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 vulnerable, #HealingTrauma
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 Healing Trauma:
- Safety and Stabilisation
1. Safety and Stabilisation: This phase involves establishing safety and stabilisation. Safety is primary. When we are safe, we can learn trauma informed tools for survival and 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”, competition: more/less, never enough) vs Self-Compassion (kindness, common humanity, mindfulness, aka “Enlightenment”, collaboration: you are enough, #YouBelong).
Trauma experts recommend that we use both top down (i.e. Brain Down: Gratitude, Empathy, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, etc) and bottom up (i.e. Body Up: Yoga, Martial Arts, Ceremonial Dance, etc) pathways for healing 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. Imagination vs reality. Helpful vs harmful. Less on individual pathology.
This is why people who are trauma informed understand the importance of human rights and social and political change (i.e. Power Threat Meaning Framework). Safe environments with opportunities available for everyone to heal trauma are vital 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.
This requires being mindful of how our own life impacts others: Are our daily interactions with others helpful or harmful? Please keep in mind what we think is helpful for someone might actually be harmful to them. So please take the time to ask others what they need rather than make assumptions.
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 survival and wellbeing, we feel safe enough and okay enough to process trauma. We are also less likely to flood (i.e. re-traumatise) ourselves because we are more grounded.
Plus we can bring ourselves back to reality more easily if/when we do get flooded (i.e. re-traumatised). Best practice for processing trauma is to have 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 who is trauma informed trained or an elder. 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 (optimal state of arousal: safe enough and okay enough), meaning that they are either in the ☝🏼 Attic (hyper aroused: anger, anxiety, terror, mania, etc) or in the 👇🏼 Basement (hypo aroused: sad, depressed, flat, numb, empty, etc), the focus is to embrace where we are with gentle efforts to return to our 👌🏼 Window (optimal state of arousal; safe enough and okay 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 survival and wellbeing (i.e. described above). Secondly, the general consensus now is, ✋🏼 do not 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 safety and stabilisation and to return to 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 so long as we have our basic needs met. So again, the focus is 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 a sense of 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 survival and 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 yet. 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/or harmful (e.g. Free Will, Religion, Law, Disease Model, Neuroplasticity; See Thread: Why Is Trauma Informed Care Vital?). 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 that your story is everyone’s story, if you examine it close enough. #YouBelong So how can it be yours alone to carry? This is where you can decide to rewrite your own. Our lives naturally become more inclusive with clarity. Why? Because everything is connected.
*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.
Source: Adapted from Blue Knot Foundation Practice Guidelines for Clinical Treatment of Complex Trauma (2019). https://blueknot.org.au/product/practice-guidelines-for-clinical-treatment-of-complex-trauma-digital-download/
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 #YouBelong
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
You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:
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