Today’s blog will be a continuation in a series of blogs focusing on some of the ways the needs of those who have experienced significant trauma can differ from those haven’t had that experience. Readers are invited to consider ways to intentionally interact with trauma-impacted people in ways that address some possible specific needs of that person.
As a review of the previous blogs, the first level of meeting these unique needs is through mindfully establishing safety and keeping distance in order to promote a relational dynamic of sensitivity. The emphasis is on both nonverbally and verbally communication so the person has the power to determine how vulnerable, transparent, authentic and even how close they want to be to the trauma-sensitive responder. Next was to encourage trauma-sensitive responders to use trauma-sensitive active listening. The third level focused on intentionally responding with trauma-sensitive affirming. The fourth level involved knowing if, when and how to teach as a means of explaining, normalizing and empowering.
As we move to considering a fifth level of meeting these unique needs, responders need to keep in mind that they need to be fluid in using the other levels. These levels are not some kind of sequential path to be rigidly followed.
The fifth level of a trauma-informed responder is to systematically process and explore the issues, needs, and dynamics of the situation in which a person has been triggered or is experiencing symptoms related to their previous traumatic experiences.
Prior to moving to this level, there must be a high degree of trust built between the responder and the trauma-impacted child or adult. Both need to be ready to do some form of exploration of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and/or sensations in order to gain clearer perspectives and a deeper understanding of it’s impact. At this point it is as if the responder and the trauma-impacted person can then begin a process of joining together in order to better understand the traumatic experiences and their impact and then problem solve together to address the resulting impact of that trauma. There also needs to be some processing of any triggers, flashbacks, or other symptoms of unresolved trauma.
At this level, through this kind of processing they can become clear that it is okay to explore the past without being wounded by it again. This is about retaining and reclaiming power because now the trauma-impacted person can decide which strategies he or she thinks will be helpful based on what he or she learns through the processing and exploring.
The responder then goes on to consider the kinds of exploratory questions he or she might ask to encourage enhanced awareness, clarity and understanding. Some of the questions might be fact-finding. Some may focus on interpretations. Some may be on the impact of things that happened in an interaction. Remember that the body holds onto trauma in sensory memories.Some responses may encourage the person to recognize the power they have to care for themselves.
When processing with someone, the goals are to make them more aware and give them insight as to what happened and possibly why. But most of all it is to empower them, to help them see they can think things through, they have the right to expect and even demand that others treat them with dignity and respect.
This can be an exciting level of processing for the responder. Done prematurely, however, it can feel threatening to that trauma-impacted person. So it is very important to be mindful about when you move to this level and to immediately revert back to previous levels if anything you are saying appears to be causing the trauma-impacted person to feel less safe or threatened by questions you ask.
Doing all this interacting in such a strategic and intentional way can be exhausting! And intimidating! At the same time, being equipped to move through these different levels and to move back whenever needed provides the responder with tools that will help them enhance and enrich the lives of someone who struggles with unresolved trauma.
Invitation to Reflect
- Can you think of a time when you just wanted to be listened to and someone began asking you a lot of questions in order to process and explore your issues? If so, how did that make you feel? Annoying? Threatening? Overwhelming? Did it almost re-traumatize you?
- Can you think of a time when you were in a good place to explore a challenging situation, as it related to something traumatic that happened in your life? If somebody was able to process with you at that time, did they do it in a way that allowed you to feel safe and powerful enough to maintain healthy boundaries?
- Can you think of someone with whom you might want to process some aspect of a traumatic or highly stressful life experience? Based on this information, how will you know when it is a good time to move to this level of interaction? What are some of the specific criteria you need to pay attention to before and during an exploring process?