When you experience a negative memory, do you experience an inability to move or take action? These “stuck” or “frozen” states are indicative of trauma. The trauma may be related to a single overwhelming event and/or it may be from a developmental disturbance, like childhood abuse or neglect. Trauma is about powerlessness, not being able to DO something helpful within the original situation. A traumatized person’s challenge is to re-train their mind AND body to take calm action when they are triggered into these states. Sometimes, traumatized people over-react to situations, understandably not wanting to be revictimized. Some interventions that help relieve (rather than re-live) trauma are: meditation (noticing disturbing mind/body cues while regulating breathing and heart rate); identifying and using self-soothing stimuli (perhaps a comforting smell, texture, visualization); and articulating the trauma experience within a safe and responsive context.
I recently completed a continuing education training with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score.
In addition to other healthy life practices, I find great resiliency in a self-book: Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. This book provides a framework for managing vicarious trauma. The text outlines 16 possible imbalances within a caregiver or service provider–such as cynicism, deliberate avoidance, hypervigilance, and an inability to embrace complexity. Readers can self-assess their experience and make adjustments. This collection of research and anecdotes relates to various human services, including social work, law enforcement, education, and medical fields.
Trauma often disrupts or prevents otherwise healthy relationships. One way to conceptualize this effect is through Attachment Theory, specifically the avoidant attachment style. People with avoidant attachment may provide vague descriptions of past events, idealize a person in a previous context, dismiss many problems, devalue intimacy, and over-emphasize self-reliance. With such clients, the therapist’s first task is to develop a safe relationship where a client can tolerate connection, exposure, and vulnerability. When a person experiences this vulnerability within a secure connection, he or she has a corrective emotional experience and may enhance other safe relationships.
A graphic from the Duluth Model outlines many components of abusive relationships. This power and control wheel was developed in 1984 and became widely circulated as the Duluth Model became the most researched and utilized domestic violence intervention approach in the world. The Duluth Model website hosts a gallery of other wheels, including the Using Children Post-Separation Wheel and the Equality Wheel. It also includes a wheel designed by an American Native community and Spanish-language wheels.