People often hear the word “trauma,” but do we know what it looks like? And how do we respond in a sensitive and informed way to someone experiencing trauma?

What one person may consider traumatic may not be to another, and reactions vary dramatically. While someone may cry, others may laugh. Some may yell, while others may not show any reaction at all. These factors sometimes make it difficult to recognize, let alone know the “correct” response.

Trauma typically results from threats of or an encounter with some form of violence. These two situations apply to domestic violence survivors’ experiences. While individual responses to traumatic life events can vary dramatically, there are some common reactions.

For example, a distressing event might interfere with a person’s ability to cope and find balance in their life. A person’s sense of well-being may be disrupted, resulting in feelings of powerlessness and confusion. They may feel a sense of loss of control and disconnected from others.

While trauma can result in temporary effects on a victim-survivor’s life, some impacts are more longstanding. It may produce profound changes in a person’s emotions, cognition, physiology, and memory. Traumatic reactions are normal responses to perceived frightening situations.

“While the victim of a single act of trauma may feel after the event that she is ‘not herself,’ the victim of chronic trauma may feel herself to be changed irrevocably,” said Judith Herman, “or she may lose the sense that she has any self at all.”

And this is true regardless of gender.

But the good news is that we are understanding more about the impacts of trauma and are finding new ways to respond.

Often when people think of domestic violence, they think of the need for physical safety. Trauma-informed care can be thought of as a more holistic approach that incorporates emotional safety planning. It involves having a basic understanding of trauma and how it impacts survivors, understanding their triggers and unique vulnerabilities. By carefully listening in a respectful, non-judgmental way to what survivors share about their experiences of trauma, we can better understand what helps to support individual safety, healing, and well-being. It changes the conversation from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

Trauma-informed services seeks to avoid re-traumatizing the individual through our actions and words. This may include talking with those considering entering shelter about the stresses of communal living and potential sources of re-traumatization that may arise, discussing coping skills, and working to identify individual strengths and sources of support when stress levels rise.

Any agency, regardless of the services they provide, can become trauma-informed.

Turning Points Network is here to support victim-survivors, their loved ones, and concerned community members in trauma-informed ways.

OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN) serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1-800-639-3130 or turninqpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook and Instagram.

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