Opinion: Building a trauma-informed community
Why a trauma-informed community?
Blue Knot Foundation is holding its second virtual Blue Knot Day; the theme this year is building a trauma-informed community. This is an apt and timely theme given our more recent experiences of trauma in our environment and the impacts of the pandemic. It has highlighted at a community and global level that experiencing trauma can happen to anyone. This emerging awareness has created further questions and an openness to learn more about the impacts of trauma and how as a community we can start to provide people with better support and acknowledgement of their experiences.
The phrase trauma-informed is therefore being utilised much more in our conversations:
“Trauma-Informed is not about the treatment of trauma or the symptoms, but rather a recognition that trauma experiences are a possibility for anyone”
(Kezelman & Stavropoulos, 2012)
Being trauma-informed is not an end state; we are constantly evolving, building and growing as we face each new challenge. What supports us on this path is growing our understanding of the impacts of trauma and the differences between the types of trauma people can experience. We start this with an awareness, with developing a new lens to see the world and each other. There is a plethora of information emerging about trauma and its impacts on our brains and our bodies. We now know that our experiences are shaped from the womb and continue as we connect with the outside world. Our neurological pathways weave and wander and experiences of trauma affect the way our neural pathways develop, and our bodies remember.
When our body remembers, our brain communicates with our body as though we are still experiencing the trauma, and daily life becomes about survival. We then respond to our environment and interactions in different ways focused on protecting ourselves. This constant feeling of being unsafe can be overwhelming and debilitating.
When we are aware that this might be happening for a person we can help support them to change the response and give the person a different experience. The more ‘different’ experiences our community can provide the more we can start to help a person feel safe and rewire their neural pathways, so feeling safe can occur more frequently. This is about being trauma-sensitive and trauma-responsive and requires compassion, empathy and understanding.
This is often where the challenges and tensions can lie systemically. Our society needs both a top-down and bottom-up approach. When those designing and manage systems use a trauma-informed lens, this flows down to other systems and programs. The bottom-up approach is a grassroots approach, about understanding what is happening for people to inform systems and support efforts for change. An ongoing presence of mind is imperative to create safety and to utilise our relationships to heal and grow.
We can all play a part, but it is important to acknowledge that although this can be a confronting process, and one which happens over time, it is a critical one to keep at the forefront of our minds every day. It is about each one of us accepting our humanness, seeing, and understanding one another and our histories and showing compassion and respect in the face of adversity. There is no easy road and especially for those who have experienced trauma. This is why it is important to be aware of what we each bring to the table and really seek to understand the effects of another’s experience. Rather than asking someone ‘what is wrong with you?’ we need to ask ourselves to reflect on: ‘what has happened to you?’ and shape our responses accordingly, regardless of who we are.
This year’s Blue Knot Day is about building awareness through conversation, through reflection and by hearing the voices of those who are on a healing journey as well as those who are leading the way. It is about each one of us becoming more trauma-informed, more trauma aware, so we can walk alongside one another on the path of healing and connection. This is what building a trauma-informed community means.