Congratulations, we’re here again. The beginning of a New Year.
You made it through another year of change and transition. Each year that passes adds to our rich life mosaic. This rich mosaic of experience and challenges is a reflected in the way that we choose to live our lives forward.
Yes, I said the way we choose to live our lives forward. Have you ever wondered why some people that have faced adversity seem to gain from the experience and go on to use that experience to propel themselves forward? The resilience gained from the difficult experience serves to create new growth and development. Much like the healthy re-growth of a vibrant forest and eco-system after a catastrophic and destructive fire.
Others, however, become crushed by the traumatic experiences and are stuck in a cycle that holds them in a tiring and repetitive struggle ruled by trauma and regret.
I have spent the last 30 years of my career as a Social Worker, Psychotherapist and Coach trying to understand this phenomenon and have some ideas that I would like to share. I designed the flowchart at the beginning of this article to help help explain some of the ways trauma can impact our ability to move forward.
A critical life event can result in a much different outcome depending on which lens we are wearing when the critical event happens. If life events and history have burdened us with a trauma lens then any incident can trigger a seemingly abnormal or strong and unpredictable response. For example, a normal fright/flight response may become a freeze/dissociative response. This helps to explain why some victims of sexual abuse continue to be victimized by multiple offenders.
For those who are permanently negatively impacted by trauma, a response that stalls their ability to move forward is a common, understandable but debilitating reaction. These reactions limit their ability to enjoy a productive life. Treatment and coaching in these situations, if it is to be effective, must to be holisitc (mind, body, cell and soul) and consider the needs that the symptom provides in the protection of the individual who is coping with a traumatic history. A “one size fits all” approach has no place in our work with individuals dealing with the multiple symptoms associated with trauma.
Therapeutic intervention, while structured for safety and security, has to be unique to each impacted individual seeking support.
Coaches must educate themselves on the impact of trauma and post trauma responses. A timely and appropriate referral to a qualified trauma specialist will support a client to resolve the trauma impact that is preventing them from being able to live their lives to their fullest potential.
The symptoms that tend to be the most common are as follows:,
SYMPTOMS THAT ARE SURVIVAL TOOLS
- Body numbness: Disconnection from pain
- Insomnia-hypersonic A way to stay alert or a way to hide away from pain
- Drug and alcohol abuse Decreases the chatter in the head
- Weight Control Provides protection by stifling development or by creating a shield of fat to protect
- Suicidal ideation Not to kill self but a way to stop pain.
- Slashing To shatter the numbness for a brief period of
- Sexual Promiscuity A way to be in control of sex and sexual
- Over Achieving A way of keeping negative attention away
- Social isolation Control, control, control
- Depression/Anxiety The bodies way of manifesting alert
Our challenge as therapists, coaches and clients is to redefine and reprogram the response to the traumatic event or events. Discover the root of the issue. Find a solution that provides mastery over the trauma and develop a self regulation mechanism based on the control that exists in a safe present environment. Build on the strengths, challenge the coping mechanisms by gently identifying the functional from the destructive and begin the rebuild and replace them as comfort levels allow.
To use the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is damaged care for the roots is the first priority. If this is done well, the tree will survive and thrive. Ignore the systemic issue that created the damage then the tree will slowly become ill and die.
People who live life through a lens defined by trauma offer a complex and difficult series of defenses that are often unclear and difficult to negotiate. Conversly, these defenses/coping mechanisms are really only the “canary in the mine” and provide a richness of clues that can guide the therapeutic journey forward.
The key to much of our work in trauma is the development of a true team. Our ability to listen carefully and understand comprehensively the true nature of behaviours that we are privileged to be trusted with. Therapist, Coaches and clients, discovering, adjusting and refocusing efforts together in a journey to engage the brain in finding a new, healthy and creative approaches to resolving and thriving after a traumatic event.
Creativity, authenticity, experience and faith in this process are the cornerstones to success. Trauma is a detour and a life forward requires that our new choices are fully understood. Change is always possible but choice needs to be given the room and knowledge to be informed.
Once we know what the choices are then we are truly free to decide which lens we want to see the world through. Then it we truly have a choice.
What lens do you see the world through.