By Dr. Phil Bradfield

Managing Our Own Trauma

Greetings to all.

Welcome to what should be fall, but what we in the south know to be the false fall.  We are in mid-October, and just last week my kids were outside swimming.  I hope and pray everyone is doing well.

This month I wanted to write to you about managing our own trauma; it’s so important in our work with children who have trauma.  As adults, we can easily come to believe several misconceptions about trauma.

For example, you might think:

  • “My trauma happened a long time ago. I am fine.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “You can only experience trauma through life-threatening events.”
  • “I am strong enough to make it on my own.”
  • “Nothing good can come from talking about trauma.”
  • “I’ll get around to counseling later in life.”

These examples and patterns of thinking about trauma illustrate different forms of denial or avoidance, usually because the experience or the memory of the trauma is painful to us.

Several types of trauma can deeply impact adults, regardless of when the event occurred, whether recently or many years ago.

We often see these kinds of trauma in our work:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACE)
  • Secondary (or vicarious) trauma
  • Big “T” trauma
  • Little “t” trauma

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) happen when you’re growing up, but you can go on carrying wounds from these experiences well into adulthood. Trauma almost always takes place in the context of relationships, and forgiveness is an important step. But forgiveness does not guarantee you’ll heal from the wound.

Secondary, or vicarious trauma, is very common for people who work in helping professions such as healthcare, counseling, social work, law, teaching, and for sure foster and group care. If the profession you are in exposes you to hard stories over and over, it may eventually lead to emotional numbness, burnout or compassion fatigue.

Many adults have never experienced ACE traumas growing up, which is great — that’s how God designed it to be.  However we can be hit with really painful experiences regardless of age, things such as the death of loved ones, natural disasters, wars, violent crimes or serious accidents.  These are all examples of big “T” traumas, things that would traumatize most of us under any circumstances. Big “T” traumas are usually life-threatening events.

Little “t” traumas are things that may deeply traumatize one person, but not necessarily the next.  Little “t” does not always mean less painful, in some ways little “t” trauma can be worse.  It all depends on how it affects people in their circumstances and how they experience or perceive the event(s). Little “t” traumas are not usually life-threatening. Examples of little “t” trauma include: verbal abuse, witnessing violence, non life-threatening events, betrayal, divorce, big changes or harassment.

We cannot control our life experiences, and we certainly cannot control what other people may or may not do to cause us emotional harm.  The goal in managing our own trauma is not to avoid trauma entirely. Most of us will experience trauma at some point in life.  The goal is to manage ourselves until we are able to process the trauma and heal from it.

This leads us to two questions: What can we do to manage ourselves? What can we do to heal?

What can you do to manage yourself?

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat well.
  • Get regular, plentiful sleep.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Avoid isolation and seek support.
  • Maintain Christian fellowship.
  • Keep a routine.

What can you do to heal from or process trauma?

  • Seek the Lord – draw strength from your identity in Christ.
  • Get into counseling – allow yourself to feel your feelings and be validated.
  • Use boundaries – this is a practical, but critical, practice in order to heal.
  • Journal about your healing journey; recognizing it is a process, not an event.

None of these lists are exhaustive, but hopefully they are enough to get you started, if needed.  Part of remaining trauma informed is having the vulnerability and space to pursue our own needs and have them met so that we are better equipped to help and serve others.  If anyone ever needs a referral for counseling, please do not hesitate to reach out to a WinShape Homes clinical care team member.  We’re here to help.