Trauma + Faith = Resilience

According to the National Opinion Research Center’s General, Social Survey over 90% of Americans believes in God or a higher power. Sixty percent belong to a local religious group. Another 60% think that religious matter is important or very important in how they conduct their lives, and 80% are interested in “growing spiritually”.

Even when people do not belong to a specific religious group or identity with a particular spiritual orientation, 30% of adults state they pray daily and 80% pray when faced with a serious problem or crisis.

Trauma is defined as any event, small or large, that overwhelms the mind and bodies ability to cope. Some people appear more resilient or able to “bounce back” in the face of trauma. Studies proof that faith is one-way children and adults can cope with traumatic events and suffering.

The question remains “how does faith make us more resilient?” It may be that faith reduces the negative, victimized thinking that results from trauma. For example, victimized people understandable “feel” as if they are damaged, dirty, worthless, stupid, vulnerable, ashamed, or unlovable. The type of trauma might be small or large but this is a common emotional reaction to the hurt someone suffers.

This reaction results in a lower ability to mentally plan and adaptively cope with situations create more possibility that fear, hurt, and worthlessness will result. You can see the vicious cycle that trauma can create…

Our minds are meaning-seeking devices. We like to find things to validate our thoughts and experiences so we can better navigate future circumstances. The upside of this is that we can be more efficient problem-solvers and survive. The downside is we can unrealistic or simply untrue beliefs.

Faith counters this downward cycle of believing, acting, and reacting by shifting the story from the negative plot lines to the bigger themes that “I am loved, valued, and cared for…even when things are bad!” Faith can override negative views of oneself with the belief that you are loved just as you are, normalize the internal spiritual struggles, encourage opening up and being vulnerable again, renewing a sense of control or mastery in life, and fostering social connections.

Being part of a larger group of people contributes to our collective connectedness that detours isolation and loneliness and encourages greater personal healing. Research demonstrates that socially connected people are more likely to meet the demands of everyday loss and stress.

Spirituality and religious affiliation can also benefit traumatized people from the toxic memories of the trauma event. This occurs with the individual feels they can share their grief with a greater community. Traumatic memories cannot be forgotten but they can be contained and/or unburdened when shared with fellow sufferers and with God or your higher power. This is a move toward memory instead of moving beyond memory. As one author described it: “One must have the courage of memory because though it, one can seek God.”

Finally, religious groups have the best inspirational self-help scripts available in the form of the Bible, Torah, Koran, other holy scriptures, liturgy, and worship. They offers a framework for dealing with trauma and copes with stress.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his popular book on “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” writes:

“In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.” (p. 147) .

Faith provides us with the HOW of living resiliently!

REFERENCES:

Meichenbaum, D. (2016) TRAUMA, SPIRITUALITY AND RECOVERY: TOWARD A SPIRITUALLY-INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY :

https://www.melissainstitute.org/documents/SPIRITUALITY_PSYCHOTHERAPY.pdf

SAMHA Website on Faith-based Communities : http://www.samhsa.gov/fbci/fbci_pubs.aspx

Pargament, K. I., Kennell, J. et al. (1988). Religion and the problem-solving process: Three styles of coping. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 29, 90-104.

Microsoft Word – MeichSPIRITUALITY INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY1 final edits.doc

Jay, J. (1994). Walls of wailing. Common Boundary, May/June, 30-35.

Harold S. Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen To Good People” New York: Schocken Books, 1981.

How does trauma impact the family?

A fact sheet from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

All families experience trauma differently. Some factors such as the children’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers. After traumatic experiences, family members often show signs of resilience. For some families, however, the stress and burden cause them to feel alone, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions. Research demonstrates that trauma impacts all levels of the family:

■ Families that “come together” after traumatic experiences can strengthen bonds and hasten recovery. Families dealing with high stress, limited resources, and multiple trauma exposures often find their coping resources depleted. Their efforts to plan or problem solve are not effective, resulting in ongoing crises and discord.

■ Children, adolescents, and adult family members can experience mild, moderate, or severe posttraumatic stress symptoms. After traumatic exposure, some people grow stronger and develop a new appreciation for life. Others may struggle with continuing trauma-related problems that disrupt functioning in many areas of their lives.

■ Extended family relationships can offer sustaining resources in the form of family rituals and traditions, emotional support, and care giving. Some families who have had significant trauma across generations may experience current problems in functioning, and they risk transmitting the effects of trauma to the next generation.

■ Parent-child relationships have a central role in parents’ and children’s adjustment after trauma exposure. Protective, nurturing, and effective parental responses are positively associated with reduced symptoms in children. At the same time, parental stress, isolation, and burden can make parents less emotionally available to their children and less able to help them recover from trauma.

■ Adult intimate relationships can be a source of strength in coping with a traumatic experience. However, many intimate partners struggle with communication and have difficulty expressing emotion or maintaining intimacy, which make them less available to each other and increases the risk of separation, conflict, or interpersonal violence.

■ Sibling relationships that are close and supportive can offer a buffer against the negative effect of trauma, but siblings who feel disconnected or unprotected can have high conflict. Siblings not directly exposed to trauma can suffer secondary or vicarious traumatic stress; these symptoms mirror posttraumatic stress and interfere with functioning at home or school.

Download the complete fact sheet at http://TraumaToolbox.com and learn more practical tools on how to have a trauma-informed home. Contact Ron Huxley today to set up a therapy session or organize a seminar for your agency or event at rehuxley@gmail.com / 805-709-2023. You can click on the schedule a session link now on the home page if you live in the San Luis Obispo, Ca. or Santa Barbara, Ca. area.

Are You Mentally Tough?

How quickly can you bounce back from difficult situations? 

Do you feel like you thrive from day to day or is it challenging to just survive each day? 

Resiliency is a popular term in today’s world of positive psychology. The goal is to discover what works and how to use that quality, skill, or mental strategy to feel more effective and capable. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “The Road to Resilience” here.

Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, we develop protective programs, layered deep in our nervous system, that want to avoid situations that might put us in danger or extreme stress/threat. We want to emphasize that this is a protective program and not a negative one, but that it can continue to play out in our lives and relationships, that is no longer needed in our lives. Being aware we have these program helps us address them which opens a door to learning how to adapt. 

This process of being aware, addressing difficult issues, and learning to adapt is just one way we can increase our mental toughness. 

Mental toughness is about courage, not perfection. 

Facing difficulties, after going through traumatic experiences takes courage. Fighting against our own inner protective programs is hard. Taking risks to trust again is tough. Learning to believe in a hope-filled future seems impossible. This isn’t perfection. It is about the process requiring a change of heart. In faith-based terms, we call this transformation. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

This verse describes that mental toughness or resilience is an inside job. It doesn’t come from outer performance. It comes from an inner transformation of beliefs about ourselves and the world. It can’t be sustained by an external force. True, lasting toughness comes from a conversation of our will. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “Faith-Based Trauma Therapy” here.

Kelly McGonical, in her book, The Upside of Stress, doesn’t view stressful events as good or bad. She claims that true resiliency comes from finding the good in the stressful situation and learning new ways to deal with challenges. It isn’t that you have to go through trials in order to learn how to deal with them. We all go through tough times. It is how you react to what you can’t control that helps us be mentally tough. 

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s way (1959).”

Our ability to choose – what we call our will – is the key to bouncing back and moving forward. It is where we find our true freedom. In my own Christian walk, I have found that it is the “truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Trauma not only overwhelms the nervous system, programs protective emotional programs deep within us, it also redefines our identity. 

> Learn more about how trauma affects a child’s brain and development here.

John O’Donohue, contemporary priest, poet, and philosopher, encourages us with the words: “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility. Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.”

Another step to mental toughness is to express daily gratitudes. A lot of scientific studies have been done on gratitude and it has become an foundational tool for shifting our negative attitude in psychology and spirituality. 

> Invite Ron Huxley to speak to your organization or at your next event on Trauma and Trauma-formed Care here.

Try using the Center for Healing Minds exercise called the 5-3-1 Gratitude Practice:

5… Meditate 5 minutes a day focusing on the breath or taking a break from your to-do list to de-stress and calm the mind. You can use various online videos and apps to help with this process. 

3… Write done 3 good things that happened today. Research suggests a positive relationship between gratitude and higher levels of resilience. 

1… Do 1 act of kindness per day. Hold the door open for the person coming into a store behind you, pay someone a compliment, be generous in your tipping.  

Gratitude blesses others and transforms the inner life of the giver. 

Mental toughness is the ability to bounce back, move forward, and shifts negative perspectives. It is how we resist, manage, and overcome difficult moments in our lives. We need it to feel renewed hope following trials and traumas that have impacted our inner self. 

> Take free online courses on Trauma-Informed Care, Parenting, and Anxiety at http://FamilyHealer.tv

The Problem with Labeling Trauma

There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.

Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.

What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?

  • Manipulative
  • Oppositional
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Temperamental
  • Trouble makers
  • Bipolar
  • Narcissistic
  • Borderline
  • No conscience
  • Destructive
  • Stressed Out
  • and many more…

In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.

Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.

The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”. 

This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.

If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at rehuxley@gmail.com.

Do you wish you were more resilient?

Take a moment to think about a happy moment in your life. It could have been a moment that occurred recently or a long time ago.

Perhaps it was when you or a family member graduated or when you got a promotion to the job of your dreams or when you asked someone out on a date and they said “yes” or when a new child is born.

What feelings did you have when this moment occurred? What is it joy, excitement, or surprise? How positive did you feel about yourself and your future? Probably great, right?

Now think about a tough situation that happened to you? What feelings did you experience then and how well did you feel about yourself and your future? Obviously, not as great as the positive experiences.

We all have good times and bad times in our lives but some people seem to be able to “bounce back” from tough times better than others. Some people can still feel optimistic about their future despite bad times.

We would call these people “resilient.” It is a desired quality to survive all the ups and downs in life. Those who have it, have an advantage at home, work, and life. If you don’t have a lot, then you feel all the pain of living in a much more dramatic way. Do you want more resiliency?

How do you get it? Is it purely genetics? Can you learn skills to improve it? Is it all chance, a luck of the draw?

Resilience is an interactive process between the characteristics of the person and the environment in which they live. Genetics does make a difference but they are not the only factor. They can make us more sensitive to negative experiences, like child maltreatment, parental neglect, the witness of violence, poverty, job loss, illness, etc. Our particular temperaments make us more or less vulnerable to the stress and trauma. Our bodily chemistry manages the expression of stress responses which affects our viewpoints about our circumstances and self-image. 

This is just one variable in the science of resilience. The other, equally important factor, is the quality of our relationships. Stress can be managed when we have loving, caring, healthy people in our lives to help us through it. Research demonstrates that even if there is only one person who can support us we are more likely to cope with difficult events.

For example, if a child turns to the loving neighbor whenever dad is drunk and angry or mom and dad fight or mom too depressed to make dinner, then that child will have a greater capacity to “bounce back.” We call this type of person, a “cookie person” who offers warm, fresh cookies to eat when times are hard. Did you or do you have a “cookie person” that you can turn to when overwhelmed?

Unfortunately, not everyone has a “cookie person” in their lives. When a natural helper is not available people have to search our professional helpers, like therapists, teachers, and school counselors to help them. These professionals can offer a listening ear as well as teach skills to manage anger, improve parenting, manage finances, and navigate through community resources. This type of support balances out the negative situations to create more positive outcomes.

The most powerful truth, when it comes to building resilience, is that we are social beings that need other people. We thrive in healthy relationships. If we didn’t get this in childhood, we can still develop it in later life. Attachment researchers call this later development “earned security.”

A Zen saying that illustrates resiliency that comes from warm, social interactions is…

“If there is light in the soul, there is beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, then there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world!”

Can one person make a difference in the world? Yes. Are you that one person to one other person? Who can you turn to in your natural environment or who can you contact to help you professionally and create more resiliency in your life?

Get more resiliency tools in the Trauma Toolbox at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

Need a speaker or consultant to help your organization become trauma-informed? Contact Ron Huxley today at rehuxley@gmail.com