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Preventing Trauma – A Guide (Part II)

Preventing Trauma – A Guide (Part II)
November 18, 2019 Rachel Alexander, Esq.
sad son hugging his dad

{4 minutes to read} Because trauma is painful, complex and difficult to resolve, what can we do to prevent it? How can we intervene in the place between hurt and harm? This is the space where we can make a difference.

The healing is in the quality of listening. The power is in the relating

The same unhappy event in itself is not necessarily destined to morph into trauma. Take this example: a child is ridiculed by his teacher, unfairly and harshly, for something he did not do. This could be terribly painful, infuriating, shaming. But as yet is not necessarily a trauma. There is a possibility of intervention that must be seized with both hands!

Trauma is a one-two punch. In our example, the first punch has landed—the bad experience with the teacher happened. But the second punch can be replaced by something curative!

In trauma, two things occur: (1) The event itself (primary event) which can be horrible and injurious and (2) how the event is handled immediately afterward (secondary). The attunement, sensitivity, authenticity of the one to whom the “victim” turns—usually someone in authority having greater power, such as a parent or a caregiver—makes all the difference.

In our example, the child returns home from school after being unfairly treated. If he is met by an empathic, responsive, safe adult, he will have an opportunity for healing. If this adult creates a space in which our child can disclose and process the event and his feelings about it, the harmful impact of the event begins to receive the medicine it requires.

The critical action, the first action—the one that prevents trauma—must concern itself purely with being the interaction that makes the other better

Through validation and listening—the listening where the only agenda is to truly understand the experiences of the other (child), to be on the side of the one that feels wronged, hurt,etc.—this is the type of support that creates a moat between hurt and trauma. When the hurt one is held, and helped, trauma can be averted.

The hurt can be addressed immediately, preventing the formation of more complex, intricate scar tissue, bringing closure to the occurrence so it need not continue on in the child’s system searching for resolution.

This is distinct from the parent agreeing with the child or siding with the child or leaping blindly to the child’s defense. It is not to be confused with the parent taking up the child’s hurt and running with it, supplementing it with his/her own indignation and adrenaline. No. The necessary action happens between the parent and the child. The healing is in the quality of listening. The power is in the relating. The parent is on the side of “the one in there”—the hurt aspect that the child is expressing. This has to happen at this time, and is all that must happen initially.

Later, there are other matters to consider. Questions and further exploration and reflection. The parent may need to advocate for the child, meet with the teacher, and so forth. That may be important, but that is not what we are pointing to here.

When injury is attended to with empathetic attention, it heals.

The critical action, the first action—the one that prevents trauma—must concern itself purely with being the interaction that makes the other better (attributed to Gene Gendlin as espoused by Lynn Preston). The literal situation and other actions must wait. Not long, necessarily, but wait they must. So as not to be conflated with the initial relational first-aid, triage response that is only to care for the hurt one. To lovingly make space so the hurt has a place to be acknowledged and integrated, to be processed.

When injury is attended to with empathetic attention, it heals.

Much like the physical wound that receives prompt, adequate consideration recedes from prominence, fades, so the original, negative event is contained. It neither bleeds into nor pre-shapes the future. The body is hurt, but not destroyed. Trauma was averted.

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