Is your House Trauma-Informed?
By Melvin Hayden
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When we hear the word trauma, it has taken a whole new meaning with the current disposition of the country. We think we are ready and then we are not. Most of us have an instinctive understanding of what it means: the severe distress, harm or suffering that results from overwhelming mental or emotional pain or physical injury.
However, trauma is quickly revealing itself in forms we never anticipated caused by or magnified by being in the house because school is out. It is no secret that survivors of violence need time to heal and feel safe again after the danger is gone. However, meeting the needs of trauma survivors takes a great deal of sensitivity. How do we address the need for surviving our own family? Trauma-informed care starts with asking the right questions - moving from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” and “How has this experience affected you?”
No matter what type of quarantine you are currently living through, research shows that the resulting trauma can have long-term effects on the body. Headaches, joint pain, difficulty sleeping, gastrointestinal, respiratory and cardiovascular issues may occur.
Trauma-informed care recognizes how trauma affects the brain, which is vital in understanding how our children are learning through Zoom and Microsoft team meetings; how their strengths and weaknesses are being affected, as well as their motivation or lack thereof. This is the same for parents who are working at home. The stress of everything going up such as gas, water, electricity and the grocery bill. The restructure of how everyone completes their work-related assignments and still maintain a high level of proficiency is crucial. Let’s all understand that trauma effects the hyperactivity in the lower areas of the brain, the amygdala and hippocampus, which overrides the prefrontal cortex which oversees rational choices and modulates emotional responses. During critical times are where we make the most mistakes. When we are not informed, we rely on what we know. The problem with that is what we know changes daily, so it keeps us as parents off balance. This keeps a person in survival mode and being in survival mode keeps our guards up and that is what we must change. Memories can also be stored in the wrong place, keeping difficult memories active. Memories have a funny way of replaying in our minds like a movie, so this is where we must be the most creative as well.
Any family can be successful with making their house a trauma-informed care model by understanding that you have to consider the physical and mental effects of trauma, and that trauma looks beyond what happened to ask another question - “Who do you want to be?” It offers us a chance to rebuild the connections and trust that were fractured before the quarantine. If we are honest, many of us had social distancing going on in our house before social distancing was a “thing”. Since we are all experiencing some of the same things, having space to make our own decisions about how we feel or don’t feel is why the voluntary services (when you are ready to talk) approach is so important. Otherwise, we risk re-traumatizing ourselves with artificially imposed requirements.
Here are five principles of trauma-informed care:
Awareness: be aware of attitudes changes in the house. Safety: ask questions regarding physical and emotional levels. Trustworthiness build relationships. Empowerment in decision-making processes. Inclusiveness for all: including everyone in the decision-making process, even what to eat. Remember we all want to feel needed and valued. Trauma-informed care reveals the in-home network of relationships we take for granted sometimes.
Adapted from SAMHSA.gov, Dealing with the Effects of Trauma—A Self-Help Guide, https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA-3717/SMA-3717.pdf
Joan Cook, “Why many people don’t talk about traumatic events until long after they occur,” TheConversation.com, August 1, 2016. https://theconversation.com/why-many-people-dont-talk-about-traumatic-events-until-long-after-they-occur-63248
National Institute of Mental Health, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml