I want to tell people to normalize trauma, as in information about trauma and discussions of trauma, but I don’t want to come across as saying trauma is normal (though it’s common) or trauma SHOULD be normal (because it shouldn’t). But alas, it is, especially right now.
I teach about trauma every semester, in every one one of my classes. That’s not hard to do when you teach about culture, because if you study culture, every culture has coping strategies for trauma, ways of addressing it, and ways of silencing it. It’s not hard to do when you teach about narrative and storytelling, because many global storytelling traditions deal with trauma (think of the Iliad or The Arabian Nights). Further, stories by definition have to be about something, some kind of change or event, and often the more traumatic the event, the more exciting or interesting the story.
I shouldn’t need to say that this post is partly inspired by the response to Dr. Ford’s courageous decision to speak out about Brett Kavanaugh’s assault on her, but, well, obviously it is. Or rather, this post is partly inspired by the outrageous backlash against her, which comes from not only a place of idiocy, misogyny, and bigotry, but also lack of being trauma-informed. My Patheos colleague Kathrine covers the topic well over at Without a Crystal Ball.
Mostly, however, this post was inspired by a great discussion I had with one of my classes about trauma in relationship to sex education, and how moving towards Trauma-Informed (TI) sex ed is one of the best things we could possibly do for the sake of, well, everyone.
As two of my favorite sex ed scholars, Nicola Fava and Laina Bay-Cheng, write:
TI models of care were originally developed to provide those with trauma histories and comorbid mental health and substance use problems with more appropriate care. Accordingly, basic tenets and essential elements of TI models include an appreciation for the prevalence of trauma, an understanding of its deep effects across development, efforts to avoid re-traumatisation, valuing the person in all aspects of care, non-blaming and supportive language, and awareness of individuals’ capacity for resistance. (388)
While it’s important to note that TI models of care are not quite the same thing as trauma treatment, anyone can implement being trauma-informed… and the point of this post is to argue that now’s the time for more people to do so, in our classrooms as well in our daily lives. TI sex education is another thing that I believe is quite important, but there’s a lot of resistance to implementing it in sex ed classrooms, due to factors such as how we have totalizing views of victimhood (that are incorrect), and the lack of ability to talk frankly about sex, intersectionality, and power in most public school sex ed classrooms thanks to the dominance of the abstinence-only movement.
Here are some ways you can be trauma-informed:
- Use trigger warnings. I talk more about why here.
- Learn what to do when someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, as described by Dr. Emily Nagoski here.
- Learn how to utilize evidence-based tools for self-care when dealing with or studying trauma, as I wrote about here.
One last point to clarify: not all trauma is sexual in nature. People may have trauma resulting from accidents/disasters, from relationship abuse that is verbal or emotional in nature rather than sexual, from childhood neglect due to poverty, and so on. Trauma is diverse and diffuse, and we don’t necessarily get to choose what traumatizes us.
But, given what is happening on the national stage in the U.S., many of us are very attuned to sexual violence right now, and especially violence against women/gender-based violence. Keep in mind, then, that many of the women you know (and non-binary and trans people too) may be in flashback hell, and thus it is a kindness to use trigger warnings and to be generally trauma-informed. Teaching and talking about trauma energizes me, but that’s not the case for everyone, so taking a break from it can also be helpful.
I’ll end with this excellent post from The Mighty: 7 Things to Remember if Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh’s Hearing is Difficult for You. In short, learn what trauma does to people, and then don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t minimize it, don’t gaslight people about it (which means, don’t deny that their experiences were real), and moreover, go out of your way to accommodate the needs of survivors in your life. I’m cautiously optimistic about what spreading information about being trauma-informed can help us achieve in supporting each other right now.
The reason I chose this picture, by the way, is that many survivors might feel obliged to put on a happy face to function in society, but we’re not actually doing all that well on the inside. Being surrounded by trauma-informed friends, family, and colleague might help us grapple with some of that cognitive dissonance and do some healing. Giving survivors space to just be is one way of supporting us.
Nicole Fava and Laina Bay-Cheng, “Trauma-Informed Sexuality Education: Recognising the Rights and Resilience of Youth.” Sex Education 13.4 (2013): 383-394.