Trauma and Resiliency 

By Melvin Hayden 

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Defining Social Trauma

Social traumas are not merely psychological but collective experiences, and that trauma plays a key role in defining the origins and outcomes of critical social conflicts. It outlines a model of trauma work that relates interests of carrier groups, competing narrative identifications of victim and perpetrator, utopian and dystopian proposals for trauma resolution, the performative power of constructed events and the distribution of organizational resources.

A “social trauma” is the traumatic consequence of events or situations that are potentially traumatogenic (natural calamities, wars, accidents, kidnapping, mourning, exposure to risks and danger, etc...) which involve a community or one’s own definable social group (family, peer groups, etc…)

Social trauma explores these processes in richly textured case studies of cultural trauma origins and effects and describes the idealizing discourse of globalization as a trauma response, such as the Cold War. I would further suggest that the term be inclusive of all forms of traumatization that social groups experience, whatever the causes.

Social Exposure to Risk

Social trauma, regardless of the causes, inflicts states of psychological, emotional, physiological, spiritual and sociological injuries on the members of the group. This in turn is passed down from one generation to the next through mechanisms such as a societal trauma response. Those are the dysfunctional behaviors that present themselves in a society’s behavior unless a healing intervention happens to prevent its transmission to new generations. One kind of trauma may seem more significant than another kind but in fact, all traumatization is traumatic, tragic and creates human suffering.

Trauma in children often manifests outwardly, affecting the child’s relationships and interactions. In schools, the signs of trauma could be in a student acting out in class or they could be more subtle, like failure to make eye contact or repeatedly tapping a foot. For teachers who are exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma known as vicarious trauma is a big risk. Sometimes called the “cost of caring,” vicarious trauma can result from “hearing [people’s] trauma stories and becoming witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,” according to the American Counseling Association.

Trauma and Resiliency

Being a teacher is a stressful enough, but teachers are now responsible for a lot more than just providing education. They get to know about their students’ lives and the needs of their families and with that can come secondary trauma. Vicarious trauma affects teachers’ brains in much of the same way that it affects their students. The brain emits a fear response, releasing excessive cortisol and adrenaline that can increase heart rate, blood pressure and respiration and release a flood of emotions. This biological response can manifest in mental and physical symptoms such as anger and headaches, or workplace behaviors like missing meetings, lateness or avoiding certain students experts say.

Yet many teachers are never explicitly taught how to help students who have experienced trauma, let alone address the toll it takes on their own health and personal lives. We reached out to trauma-informed experts and educators around the country to get their recommendations for in-the-moment coping strategies and preventative measures to help teacher’s process vicarious trauma. Below are their tips:

  • Talk it Out: Connecting with colleagues to talk through and process experiences can be invaluable for teachers coping with secondary trauma.

  • Build Coping Strategies: Map out your school day and take note of the times of day you feel most stressed. Then integrate scheduled coping strategies into your daily routine.

  • Establish Coming Home Rituals: After an emotionally difficult day, many teachers will write about their experiences before they leave or sit down with a colleague to help process it.

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