Trauma-Informed Living is a coaching approach to extraordinary and disturbing life events. Most people call them traumas. Alan Watts in the quote above gives us a way to think about the impact of traumas.
Today’s popular opinions are that, by itself, a trauma damages you and stops you from living. People believe you are contaminated in some way by what happened to you. You might assume this error is true yourself. This is a false idea that builds barriers to life. I’ll come back to this idea in a moment.
I have my own personal history of childhood horrors.
Initially, I dedicated all my energy to overcoming what happened to me. Somewhere along the line I decided i wanted my life to be more than overcoming. I wanted to thrive.
Okay, well, really, what I wanted was to erase every single possible thread of those experiences. I didn’t just want it to not matter. I wanted my life to be as if those things had never happened to me. I learned that was not possible. Instead, I found I could make it matter in a big way. A positive way. I could use every single skill, piece of knowledge and painful feeling to help others. So I did.
Then I went back to school and applied that same zeal to looking under every rock, in every nook and cranny for information about how to help other people make the most out of their lives.
I don’t believe you are polluted by whatever happened to you. Instead, I think you are normal, whole, and healthy. Your reactions to whatever you’ve experienced are natural and healthy. You are just walking a new path. Needing to plunge into your experience, “move with it and join the dance” like Alan Watts wrote.
How do people do that?
Okay, first we need to distinguish the trauma itself from you. You are not your trauma. You are not what happened to you. Let me repeat. You are not what happened to you. You are still you in all your glory.
Traumas are often horrendous, vile, awful and devastating. They include such experiences as rape, crime, witnessing a traumatic event, earthquake, fire, political torture, child abuse, accidents, explosions, a caretaking role in a trauma, airplane crash, natural disaster, and war.
You, however, are normal. Normal, normal, normal. Your feelings are normal. Your responses to your trauma are healthy. And the difficulties you might experience after your trauma are natural. There is a natural process to walking through a traumatic experience. It involves understanding how very normal you really are.
Let me explain.
Over the years, when I was working in my psychotherapy practice, I met people who did not have a diagnosable mental disorder after experiencing a severe and violent trauma. They did not have PTSD. Instead, they expressed themselves freely. These people retained their hope for the future. They didn’t fit the official profile of someone with anxiety, depression or any diagnosable mental disorder.
Caring friends, family, physicians, and employers sent them for psychotherapy. Their support team held the common “wisdom” of two separate ideas.
One, they felt sure traumas were unbelievably awful. And they were right.
It’s their second assumption that was flawed. They assumed that if you experienced such an awful event, you’d be incapacitated by it. Damaged somehow. Tainted by the awfulness.
That’s the error. Because they were not. They only came to counseling for one session. They needed no extra help.
I wondered. What was it that allowed them to heal from a serious trauma without counseling support? What made them able to walk through that awfulness without developing a mental disorder?
How could they “plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance?”
First, their background is telling. They each had grown up in loving homes, enjoyed excellent support systems, and operated with strong feelings of positive self-esteem. They learned emotional self-care.
Surrounded by concerned and attentive people, they could have a healthy experience, a wellness experience. They told their story and described their experience. They vented out the trauma. People believed them. Friends and family supported the fact that they were not at fault. They told their story over and over and over again to anyone willing to hear them.
The people surrounding them listened and didn’t make them wrong. Not for the event. Not for their feelings. Not for their reactions. This allowed them to plunge into it and join their own dance.
Instead, friends and family cheered their courage. Encouraged them. In this manner, they handled the normal feelings and difficulties following their trauma. They followed their natural and normal process.
I thought about this for a long time. I examined each of those factors that supported them in returning to full and effective functioning in their lives. In months instead of years or decades. It seemed to me that people who were not given self-care skills growing up needed them. They needed them to experience out their trauma safely.
If a person was not given these skills growing up, they needed to give them to themselves as adults. These behaviors are needed to reclaim your life after a trauma.
Then I developed classes in my office to offer people the foundations needed to have their own healthy experience with trauma process. The classes offered the self-care people needed: Ideas, skills, tools and techniques designed to help people build their own foundation. I gave those classes for years to people who desired them.
My thinking has evolved. My new theme is your personal power. What I offered before was education. Education’s power differential assumes you need an expert to teach you. but you don’t. Not really. You have all the wisdom inside you to know what you need to learn or do next.
While in a coaching session, I might briefly offer a few new ideas or skills, the coaching session puts you in the driver’s seat. You are in charge. You know what you need. You need to listen to and trust yourself.
Trauma wellness assumes you do contain the wisdom inside needed to cope with your life. You even know what self-care skill you need to develop next. Sometimes all you need is a person who values what you have to say. Who listens carefully and lets you know they understand. Who helps you listen to yourself. Who has faith in your personal power to achieve your goals.
And after a traumatic life experience, the most pressing goal is to reclaim your life.
I trust that. I have faith in you.
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©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
*Photo by Linda Bailey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons