is about finding a cure for the root cause of human tragedies and suffering; it is about healing our divided self, our divided community, and our alienation from God and nature. Lorraine is attracted to my meaning therapy (Wong 2020a) because it is about the restoration of personal meaning, relationship, and faith through courage, acceptance, and transformation (Wong 2020b).
I highly recommend Hope Rises from A Shattered Innocence to all those struggling with childhood trauma and mental health issues. It will not only inform you; it may even awaken you to the hope of finding healing and a new abundant life in Christ.
- Hall, Julie H. and Frank D. Fincham. “Self-forgiveness: The stepchild of forgiveness research.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24, (2005): 621-637.
- Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Random House, 2014.
- Krause, Neal and Christopher G. Ellison. “Forgiveness by God, Forgiveness of Others, and Psychological Well-Being in Late Life.” Journal for the scientific study of religion, 42, No. 1, (2003): 94.
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- Larkin, Heather, Joseph J. Shields and Robert F. Anda. “The Health and Social Consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Across the Lifespan: An Introduction to Prevention and Intervention in the Community.” Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 40, No. 4, (2012): 263-270.
- Lorenc, Theo, Ssrah Lester, Katy Sutcliffe, Claire Stansfield and James Thomas. “Interventions to support people exposed to adverse childhood experiences: systematic review of systematic reviews.” BMC Public Health, 20, (2020): 657.
- McConnell, John M. and David N. Dixon. “Perceived forgiveness from God and self-forgiveness.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 31, (2012): 31-39.
- Ross, Colin A. “Talking about God with Trauma Survivors.” American Journal of Psychotherapy, 70, No. 4 (2016): 429-437.
- Walker, Donald F., Henri W. Reid, Tiffany O’Neill and Lindsay Brown. “Changes in Personal Religion/Spirituality During and After Childhood Abuse: A Review and Synthesis.” Psychological Trauma Theory Research Practice and Policy, 1, No. 2 (2009): 130-145.
- Wong, Paul T. P. The positive psychology of grit: The defiant power of the human spirit. [Review of the movie Unbroken, 2014]. PsycCRITIQUES, 60, No. 25 (2015).
- Wong, Paul T. P. “Self-Transcendence: A Paradoxical Way to Become Your Best.” International Journal Of Existential Positive Psychology, 6, No. 1 (2016): 9.
- Wong, Paul T. P. Made for Resilience and Happiness: Effective Coping with COVID-19 According to Viktor E. Frankl and Paul T. P. Wong. Toronto, ON: INPM Press, 2020a.
- Wong, Paul T. P. Existential Positive Psychology and Integrative Meaning Therapy. International Review of Psychiatry, (2020b).
- Zarse, Emily M., Mallory R. Neff, Rachel Yoder, Leslie Hulvershorn, Joanna Chambers and Robert A. Chambers. “The adverse childhood experiences questionnaire: Two decades of research on childhood trauma as a primary cause of adult mental illness, addiction, and medical diseases.” Cogent Medicine 6, No. 1 (2019).
Wong, P. T. P. (2021). Foreword: The spiritual journey of healing from the bottom of hell. In L. Taylor, Hope Rises from a Shattered Innocence. Covenant Books, Inc.