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.

Just Like Me…

In a recent training on Trauma-Informed Care, I led the group through a mindfulness exercise that explored the nature of suffering. The goal was to bring a higher level of compassion for others in emotional pain.

Suffering refers to the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship. We know, in our heads, that everyone goes through difficult times but in our hearts, we neglect to connect with others, in their pain. This is because we are in pain too!

Professionals, who work with hurt people, are double-agents. They provide trauma-informed care and services to others AND they have experienced trauma too. We can be triggered by others pain and this will result in a distancing of emotions in order to keep ourselves safe. We sometimes call this a “professional distance” or “objectivity.” It might help us feel safer but it will also disconnect us from the heart of what we are trying to do in serving others. How to maintain this balance is the subject for another discussion. In the meantime, try this mindfulness exercise called “Just Like Me…” Examine how you feel before and after reading through it. Use it weekly or as often as you need to reconnect you with others who have experienced trauma and loss.

“Think of someone you like or dislike that you want to expect positive feelings and forgive. It help to think of that person who is similar to you. Take deep breaths and repeat after me…

This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions, and thoughts, just like me.
This person has in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person has at some point been sad, disappointed, angry, or hurt, just like me. This person has felt unworthy or inadequate, just like me.
This person worries and is frightened sometimes, just like me.
This person has longed for friendship, just like me.
This person is learning about life, just like me.
This person wants to be caring and kind to others, just like me.
This person wants to be content with what life has given, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be safe and healthy, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me.
This person wishes to be loved, just like me.
Now, allow some wishes for well-being to arise:
I wish that this person have the strength, resources, and social support to navigate the difficulties in life with ease.
I wish that this person be free from pain and suffering.
I wish that this person be peaceful and happy.
I wish that this person be loved.
Because this person is a fellow human being, just like me.”

Need a therapist or trainer on healing from the hurt of trauma? Contact Ron Huxley today at rehuxley@gmail.com.

Take an online course on Trauma-Informed Care dealing with Trauma, Anxiety, Parenting, and more at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

 

H.U.R.T. = Healing “Un’s” and Releasing Trauma

A key element of the healing strategies for individuals who have experienced trauma is to “ReWriting Our Narratives.”  These are the stories that we believe about ourselves as a result of the negative, hurt-full things in our life. But these stories are not all true even if they feel so, so, true. They are also not the end of the story. We can be the authors of our own lives and choose the plot lines of your future story. 

Children and Trauma

Children are “ego-centric”. These means that they believe the world revolves around them. Therefore, when bad things happen, they believe it is their fault. This is due to an immature nervous system and executive functioning skills that are supposed to help them see things rationally. They are not rational creatures. Consequently, if something bad happens traumatized children believe that they are bad! This is a false narrative based on painful/shameful memories.

This is a hallmark of trauma-informed care that is revolutionizing the programs and services across the nation. We are learning to shift our paradigms from asking “what is wrong with a person?” to “what happened to a person?” This allows us to concentrate on the story. But this must go deeper. We have to ask the healing questions: “where does it hurt?”

We can use the acronym for HURT to help us explore our stories:

H.U.R.T. = Healing Un’s and Releasing Trauma

HURT children carry around a lot of Un’s (a prefix meaning “not”): Unworthy, unwanted, unloved, unsafe, unstable, unkind, untrustworthy, etc”.

What UN’s do you or your child believe?

1.

2.

We could also ask ourselves this question. What UN’s do I believe about myself. Everyone goes through some level of trauma. The challenges and hassles of everyday life can be quite severe. Many caregivers suffer compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma as a result of working/living with a traumatized child.

Fortunately, healing is possible for children and adults. We can look at where the HURT is and find strategies that change our life stories with positive, resilient endings!

Get more help from Ron Huxley by scheduling a session today or taking one of an online Trauma-Informed training at http://FamilyHealerSchool.com

Healing the Special Needs Child

Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”

Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!

Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).

Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)

One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.

play1

It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.

Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.

School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.

It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.

Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.

Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.

Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.

Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.

Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.

None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.

calm

Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.

Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!

The “R’s” of Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma affects all levels of society, including the home, school, religious institutions, social service organizations, public and private business, the arts and all areas of culture. A major movement has been occurring, throughout the nation, to change our perspective on trauma-informed approaches. The goal of this movement is to increase sensitivity in client care and prevent re-traumatization.

In order to meet this goal, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has created 4 R’s to guide the individual practitioner and society. These R’s include:

1. Realizing the widespread impact of trauma and understand the potential paths of recovery.

2. Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved in the system.

3. Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.

4. and seeks actively to Resist Re-traumatization.

This guidance has resulted in paradoxical shifts that promote Resiliency and Regulation to promote positive Recovery. These “R’s” are essential to the practice of social work and mental health.

As the ideas and practices spread through society, we have to explore lesser recognized R’s of trauma-informed care, including Respect and Relationship. These two R’s are elements of success in creating a trauma-informed (cultural of) care.

There is a Zen saying:

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,
There will be order in the nation,
If there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.

Respect starts with the individual – has to start with the individual – and then slowly moves through-out society. It starts with the parent in the home, the social worker in the field, the rabbi in the synagogue, the teacher in the physical education program, the supervisor in the organization. This light sparks from respecting oneself and then it then gets paid forward to others around them. It brings gratitude for beauty in the person and harmony in the “house”. It sustains families and transforms organizations and the world.

Respect is defined as the admiration of someone’s ability, qualities or achievements. It creates an atmosphere that promotes safety for the trauma survivor.

“Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable … Nobody wants to remember trauma. In that regard society is no different from the victims themselves. We all want to live in a world that is safe, manageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our natural reluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors.”

— Van Der Kolk, 2014
The question most often asked is how to put these “R’s” into daily practice? How do you make them a Reality?
According to SAMHSA’s report on Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Services, these R’s involve the…  
  • Recruiting, hiring, and retaining trauma-informed staff.
  • Training behavioral health service providers on the principles of, and evidence-based and emerging best practices relevant to, TIC.
  • Developing and promoting a set of counselor competencies specific to TIC.
  • Delineating the responsibilities of counselors and addressing ethical considerations specifically relevant to promoting TIC.
  • Providing trauma-informed clinical supervision.
  • Committing to prevention and treatment of secondary trauma of behavioral health professionals within the organization.
A lack of safety often looks like mistrust, a common problem for survivors. Trauma impacts the whole person. I manifest in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. Symptoms of trauma often come with emotional numbness and a desire to isolate from others. It results in a lack of interest in social connections and impairs parenting, marriages, and working relationships. It can also impair clients and patients desire to seek the services they need because they don’t feel safe. 

All of this must be held in the context of a Relationship. The relationship is the healing factor behind it all. Without relationship, there is no family, no organization, no church, no society. In the science of resiliency, the relationship is how we tip the scale from negative to positive outcomes. One healing relationship in a chaos of trauma can provide enough emotional strength for a child or adult to survive.

Reflect on the “R’s” of Trauma-Informed Care:

1. How has your organization utilized the 4 R’s of Recognize, Realize, Respond, and Resist Retraumatization?

2. What can you do to start or improve on any efforts already done using these 4 R’s?

3. Can you define the concepts of Regulation, Resiliency, and Recovery? Write these definitions on an index card and consider them each time you interact with a co-worker, friend, or client.

4. How have the ideas of Respect and Relationship impacted you personally and/or how have you used these two powerful R’s to move others to more positive outcomes?

~> Need training or consultation on how to implement Trauma-Informed Care into your church, school, or business? Let Ron Huxley help you train your staff or community. Email him today at rehuxley@gmail.com or call 805-709-2023. 

Grounding Exercises

Grounding exercises are short, simple techniques that focus attention and distract from intense emotions.

They often involve focusing on environmental stimuli or pleasant, calming topics or objects.

They can usually be done with minimal equipment, such as a pen and paper, or nothing at all except one’s thoughts and imaginations.

Therefore they are versatile exercises that can be performed anywhere.

Grounding exercises quiet down extreme emotions and help survivors of trauma shift to a more rational form of thinking.

People with trauma will, from time to time, experience high stress or emotional overload.

This is true for people with acute trauma, complex trauma, even traumatic grief.

The goal is not to eradicate feelings of intense anxiety, sadness, or anger. Instead, learning how to respond to those emotions, in the moment, is key to our healing.

In the video above you will learn 5 powerful Grounding Exercises:

Item Listing

The 54321 Game

Task Visualization

The Method of Loci

The 5 Senses Technique

It’s always best to have multiple grounding techniques in your toolbox.

What works best for one stressful situation (a trauma flashback, for example) might not work best in another (such as prior to a job interview).

A technique that you use frequently may become less effective over time. It is best to use a variety of techniques to avoid becoming acclimated to them.

Some grounding exercises may not be a good fit for your temperament.

For example, some people find the Ice Cream Technique frustrating because they get stuck and can’t remember any additional flavor examples.

Other people find the 54321 Game unhelpful because it can draw attention toward unpleasant feelings or sights in their environment.

For each technique, there are modifications to help expand their usefulness. But some techniques might just not be for you.

Get more tools for your Trauma Toolbox at http://www.TraumaToolbox.com/

Looking for a speaker on Trauma-Informed care for your next workshop, conference, or event? Contact Ron Huxley for more information at rehuxley@gmail.com