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Responses to Becoming Trauma Informed

By Diane Wagenhals

In the LGI division of Lakeside we provide dozens of trauma workshops and courses every year. There have been many interesting responses by our participants as they become more trauma-informed as a result of attending our trainings.

Many of responses depend on the degrees to which a participant has some kind of a trauma history and the degrees to which that participant is aware of that history. Sometimes someone knows they have had a traumatic past and are more prepared to hear the information because of that. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if they are aware of this coming into a workshop. They can still be triggered by the information, becoming more aware of trauma in their life, especially during childhood, and often as a result of hearing the ACEs information. 

They may become more aware of the losses they have experienced and the struggles they may still have as a result of this new awareness. Others may have no idea that they have experienced trauma and are in shock to realize they too have a trauma-history. Sometimes people are in denial as they hear the information and they refuse to consider that it might relate to them. Maybe they are so overwhelmed by their realizations they have to leave a session or even drop a course because of the shock, surprise and dismay at discovering traumatic memories that are probably still influencing them today even though the trauma was in their past. Sometimes people feel guilty because they realize some of their behaviors have injured people in their family or have hurt friendships. Some feel upset because they may be in a profession where punishments are doled out and then have a realization that the people they have punished could have been struggling with trauma-related issues. Others might feel very defensive and are demanding of those close to them to better understand them and extend sympathy for their trauma injuries. They might wonder what life could have been like if they had they not had these traumas.

In general, when people start to hear that there are many types of traumas— 13 or 14 at least— they broaden their understanding of the nature of trauma and the fact that it happens in so many different ways. Some examples of these different types of trauma include what is listed in the ACEs survey. Those include things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, the incarceration of a parent, divorce, having a parent with mental health issues, and others. There are other trauma categories, like war trauma or medical trauma. Also, there could be unprocessed memoriesthat continue to haunt the person years after an initial incident. 

It is virtually impossible for someone to sit in a workshop or class and not begin to either count the number of traumas they have experienced or recognize some of the categories under which their trauma would fall. Participants are often surprised at these thoughts when their intent was just to become trauma-informed so as to use what they learn in their interactions with clients or others in their professional relationships.

Our trainers stress to participants that it is important to be kind to and patient with yourself. They know that the process of becoming aware of and understanding your trauma and finding ways to work on your own recovery and healing will take time, often years. We want everyone to appreciate that the trauma information has a way of impacting people with layers of feelings. Initial feelings – often triggered by memories, that are triggered by the information – can lead to further triggering and the need for more processing. Something new could be revealed as the mind releases new memories along with the accompanying sensations of things like fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness and sometimes deep shame.

Sometimes participants need to consider how family members, especially children, differ in their reactions to life experiences. They have to be careful about what and how they share with them with regard to possible traumatic incidences these children might have experienced.

In our classes we stress the importance of everyone having a Safety Plan as they move through the process of becoming trauma-informed. Knowing that the reactions I have described are normal can help someone who might be feeling deeply impacted and overwhelmed by what they are learning. They will need to know those reactions are understandable. 

It is important to have strategies for managing all of this. An important one allows you to find someone with whom you can share your feelings in order to begin the process of unpacking your own trauma story and how it has impacted not only you. It is important to appreciate that uncovering one trauma and all the feelings about it can lead to realizations of other traumas, sort of like peeling an onion and crying as you move through each new layer. It is important to be kind to yourself and patient with yourself as you go through whatever process you experience as you become more aware and better understand how your traumatic experience impacted you. 

It is important to know that recovery and healing are possible, but can often take many years of processing with people who are trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive and can walk beside you while you move through painful processes that also require much grief work.

One of the results of doing this kind of work is that you build a better relationship with yourself and within yourself, gaining the ability to forgive, the ability to have greater self-confidence and trusting in your own thinking and feeling. It is hard work and each person goes on his or her own journey of self-discovery. It is a journey well worth the effort, but a critical component is maintaining safety while taking the journey; to be safe experiencing their own knowledge and responses about the nature and impact of their trauma. 

Invitation for Reflection

  1. As you read some of the responses to becoming trauma-informed, do any of them resonate with your experiences? If so, in what ways?
  2. To what extent have you had your needs met if becoming trauma informed? Have you created a Safety Plan while processing to become more self-aware, have increased understanding and learn ways to strategically address any unresolved issues around trauma?
  3. In what ways have you dealt with your own issues regarding guilt or the ways your trauma history has inadvertently impacted others who are important to you? Where can you go, where you feel safe, to get help addressing any trauma issues where you can do the work to reclaim your life and no longer be haunted by unresolved trauma?

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