“Hurt People hurt people.” You may have heard it before, but why is it true? Chip Dodd explains this in a modified view of the trauma triangle:
The trauma triangle is an observable reality in most human experience. It’s easy to remember in the form of a short story. A victim of trauma denies their own needs and ends up coping by harming another person. This creates a new victim.
Let’s add characters:
Joe is a victim. He grew up being shamed by his mother. He has grown to believe that “being needy” is bad. His needs inconvenience people (namely his mother). He lives life bottling up his needs. He never expresses them to people — yet hopes that they will sense, know, and respond to his needs by osmosis. But people don’t, for instance his wife of 4 months. So, he explodes with a tirade of shaming commentary. He’s hurting people out of his place of hurt.
Joe can escape this trap. He can explore his feelings, express his needs, and then take responsibility for his story. A victim refuses to feel. Escape is through working through the feelings. A martyr refuses to have needs. Escape is through expressing needs in healthy ways. A persecutor demands others to pay for their trauma. Escape comes when you take responsibility for what has happened and live life on life’s terms.
In James chapter 4:1-12, we see the trauma triangle in full swing. Here’s the text in NT Wright’s translation:
1 Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members. 2 You want something and you haven’t got it, so you murder someone. You long to possess something, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war. The reason you don’t have it is because you don’t ask for it! 3 And when you do ask, you don’t get it, because you ask wrongly, intending to spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Don’t you know that to be friends with the world means being enemies with God? So anyone who wants to be friends with the world is setting themselves up as God’s enemy. 5 Or do you suppose that when the Bible says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit he has made to dwell in us’, it doesn’t mean what it says? 6 But God gives more grace; so it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ 7 Submit to God, then; resist the devil and he will run away from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Make your hands clean, you sinners; and make your hearts pure, you double-minded lot. 9 Make yourselves wretched; mourn and weep. Let your laughter turn to mourning, and your joy to sorrow. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, my dear family. Anyone who speaks evil against another family member, or passes judgment against them, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge! 12 There is one lawgiver, one judge who can rescue or destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Let’s look at James 4:1-2 through the lens of the trauma triangle.
We are often hurt because someone is waging war against us instead of being needy and asking for help. The persecutor desires to cope. They want to get away from their feelings associated with their own trauma. So they fight and war against the person who is “in their way” of escaping these feelings. This is the way of the world. The world offers lusts, addictions, and coping mechanisms. This keep us from being needy, dependent, and responsible people.
But we don’t have to respond to our loved ones through the lens of trauma and coping. We can feel our feelings, express our needs in healthy ways, and take responsibility for our stories, . We can “humble ourselves” by staring into the shame of our neediness and asking God for “more grace.” We can “come home” to God. We can tell the truth about our feelings to safe people. We can confess our needs both to God (the ultimate safe Person) and to other people who care. We can ask Christ for help and respond to hurt with an attitude of seeking healing instead of hurting others out of resentment.
This is how we cleanse our hearts and minds. This is how we walk away from judgment and speaking evil.