The Impact of Trauma on Faith – Sarah Sultan | Part 1.2 ISNACON 2019

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So I wanted to build on some of what Shaykh Omar was so eloquently expressing about the work that we’ve been doing and the
importance of identifying the link between trauma and faith and the
connection that’s there. And a connection that we don’t often really pay attention
to until it’s really pointed out to us and that’s kind of the hope in doing
the work that we’re doing is it brings it to the forefront so that people
realize that this is happening, right. So when we say the word trauma, what are
some of the things that tend to come to mind, right? It’s a big space so I’m not
going to have you call it out. But typically some of the things that come
to mind when we hear the word trauma are going to be things like war, situations
being a refugee, really traumatic violent incidents, and things like that, right.
But what we have been finding, right, that is definitely a form of trauma and those
are called big t traumas, like a capital T, right, and there was a research study
that was done. It was called the adverse childhood experiences study, or aces
study for short. They sampled 17,000 people and in their study they found
that 64% of the people that they studied have experienced some of these big
traumas in the course of their childhood. But some of the the traumas that they
included in that criteria were things like emotional and physical abuse,
neglect, a parent being incarcerated, even parental divorce, when it gets really
really ugly. So all of these different things were different forms of trauma
where 64 people, that means that two out of three people you pass walking down
the street, even in this convention, two out of three people have experienced a
really big form of trauma, right. And we’re just not really aware And then if
we consider what are called “small t traumas,” right, smaller traumas like, you
know, different situations where, you know, you might have financial
struggles, legal struggles, extreme stress at work, just a lot of difficulties in
interpersonal relationships in your life. These can also leave their imprint and if we consider that in a person’s childhood
and then later on in life, then almost every single person sitting in
here has experienced something, right. And so when we think about it
in that way we realize how commented how common it is but then we also fail to
realize the impact that it can have in our spirituality and that’s what we
really focused our work on. So every type of trauma that we or anybody else
experiences is a form of loss. Every single thing every struggle that we
experience is a form of loss. We lose something. We can either lose something-
for example somebody who has gone through a miscarriage, right. Very, very,
very common. Somebody who has gone through a miscarriage, they have not just
lost the baby that they were anticipating. They lost the dream of what
their life would look like in becoming parents. They lost the dream of
everything that they would experience with that child. Every step that they
would take, right. That is incredibly traumatic, right. So all of these
different things can, it’s a form of of loss, okay. Now when we think about
trauma it can manifest in a lot of really different ways that we’re not
really familiar with. So some of the things and as I’m saying these things
try and think about yourselves right and whether these are any of the the
symptoms that you might have experienced, right. Where you might experience a
heightened sense of anxiety just being anxious but not really knowing why, right.
Like there’s something in your mind that’s telling you I need to be worried
but you go through your checklist and there’s nothing there to worry about but
you’re just anxious, right. That kind of anxiety, experiencing nightmares,
experiencing a sense of emptiness or numbness, right. Like struggling to find
joy in things that you expect quote-unquote that you should find joy
in, right. Depression, anger. A lot of people don’t realize that anger
can be a part of trauma, can be a part of even depression and anxiety. Difficulty
feeling safe, avoiding conflict, right. Like there’s this inherent fear that a
lot of us have of expressing what we need to people in our lives because we
did well I just really don’t like conflict. I just would rather avoid, you
know, making anybody uncomfortable. right. What, what is that? What is that about?
Even, you know, our feelings of shame and unworthiness. You know, like struggles with your self-esteem. That doesn’t just
pop up out of nowhere. There are life experiences that create that dynamic for
you, right. And then even physical ailments. We see
this a lot in the Muslim community, right. Because it’s completely acceptable in
our community to go to the doctor with headaches or stomachaches or back
pain and all of these different things. That’s completely normal. You get a pill.
You’re on your way and you know, until it starts to wear off, and then it all
happens all over again. There’s not a stigma in going to your primary care
physician. But when those ailments continue and treatment is not working,
right, then it’s something to consider that it could be your body connecting
with your brain and your heart in a way that’s bringing up these physical
symptoms and that can be a symptom of trauma. So one of the most important
things in the work that we that Najwa and I are writing is about this
connection between the impact that our past has and the way things are
happening within our present. And the way that we are with people in our lives and
especially the way that we are with Allah subhana wata’ala in our present. And so a lot of
times, you know, when we are for example feeling shaky after a fight
with a spouse, the time that you walk through the supermarket and somebody, you know, said something anti-Muslim to you, the time that you yelled at your child
for no reason at all. All of those things make you feel shaky and they build up on
one another then you wake up feeling completely
unhappy and you have no idea why, right. Because all of these things build up and
then they’re not resolved, And so sometimes knowing a little bit about the
science behind trauma and what’s happening within us can help to
alleviate some of the stigma and some of the guilt that a lot of us feel in going
through this, right. So research has shown that even after we no longer think about
a difficult struggle or a traumatic incident that we’ve been through, even
once we we don’t really think about it’s not part of our daily life anymore,
even after that that trauma, I know it sounds strange but that trauma becomes
stored in within our bodies. And it manifests in different ways that we
don’t usually put together in, in the puzzle of our lives. And so when we’re
exposed to trauma, what happens is that we go into survival mode, right. So for
example, this is not traumatic alhamdullilah. I’m not being traumatized by
all of you right now but the going through a stressful situation of getting
up on stage and seeing all of these wonderful faces in front of me mashallah.
What happens to my heart rate, right? What happens to my breathing rate? All of
these different things that my heart starts beating faster, my hands start to
get a little bit sweaty, right. That’s a stress response. That’s what that’s
called. And during traumatic incidents it is
obviously much much more amplified and it’s a very normal experience when
something really big is happening to us or whether a stressful, when a stressful
situation is happening. It is normal that our brains will translate that to okay,
this is dangerous, I need to prepare you in how to respond. And that’s called the
fight, flight, or freeze response. Where our brain tells our body, hey, there’s
something dangerous happening here. You either need to run, you need to freeze, or
you need to fight, right. So I’m fighting right, because, I’m doing it I’m here. And
I’m like, you know, I’m still, I’m still talking. Alhamdullilah. I did not freeze, okay
so, and I didn’t run either, even when we switched rooms. So
so alhamdulillah you know that’s, that’s what our brains do. Now what’s gonna
happen once I’m off the stage is that everything will get back to normal
because that’s the normal response, right. And so that’s what will normally happen
under a stressful situation. After it’s done you feel better right and it goes
away because your body and your brain are working, right. But after trauma,
that’s not typically what happens. After a traumatic incident it takes a long
time for your brain to to realize, okay, I’m safe again. Until your body is
constantly in this survival mode and when your body’s in that survival mode
it’s really difficult to connect with people, and it’s really difficult to
connect with Allah subhana wa ta’ala. Because the brain area that lights up when you’re
stressed out and scared is not the brain area that’s meant for connection. It’s
the brain area that’s meant for survival and fighting for your life, right. And so
it effects us really intensely in a spiritual way. So your soul almost starts
to feel tired, especially for people who go through trauma back to back to back,
like in a lot of, you know, a lot of experiences that people have. And so what
happens is that these struggles and what’s going on in your brain can bring up a
lot of doubts in your faith right. Itt can bring up all of, once your brain is in
that survival mode, then the brain area in the front which is dedicated to good
judgment, it’s just not active. It can’t be active at the same time and so you’re
not going to be able to judge a situation as to whether it’s safe, even
as to whether Allah subhana wa ta’ala is safe for you. It’s not going to feel that way,
right, and so different thoughts are going to be happening like a anger
towards Allah subhana wata’ala. Why would Allah subhana wata’ala put me through this? If, you know, or if somebody, you know, one of the traumas that people experience is if a
spouse has had an affair, right. That’s incredibly traumatic because suddenly
they’ve been betrayed and it’s completely out of the blue and if they
can’t even trust this person, then who can they trust. And that then extends
to Allah subhana wata’ala. And so all of these different things are implicated in, in
our relationship with Allah subhana wata’ala, right. And so one of the things that Shaykh Omar mentioned that I want to reiterate is that this is not an indication of a
person’s imaan, right. There was a, there’s a hadith that I really really love where
the Companions of Rasulullah (sallalahu alaihi wasallam) came to him and they said we find in ourselves
thoughts that are too terrible to speak of. And so he asked them, do you really
experience these types of thoughts, right. And and pretty, it’s probably thoughts
about, doubts about Allah subhana wata’ala. And then they said, yes we do experience
these thoughts and he said this is a sign of clear faith. He didn’t say astagfirullah, how dare you talk to me about this? He didn’t say, oh wow, you
better go and pray open that Quran like, that, there’s something that’s really
wrong that’s happening. He didn’t say that. He said that is a sign of clear
faith. How can doubts and these thoughts that they hated so much be a sign of
clear faith? Because they hated them, right. If you are feeling within yourself
this this feeling of like, I can’t even tell the closest person to me some of
the doubts that I’m having because I’m just too ashamed, that shows how much you care about Allah subhana wata’ala. Right, so how can that be an indication of Imaan when
the Companions of Rasulullah (sallalahu alaihi wasalam) even experienced thoughts that they were
ashamed of, right. And so one of the things that come with trauma, right, is I
picture trauma as this black shadow that’s like a wall that is built up. Our
brain and our body builds up this wall to protect us. But the problem with this
dark wall is that it shelters our heart from the light, right. It shelters our
heart from being able to access that light of having a connection with Allah
subhana wata’ala. So the one major thing that can be so healing in this process is our
connection with Allah subhana wata’ala and then we can’t feel it and that’s one of the
most difficult things about trauma and the impact that it has on us. But in the
research that we were studying, one of the antidotes that researchers
have found is that if this is all initiated by feeling terrified, by
feeling alone, by feeling at risk and vulnerable, right, then the antidote is
those opposite feelings. It’s to feel secure. It’s to feel accepted by people. It’s to feel loved. It’s to feel safe, right, and there is no greater source in allowing us to feel
this except in our experience with Allah subhana wata’ala, right. And so if we allow ourselves to take small steps, right. And that’s through therapy and
through consultation with with our shuyookh and things like that about how to
incorporate the Islamic aspects into into your healing journey in therapy,
then allowing ourselves to take those small steps can make a huge difference,
right. And so the one, the last thought that I want to leave you with is that
although trauma can really impact our brain and through that, impact our
connection with Allah subhana wata’ala, one of the things that has been most
incredible in what we’ve been looking at in the research is how changeable the
brain is. right. It’s really malleable and so knowing that small steps that you
take, consistent steps that you take can have an incredibly positive impact on
your brain and therefore on your heart and on your body and your connection
with Allah subhana wata’ala and knowing that you are enough to overcome that because
Allah subhana wata’ala has told us he never burdens a person with more than they’re capable of
handling. And so even if we feel like we can’t handle it but Allah subhana wata’ala
knows us better, right. And if He puts us in that situation, He knows we’re strong
enough to deal with it and so we are enough to be able to overcome that, even
in the darkest moments inshallah. So Jazakallah khaiyran for listening. Subhanakallahuma wabihamdihi (Dua). Assalamu Alaikum Warehmatuallah. you


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