Trauma is everywhere. Trauma happens to our friends, our families, and ourselves. Research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that:
- 1 in 5 Americans have been sexually molested as a child.
- 1 in 4 Americans have been beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body.
- 1 in 3 couples engage in physical violence.
- 25% of Americans grow up with alcoholic relatives
- 1 out of 8 Americans witness their mother being beaten or hit.
Shocking numbers to say the least. Among those numbers are many other traumatic events such as witnessing a loved one dying, being bullied, or having serious health concerns. Whatever the reason, trauma is prevalent in our lives, and it is important to face it. Trauma leaves many scars, particularly emotional scars, and it affects our ability to experience joy in this life. Learning how to become resilient in the face of trauma is important, especially since those who experience trauma affect not only themselves, but also others around them.
While many try to deal with trauma by “moving on”, or by pretending that the trauma never occurred to them, responses like this can lead to unhealthy coping skills and only serve to mask the pain underneath. Post-traumatic symptoms can last for years if the trauma is not dealt with appropriately. Studies have shown that trauma can lead to a recalibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and an alteration in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant. Trauma can lead others to feel emotionally shut off, and can lead to serious depression and anxiety. I have seen many girls feel that they are beyond “repair” and that they will always feel the negative feelings that they feel. This, however, does not have to be the case.
According to Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk (check out The Body Keeps the Score… a great read!), whose research is the source of this blog, there are three effective approaches to helping those with trauma:
- The top down approach: Talking and reconnecting with others and allowing others to know and understand what is going on while processing the memory of the trauma.
- By taking medicines that shut down inappropriate alarm reactions, or by utilizing other technologies that change the way the brain organizes information.
- The bottom up approach: Allowing the body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that result from trauma.
From what I have seen, it requires a combination of all three of these approaches to help those who have experienced trauma. As prone to trauma as we all are, I have seen something equally remarkable: everyone can learn to be resilient and can deal with their trauma. One of my favorite things about working at Sunrise is that Sunrise utilizes all three of these approaches in order to help the girls here. I have seen young girls overcome traumatic experiences that once left them feeling helpless and emotionally unstable. I have been brought to tears by the strength and fortitude of these girls. This strength comes from themselves, as well as learning that, with a little bit of help, they are capable of dealing with their trauma and moving forward. The road will not be, and often has not been an easy one for them. However, emotional freedom is the goal and that is what working through the trauma can bring.
-by Christopher Taggart, CSW