Under the Shelter of Each Other, People Survive

Under the Shelter of Each Other, People Survive

News and Events - November 16, 2018

“Under the Shelter of Each Other, People Survive” – Old Gaelic Saying

Headlines regularly chronicle shocking acts of violence, accidents, natural disasters, as well as child abuse and neglect. Recent events, both locally and nationally, make it necessary, perhaps even critical, to consider how we care for others and ourselves when terrifying, overwhelming, threatening experiences continue to come at us directly or indirectly on a regular basis.  Sometimes we even need to limit our own, and especially our children’s, exposure to coverage of these events. The intent here is not to catastrophize, but to aspire to more informed, effective responses to such experiences.

Whether traumatic events and experiences are committed by people close to us, total strangers, or nature, they are all characterized by a lack of control, unpredictability and powerlessness. The consequences of these experiences can be devastating, impacting negatively how we view ourselves, others and the world.  

Studies suggest that nearly 3 out of 4 of us experience at least one potentially traumatic event before we reach adulthood.  Despite this surprising prevalence, most people will naturally recover with the internal and external resources available to them. But, what about those who have traumatic experience(s) and get stuck?

Looking at a child’s behavior through a trauma lens can be very different from dealing with the behavior of children not experiencing traumatic stress.  Often the defiant, aggressive, detached, anxious, depressed or distracted child can be mislabeled.  With trauma informed services the question is not “what’s wrong with you” but rather “what happened to you”?  Traumatic stress elicits a survival response (fight, flight, freeze or appease). It is important to remember that this is an adaptation, a normal response to traumatic events. Therefore, children or adults experiencing traumatic stress should not be viewed as bad, damaged or broken.

We must be careful not to minimize or ridicule a person’s perception of a traumatic experience. Children, and even adults, can be harmed further when they hear comments like “you are exaggerating”, “it couldn’t have happened that way”, “your imagination is getting the best of you”, “he/she would never do that”, “you’re still young, you’ll get over it”, “consider yourself lucky”, “well maybe if you had/hadn’t … etc.”

We do want to be patient with each other; we want to listen, comfort and nurture.  We want to set a good example for our children, and to be consistent and predictable.  Establishing safety in the aftermath of any traumatic experience is always a priority.

For every direct victim of a traumatic experience, there is an expansive ripple effect impacting family, friends, first responders, community members etc., each reacting in a unique way to the experience.  There is no one single intervention or method that is right for everyone, but there are many options.  If one path is not right for you, keep searching for something that meets your or your family’s particular needs.

At Family Services, we have seen consistently positive results working with hundreds of children and adolescents in our Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) program.  This is an evidenced based practice dedicated to helping children and families experiencing traumatic stress from abuse, accidents, natural disasters, loss of a loved one, domestic violence or any other experience that may have been very scary or dangerous. 

Our TF-CBT consultant, an expert in this model, recently reminded us how important it is to attend to our A, B, C’s.  A is for awareness, being attuned to our limits, resources and needs. B is for balance with our work, play and rest. C is for connection to ourselves, others and the community.  This seems like good advice for all of us touched by the ripple effect of traumatic events.

We all can become more aware, informed and knowledgeable.  Seek out information or help when needed.  Call us at Family Services (814 866-4500) if you want to speak to a therapist or invite one of us to attend your group, organization or workplace meeting to learn more.

Under the shelter of each other, we want everyone to not only survive but thrive.

Steve Minick, Licensed Professional Counselor, Director of Trauma Focused/Office Based Services at Family Services of NW PA


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