Some trauma experts say it is dangerous to open pandora’s box. Some reasons: psychosis, sessions are not long enough, there are not enough sessions, or we have to return to a dangerous environment, #HealingTrauma
vulnerable and have not yet established a sense of stability, clarity, the ability to regulate our emotions, or connection and belonging. So for such reasons there is a Three Phase Approach to Trauma:
- Safety and Stabilisation
1. Safety and Stabilisation: This involves learning trauma informed tools for wellbeing. These tools help us to be grounded so we do not get “flooded”. What is “flooded”? There is an expression in the field of trauma: “Be with it, but not in it.”
When we are “with it” but “not in it” we are anchored in reality, not stuck in trauma. If we are “in it” then we are flooded by traumatic experience/s, not reality. It is okay to get flooded. It is just like having awareness vs being on autopilot. We all do both everyday.
The more we cultivate awareness the less we are on autopilot. The same applies to trauma. So safety and stabilisation is key and trauma informed psychosocial education our tools. I have shared several of these as threads:
Using protectors to keep well (body, mind, social connection, culture, country, spirituality); Threat System (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) vs Peace System (peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulness, ecstasy);
Intimacy (safety, stillness, low arousal, flip side of freeze) vs Play (safety, movement, high arousal, flip side of fight/flight); Window of Tolerance (☝🏼 hyper aroused 👌🏼 optimally aroused ,👇🏼 hypo aroused);
Self-Esteem (the need to be “special” and above average; aka “survival of the fittest”; competitive; more/less, never enough) vs Self-Compassion (kindness, common humanity, mindfulness; aka “Enlightenment”; collaborative; you are enough; #WeAllBelong).
Trauma experts recommend that we use both top down (Brain Down: Gratitude, Empathy, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, etc) and bottom up (Body Up: Yoga, Martial Arts, Ceremonial Dance, etc) pathways to heal trauma.
It is important to note, no amount of tools will remove a real life and death threat. Safety is primary. This is why Trauma Informed Care works. The focus is danger vs safety. Less on individual pathology.
This is why people who are trauma informed understand the importance of social and political change (i.e. Power Threat Meaning Framework). Safe environments are vital for us to move from being in a constant state of threat (fight, flight, freeze, collapse)
to truly enjoy wellbeing (peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulness, ecstasy) via intimacy and play. Until we have social and political change, we must make do with what we have. We can support one another to be safe and to be the best version of ourselves together.
2. Processing: Here it is safe to open a box/s gently and slowly. When we are ready. With trauma informed support and tools for wellbeing, we feel safe enough and okay enough to process trauma because we are less likely to flood (i.e. re-traumatise) ourselves, plus we can bring ourselves back to reality more easily when we do get flooded. Best practice is trauma informed support (i.e. a trauma informed therapist or an elder experienced in healing). However, in reality, this is not always possible.
You might not be able to afford therapy. You might not have access to someone trauma informed trained. If you do have access and can afford it, then go for it. If you do not, do not stress. I will share some words here. Firstly, there is a golden rule with trauma healing:
If someone is not in their window of tolerance 👌🏼 (i.e. optimal state of arousal; okay enough and safe enough), meaning that they are either in the attic ☝🏼 (i.e. hyper aroused; e.g. anger, anxiety, terror, mania) or in the basement 👇🏼 (i.e. hypo aroused; sad, depressed, flat, numb, empty), the focus is to embrace where we are with gentle efforts to return to our window 👌🏼 (i.e. optimal state of arousal; okay enough and safe enough). This means no processing. It is not safe enough and we are not okay enough.
So how could we process trauma in such a state? We will just end up flooded (i.e. re-traumatising ourselves). The reason the “Window of Tolerance” is called that, is because we cannot tolerate whatever is outside of our window (i.e. it is not safe to us).
This is why the Dalai Lama teaches radical acceptance. The more we can accept, the more we can “tolerate”, the more flexible we become, and the less angry, anxious or depressed, we will be. So the focus is always working with this window of tolerance 👌🏼
We can all learn to increase our window of tolerance, with tools for wellbeing (i.e. described above). Secondly, the general consensus now is, do not to embark on a fishing expedition with trauma. We will just end up flooded (i.e. re-traumatising ourselves).
Meaning we temporarily lose touch with reality because our perception is now distorted (i.e. lost in our memories and imagination) stuck in trauma (fight, flight, freeze state). If you are stuck, try call Lifeline 131114, or someone you trust to re-establish clarity. If you are in danger or an emergency ring: 000.
The last thing I will add for this phase is, you do not really need to seek ways to process trauma. Your mind and brain is truly phenomenal. It will do this naturally with clarity once it is safe to do so. So again, the focus is clarity and the window of tolerance 👌🏼
One example is when someone tells you something important, say ten years ago but it meant nothing to you then, because the truth was not relevant to your experience yet. Yet the split second it applies to your world, boom, your brain instantly retrieves it from your memory.
No effort. It just came. This has nothing to do with trauma. But it is a remarkable example your brain knows what it is doing. It did not require your effort. It does need your trust (safety), a sharp focus (Intellect) and some curiosity (Mindfulness).
You will naturally connect the dots. So try establish safety and stability (body) with clarity (mind). For processing, let your system do its thing. Try to relax, kick back and observe it unfolding. It knows exactly what it is doing. It is always working towards healing.
It is a phenomenal intelligence at play. It works even better when we learn to get out of the way. Your role is to use tools for wellbeing to eliminate any confusion, locate where you are, understand it a bit better, and make your world safe enough, and okay enough:
safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment; with radical acceptance for the circumstances, where this is not an option. Acceptance is in no way passive. To not accept reality is insanity. Acceptance is the road to change.
3. Integrating: Here fostering safety, stabilisation and clarity become a daily practice. When we heal trauma, memories integrate like any other. They do not have the emotional salience they once had or the grip on us the way they once did. They are now just a collection of experiences and memories that no longer make us wounded, instead wise.
Or with conflicts, memories of what once were but are not now. You might not feel especially connected to people who harmed you. I am not especially connected to people who harmed me. However, I am no longer haunted or tormented by them. I understand them.
We simply see life differently due to several world views which are helpful and harmful (i.e. free will, religion, law, disease model, neuroplasticity). I would not trade my perception of reality if you paid me. The byproduct of clarity is peace.
My joy is peace dancing with kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. If others are not on the same page it is not up to me to change them. I can only learn myself. As Carl Rogers beautifully expressed: “The curious paradox is that when I finally accept myself then I can change.”
I would like to add to that: If you could see yourself the way I see you, you are beautiful as you are. So do not change too much. Just drop all the bullshit beliefs we have all held onto for far too long. You can still be you. You will just be more helpful than harmful.
You will feel lighter and shine brighter. Trauma will naturally drop. Because you will see your story is everyone’s story, if you examine it close enough. #YouBelong So how can it be yours to carry? This is where you can decide to rewrite your own. #WeAllBelong
*These three stages do not necessarily occur in this order. All three need not occur. It is not unusual to bounce back and forth, or to have to start from scratch; say you experience another obstacle, or simply through exploration.
It is just a framework. No framework is a substitute for the real thing: life itself. However, I think it is an excellent framework to help people work with trauma; to navigate reality vs our psychological space.
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:
To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.