How to be trauma-informed given today’s important issues?

One of the hard things we talked about in the last article, strategies for coping with the hard parts of life, was watching the news or dealing with current events. There is certainly a lot going on in the world — and at times, feeling powerless, as it feels more polarized than ever.

In the last several years, when the world has felt so tough, I have dreamed of a world led by someone on a trauma-informed platform. I have even joked with my family and friends that I wanted to run for president on the platform of safety, kindness, and compassion.  And as I’m unable to do that, at least I can do this: Help encourage people to view the world through a more trauma-informed lens. This is the way to bring us closer to safety together, instead of further apart.

Living in a world that feels safe, compassionate, and understanding, where you can be seen and heard, is the ideal. So many trauma survivors are triggered in everyday life by the fears or dangers familiar from the past. The difference between viewing life through a trauma-informed lens and viewing life through an active trauma lens is startling.

What does a trauma-informed view look like?

Trauma-informed care recognizes how life experiences and trauma impact the brain.  When viewing the world through a trauma-informed lens, we prioritize safety – we consider the physical and emotional effects trauma can have.  We work hard to respect and honor how behaviors and views make sense, given personal history. We consider what happened to them. Like the book authored by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah, What Happened to You?  Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing.  We understand that there’s a story, that people are doing anything they can to survive life, and that their beliefs are impacted by everything — their upbringing, knowledge, education, and life experiences.

There are several guiding principles in viewing life from a trauma-informed lens that allow us to see what has happened to people and the impact that makes on their lives. Viewing others with more empathy, allows for the baseline of safety needed for a healthy society.  A trauma-informed lens requires us to build a foundation that includes:

  1. Safety – on both a physical and emotion level
  2. Trustworthiness & transparency – in relationships and in the process of life
  3. Peer support – having support and empathy, as well as belonging
  4. Collaboration & mutuality – partnering and leveling power differences
  5. Empowerment & choice – around decision making in life
  6. Cultural, historical & gender issues – inclusivity for all people

Through a trauma-informed lens all experiences and needs are valued.  Therefore, being able to look at the world through the healthiest sense of yourself — keeping in mind the ideas named by Internal Family Systems Founder, Dick Schwartz, Ph.D. and his 8 C’s of self:

  1. Calmness
  2. Clarity
  3. Curiosity
  4. Compassion
  5. Confidence
  6. Courage
  7. Creativity
  8. Connectedness

The ability to look at the world this way, through the 8 C’s, requires a large window of tolerance and the ability to cope with the hard parts of life. Trauma survivors do not usually start off with a trauma-informed view of the world. Because of what’s happened to them, it’s more likely that they initially look at the world through a traumatized view.

What does a traumatized view look like?

Because of what happened to them, trauma survivors learned to keep themselves alive through whatever means necessary. They learned to not trust, to live in fear and always wonder when the other shoe will drop. This view keeps their windows of tolerance, and their ability to feel difficult feelings, very narrow or small. They may see the world and new viewpoints living from a place of:

  • fear
  • rigidity or black or white thinking
  • doing anything possible to survive
  • being triggered into fight, flight or freeze
  • eliminating options because gray areas feel unsafe

As someone living with unresolved trauma, different views and beliefs may be very dysregulating. They may be reminders of how dangerous life can be, and in response, may feel the need to do whatever is possible to survive, trying to just feel safe enough. In order to feel better or less badly, trauma survivors may go into a state of hyperarousal and try to control the situation as best they can, making rules and eliminating options because anything outside of their beliefs feels unsafe.

Even people in power, who are making the rules, are sometimes living inside trauma and have very small windows of tolerance. Not able to tolerate differing views to find the gray area. Likely to attract support from others who view the world similarly, with small windows of tolerance who are also trying to feel safe inside their traumatized view.

People who are living with unresolved trauma don’t feel safe. They don’t understand why or how people are able to trust or see the world with curiosity and kindness. They are adapting, doing what they can to survive. This is why trauma survivors may continue on the same path for a long time – looking at only certain issues, or the short-term, because change feels extra-scary for them.

By being able to ground in the present and consider — how dangerous is this situation or understanding for me today? — it can be possible to notice safety and bring a trauma-informed perspective to the table, instead of a traumatized one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say: life today is safe and I can make my choices from my wise adult thinking brain.

In today’s world, how do we show up with a trauma-informed lens?

Beyond what we see in the flashy headlines, here are some person-to-person examples that we may encounter in our daily lives:

  • someone you know is abusing substances, and we are curious about the pain they carry that they are trying not to feel
  • someone you know who is pregnant and can’t carry to term in a healthy way, and we are compassionate to how scared or triggered they may be
  • someone you know who wants to terminate a pregnancy, and we honor their courage of knowing they are not ready to be a parent
  • someone who is fighting for women’s rights, and we connect with their confidence
  • someone who wants to assist Ukrainian refugees, and we admire the creative ways they do
  • someone who won’t get vaccinated, and we remain curious about their fears in order to help them understand the science
  • someone who does not support Black Lives Matter, and we calmly try and help bring clarity to their beliefs and help them connect to all people
  • someone who is transgender, and we bring compassion to their courageous want for an authentic life, wanting to connect with their true self
  • someone who believes being gay is wrong, and we calmly and curiously talk to them about honoring all people, bringing compassion
  • someone who committed a crime, and we bring wonder and curiosity to what happened to them to fuel this behavior
  • someone kills others, and we wonder how our society can help build structure and safety so that is no longer as easily possible
  • someone who votes differently from you, and we hold curiosity for their connection to their views

A trauma-informed view looks at these people with compassion, curiosity, and shared humanity:

  • How did you get to the views you have?
  • What happened to you?
  • What has been your life experience?
  • What informed your decisions?
  • How does your choice take care of you?
  • How can I understand you better?
  • How can we help you heal?

A person with a trauma-informed view works hard to look at people with kindness and compassion — even if those people live in a way, or are making decisions or choices, that make them or us feel uncomfortable.

Trauma-informed humans are always working to expand their windows of tolerance so they can approach uncomfortable situations with an open heart and mind, in a way in which they can feel safe.

From LGBTQ+ issues and the war, gun violence to abortion, racism, COVID, the Johnny Depp / Amber Heard trial — everything that’s in the news can be seen through a trauma-informed lens, or a traumatized one.

Certainly because of COVID, everyone in the world has now experienced some sense of lack of safety and stability – trauma – and might even be called a trauma survivor. Most people have endured multiple traumas. Many people have grown up with childhood trauma. If everyone is a trauma survivor, what are you going to do about it?

Here’s my hope:

Seeking a more trauma-informed view of the world?

Trauma informed therapy can help.

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