Trauma is more prevalent that most people realize. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website, two-thirds of people have experienced at least one traumatic event by age 16. In 2015, for every 1,000 children, 9.2 experienced some sort of child abuse or neglect. Their research suggests that 54 percent of U.S. families have been affected by some type of disaster. Many people have multiple or repeated trauma. The more intense and frequent a trauma is, the more likely it is to have an impact on people.
Trauma has both short-term and long-term effects. In children this might be fear of being separated from a caregiver, excessive crying or screaming, weight loss and nightmares. In older children it could be poor concentration, feelings of guilt or shame, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, eating disorders, self-harming behavior, sexual acting out or use of drugs or alcohol, among other things.
These behaviors and difficulties can persist into adulthood, and may lead to difficulties getting or keeping a job, disruption in relationships or criminal behavior. When these behaviors occur in people they likely indicate some sort of traumatic past. This is because the trauma changes the way the brain functions. These struggles will sometimes lead people to seek mental health services, but sometimes people suffer without recognizing that the problems may be connected to a past traumatic event, or that they can change.
As traumatized children grow into adults they are often perceived as being the problem themselves, instead of being seen as the victim of a trauma. When friends, family, professionals and society view the person as the problem it creates a lack of compassion and ignores the healing that could occur if the trauma were recognized. When one views those with difficult behavior as a victim of their past, they will approach them with more empathy and compassion. This is the essence of being trauma informed.
Trauma-informed care has been a topic of discussion for several years within the human service world. According to Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center, trauma-informed care shifts the focus from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” There has been a push to bring this concept outside the therapy office and into broader health care settings. This perspective, however, can be useful beyond the realm of health care. When individuals become trauma informed, they can approach all interactions differently and with more empathy and compassion.
Some people, however, resist this idea. They seem to believe that recognizing past trauma and approaching people with compassion means not holding them accountable for their behavior, and letting them “get away” with bad behavior. Handing out punishment for bad behavior while ignoring the emotional reality of the person will not fully address the problem. It may temporarily reduce the behavior, but it will likely get worse later. Compassion within trauma-informed living is recognizing the past trauma as the source of the pain that leads to difficult behavior. In the process of acknowledging the trauma and validating the emotions a door is opened to healing and learning new ways of coping. This can be done while still holding them accountable to the consequences of the behavior.
Living as a trauma-informed human means recognizing that another’s bad behavior or grumpy attitude is likely coming from a place of past trauma, and having compassion and kindness for the person, even while acknowledging that consequences happen. It is through the compassion and kindness that the healing happens.
While many people find healing from trauma through therapy or counseling, healing happens within all compassionate interactions. Therefore, every person has the power to be a force of healing in the lives of those around them, when they recognize there’s a good chance that a person’s difficult behavior is likely the result of past trauma, and treat them with compassion.
For those who need more intense treatment for mental health conditions, MidMichigan Health provides an intensive outpatient program called Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot. Those interested in more information about the PHP program may call (989) 466-3253. Those interested in more information on MidMichigan’s comprehensive behavioral health programs may visit www.midmichigan.org/mentalhealth.