“Trauma and its Far-Reaching Consequences”
A review of
Catching Your Past Invading the Present
and What to Do About It
by Karl Lehman, M.D.
Review by Jasmine Wilson.
Catching Your Past
Invading the Present
and What to Do About It
Karl Lehman, M.D.
Paperback: This JOY! Books, 2011.
[ OutsmartingYourself.org ]
I had the privilege of meeting Karl Lehman this summer and being mentored by his wife, Charlotte. Being in the community where the two of them work on the methods Dr. Lehman describes in his book, it was apparent to me how influential his theories and practices were in the lives of those in the church community.
Dr. Lehman’s work begins with the notion of trauma, but he explains trauma is not caused just by incidents like hurricanes or military combat. Instead, trauma can be caused even by minor painful experiences. For example, one of Charlotte’s memories from her childhood was when a fifth grade boy kept saying boys are better than girls. Seems like a small thing at the time, but when an experience like that is internalized, it can cause latent trauma that an individual might not even recognize. These internalized experiences can then be “triggered” by present events: “When something in the present triggers a traumatic memory, the unresolved content from the trauma… will come forward as ‘invisible’ implicit memory that feels true and valid in the present.”
As I read Lehman’s book, I began to think back particularly on all the negative interpersonal interactions I’ve had in the past few years, and recognizing how in certain situations I had been triggered, and I was directing my anger and frustration toward a person from my past at the person I was arguing with in the present.
For instance, when I was in sixth grade, I had a choir concert. I had reminded my dad over and over in the weeks leading up to the concert, and on the night of, he was ready to go at the right time. I was so excited, since he had missed other events that had been important to me. But as soon as we pulled into the parking lot at the school, he gets a phone call. “Go on in,” he said, “I’ll be there in a second.” So I went and practiced from 6:30 to 7:00, and when I took the stage at 7, I scanned the crowd, trying to find my dad. He wasn’t there. I kept looking at the door, hoping he would come. The performance was about 45 minutes, and about 30 minutes in, I realized he wasn’t going to make it. When I got back to the car I was so angry, I wouldn’t speak to him the whole way home.
Whenever I am with people who are late to something, or who miss an appointment that we had set up, especially if it is someone I care a lot about, I often am triggered and start to blame the person in the present for the things that happened in my past. Being ten minutes late to a coffee appointment is not a big deal, but it gets blown out of proportion because of the implicit memory of my trauma, according to Dr. Lehman’s account.
When I got recommended to read the book this summer, I was pretty skeptical, thinking I would not be able to understand a psychologist’s analysis, and it would be very dry and boring. This was definitely not the case! Lehman writes in a very conversational way that shows the relational nature of his practice. This book is very helpful, because as soon as we start recognizing situations that trigger us, we can recognize when we’re being triggered, and we will not fracture our relationships nearly as often by blaming people unjustly. I saw this summer how this book and the ministry of the Lehmans has helped heal the trauma of many individuals, and helped them move forward with more ability for relationality and fulfillment in their lives. It was a hard book at times to read, as I was faced with my own traumatic memories, but ultimately very fulfilling.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com