Dr. Mark McNear is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in New Jersey. He’s also the author of the book Finding My Words: A Ruthless Commitment to Healing Gently After Trauma. Dr. McNear understands addiction firsthand and the way past wounds can influence the present. Our podcast team met with him to discuss his book and to see what we could learn about trauma and its impact on those struggling with unwanted behaviors.
The Effects of Trauma
In Dr. McNear’s own life, trauma drove him into substance abuse. However, similar patterns can play out with behavioral addictions like pornography. He described the effects of trauma that he experienced and in the experience of many who struggle with addictive patterns.
Victims of trauma often lack the vocabulary to express what they’ve experienced. Consequently, the traumatic experiences remain buried and unprocessed. Dr. McNear explained:
“They don’t have the words. You know that part of the brain goes offline. I didn’t have the words. I needed somebody to walk alongside me and to help me with those skills that I had not developed, and being able to share my story.”
Initially, Dr. McNear couldn’t share his story. “I wasn’t emotionally ready, but I also didn’t have the words to talk about it.” Eventually, through much help and encouragement, he found the words. He was able to relate the details of his childhood sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences. This freed him up to do the deep work of healing in his soul.
(You can read more about the relationship between sexual abuse and porn struggles in Jay Stringer’s 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use).
Lacking words wasn’t the only effect that Dr. McNear experienced. Like many others who suffer these experiences, he became highly dysregulated physically and emotionally.
“Whenever someone is traumatized they they become dysregulated emotionally, so they either go real ‘hyper’ or they go down ‘hypo’. If they’re really anxious and running around and can’t slow down, that would be an example of ‘hyper.’ ‘Hypo’ would be sitting and watching your phone and just scrolling with your phone or watching TV and just zoning out which we’re all guilty of at times.”
It’s important for trauma victims to get in touch with their bodies to begin learning emotional regulation, “That idea of getting in touch with the body, and what the body is feeling,” he said.
Dr. McNear shared a personal example of this. Growing up, when he heard the garage door open, that meant his father was home from work—which meant he might be victimized again. “That caused me to get really anxious and panic. and I would feel that in my body my heart would start pounding.” This had tremendous implications for him later in life.
“Fast forward. I get married, and Debbie and I are married and we’re living in our first home. The garage door goes up. She’s home from work and my heart begins to pound. I had no idea why! So [emotional regulation] is the idea of being able to realize when you’re having reactions like that. There’s a reason for it.”
The first step in managing these emotions is simply learning to understand them. “A lot of times. We feel like we’re crazy. you know, and to kind of piece that, together with okay, this happened in the past. And now this is happening today, and I’m triggered.” Dr. McNear offered this encouragement to those with similar experiences:
“A lot of times we feel trauma in the body. I would encourage listen your body. Find ways to soothe your body, to calm yourself down. A lot of times the central nervous system is just over active with individuals—for me it was really really overactive where I couldn’t sit still and just relax.”
Processing Trauma Takes Time and Repetition
Dr. McNear emphasized the reality that recovering from trauma, even learning to understand and process it, takes time.
“Sometimes we think about one and done especially in our society. It’s like, okay. We get it done once, and that’s it. No, it takes time. It takes a lot of time to process it’s not something that is a procedure. It’s a process.”
We need space to learn the words to share our stories, and we need space to learn to listen to our bodies and regain emotional regulation.
“It takes a long time. You know we’re in it for the long race, not not this short race, you know. I I love the verse in Philippians chapter one in verse 6. ‘Be confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you, he will continue it until the day of Christ Jesus.'”
When Dr. McNear first entered rehab, he thought it would be a one-time, 4-week stint and then he would be through it.
“That’s not realistic and I learned that quickly. You know it took me years to be able to process a lot of the things that I went through and to realize what the triggers were. It took a long time to get where you’re at. It took a lot of months or a lot of years. So it’s going to take time for healing. It’s not quick. It’s not a quick process.”
Trauma Can Point Us to Christ
Most importantly, and most hopefully, Dr. McNear shared how his own traumatic experiences eventually pointed him to Christ.
“There’s a verse that I picked for this year, Jeremiah 17:14. In in that he writes, “Heal me and I will be healed. Save me and I will be saved. For you are the one that I praise.”
Dr. McNear’s story is a difficult one. And he warns people that for some it might be triggering. “But it’s also a wonderful story about how God steps into a person’s mess,” he adds.
“It’s definitely true is that my trauma led me to the living God. It led me to salvation in Jesus Christ.”
There’s much more to Dr. McNear’s story and the wisdom and insight he shares from both his own journey and his years of experience helping others. Click here for the whole podcast.
This really resonated with me buy I’m not sure whether I dwell on my own stuff and/or have taken on my dad’s traumas.