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What is Trauma-Informed Social Change?

A little about who I am professionally

Since I started this blog in 2011 I’ve been mindful about how I connect this blog to my professional life. But I also know that in order to let go of some of the trauma issues that have held me back, I have to forge a much more integrated, far less compartmentalized version of myself. This includes connecting the dots between the woman who talks about polyamory and consent to the woman who engages with holistic systemic change, all wrapped up with the hopes of inclusivity and accessibility.

What will always be consistent about me is my sincere desire to serve humanity in every aspect of my life. My radar is always attuned to tracking the ebb and flow of interconnectedness between each of us, especially when we engage in spiritual or systemic dynamics. I see the beautiful, magnificent brilliance of light that shines from each of us and how that connects, enhances, and amplifies the light of others. Every single one of us matter.

It has been 20 years since I went to law school, since I sat for my first torts exam or used a 4-color pen to book brief a case. The process of learning speaks so deeply to me – I miss being in school, but I’m also impatient for that learning to lead….somewhere. I have always sought to be a woman of action, a woman of substance and since I was a kid, I only ever wanted to serve humanity through acts of love honed with the sharp sword of justice. My priority in all aspects of my life, but especially professionally has been to ensure that no one gets left behind, no one is treated as “less than” or “undeserving”, and to not add to the burdens that people are carrying in their lives.

All people really want is to be seen and heard for who they are

That love of learning took me to take a class on trauma informed care when I was a mediator in private practice back in 2012. It changed everything for me. It gave me a term for something that I intuitively knew was the right thing to do but didn’t have the brain science to explain why. Once I recognized that what I was feeling about myself and about how people treated me, the mediator, during sessions, I started to recognize the patterns of my own trauma that were playing out during sessions. It explained not just my clients’ reactions, but the ones that were playing out for me under the surface.

Kindness as default is hard for many of us, but this one simple act to prioritize kindness can shift our world for the better.

Once I learned how to be trauma informed the biggest thing I noticed is just how shitty we were, as a society, at meeting people where they are. We are constantly pushing people to “just get over it” or to deny the severity of how a comment, action or even policy made them feel. I was a successful mediator in that I got people to transform conflict into something more positive, but often I was working harder than they were to recognize that the constant fighting, hypervigilance, and avoidance were all trauma reactions.

It’s not an understatement to say that my life has intersected quite often with trauma, both my own and others’. Over the years I’ve been transparent with my story because I know others have been through something similar, might be struggling the same ways I have (or am), and need a glimmer of recognition that will help them not feel so alone. By making myself visible, even at this moment, I have a hope of helping others feel seen through my own reflection and storytelling.

One of the most valuable concepts I learned as a mediator is how critical it is for the human psyche to feel seen and heard, to be recognized, valued, and appreciated for the insight and experience we bring. And that is especially highlighted during conflict. The temptation is to win the fight, to shout down our opponent, to view everything as us vs. them. We often fail to truly see and hear see one another when our brain is too busy defending ourselves. And yet, most of the time, people have similar goals and objectives in mind, the same problem they want to solve, but each of them are only seeing a small piece of the puzzle, not the overall picture. And when you truly make space for someone to be authentic and real, you make room to find solutions together.

So why is trauma-informed care important?

How much different could our relationships be if, instead of nagging our partner until they snap at us, we recognized that there might be more to the behavior than the ulterior motives we ascribe and assume. How might we change our approach if we recognized that our words and behavior triggers something stored deeply in their bodies that they aren’t able to cope with at that moment? For example, maybe our partner snapped at us because their last partner used to throw things at them when they didn’t “obey” and they’re immediately defensive because our nagging triggered that embedded reaction for them?And what if they knew that by calling our normal request for help “nagging” they used a deeply stigmatized cultural description that likewise triggers shame reactions from our own childhood?

Is there a better way to relate that doesn’t leave us hostile and on edge?

While trauma-informed care isn’t a cure-all, it is a framework for how we can be more conscious of how we relate to one another. And with COVID increasing levels of trauma and toxic stress for everyone, it’s even more critical that we develop some skills so that we don’t inadvertently add to anyone’s trauma, least of all, our own. For us to have our best chance of truly beating COVID, we need to develop skills that allow us to increase our empathy. We are challenged to give people a soft place to land while we slowly reconstruct what “normal” looks like.

So why Trauma-Informed Social Change?

Trauma-Informed Change is a societal shift toward the empathetic recognition, respect, and reduction of the widespread impact of trauma on the world.

A trauma-informed society acts to mitigate retraumatization and avoids the addition of new traumas.

When we are trauma-informed, we are saying:

  • I respect that you’ve been through some stuff….
  • Because I’ve been through some stuff too and I recognize how that feels in myself…
  • So, even if we can fix the things we’ve been through, we promise to…
  • 1) to not needlessly reopen old wounds; and
  • 2) at least not add new ones.

My professional website says:

My vision for humanity is a more compassionate, just & sustainable world created through trauma-informed, heart-centered leadership. By preventing and healing the toxic trauma and shame imposed by misaligned systems, organizational dysfunction, and interpersonal relationships, we create a meaningful & accessible experience of equality and justice for all.

Janet Rose

And frankly, the most trauma informed thing I can for myself and for others in 2021 is to show people that resilience is possible. Like seeing Bruce Wayne and Batman in the same space, we need to be able to believe that we can get through this as integrated, whole people, instead of fractured, fragmented, and alone. We need to have the #RadiantResilience to not only recognize the vulnerability of the collective trauma we are experiencing right now, but the inherent strength it took for us to still be here, no matter how weak or exhausted we might feel.

I am here to share that not only is resilience possible, but that we can actually contribute directly to building it for a new world. As more structures that have enforced systemic trauma, like police violence and food insecurity, are challenged and dismantled, we need systems that are more responsive to the generations of trauma we are carrying in our bones. And at the very least, how amazing would it be if even just once in a day, we consciously chose not to add to another’s burden, not to add trauma or retraumatization to an already difficult day?

What might happen if each of us chose to simply not add trauma or retraumatization for even just one person each day? Below is one of the videos from my YouTube channel where I share my thoughts about how that might look.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notifications of new videos like this one that discuss concepts like trauma informed care and spiritual bypassing that I hope will get us thinking about how we can make small changes to contribute to a better world.

I believe a more loving, just, and sustainable world is possible if we choose to show up and truly see people.

Even if all we do is nod to show “I respect what has happened to you and I’ll treat you with the dignity you deserve for that”, it would go a long way to demonstrating the love and sensitivity we want to see for our future.

Solution: Support Survivors to Create Safe Spaces

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Abuses within the #BDSM community keep us wrapped up with fear, because realistically what recourse do we really have?

[EDIT: this post, originally written in 2014 was in response to conversations, posts & controversy within the Denver BDSM community and specifically addressed on FetLife. Some of this is dated, some of it is out of context, but as of this edit (2017) the problems continue to manifest, particularly among leadership. Additionally, in September of 2016 I was notified by a local group trying to book me to talk about consent that I had been banned from the our local BDSM club, apparently as a result of my consent activism. I specifically asked whether I had been banned because of being unsafe when playing and was told that it was because I publicly highlighted the ways in which that owner was perpetuating rape culture and implicitly discouraging victims reporting bad players. I have since gone back to edit this piece, just for clarity and structure but not for content, because I think this is still important to know and understand.]

How we do respond to and protect survivors?

This is something I’ve given a lot of thought and effort toward over the past year. In fact, it’s kind of taken over my life. It’s prompted me to begin the work of building bridges and identifying allies within law enforcement and victim services available outside the community. My goal has been to minimize the numerous obstacles to reporting assault and abuse, but more than anything to empower survivors through giving them back their sense of control over their own path toward healing or justice.

I think the disconnect I have seen within the community has been the pervasive denial and dismissal of the existence of harm and trauma within our community or the useless nitpicking and tone arguments made to distract from addressing this issue. This has been damaging to the community, our messages about consent and as one poster termed it, “mutual respect”. And it’s been damaging to the survivors in our midst, whether they be vocal about their experience or not. It leaves people feeling lost, angry and hurt but more than anything disappointed. Mutual respect must also include room to air grievances with the status quo, allowing for the free expression of the pain associated with such a deep trauma.

For a community that boasts “The difference between what we do and abuse is consent!”, I’m shocked at the display of hostile and verbally violent resistance to empowering that very thing: consent. I have watched survivors who finally muster up the courage to speak up be buried under an avalanche of silencing, shaming and blaming patterns. And it’s not just newbies who we do this to, we do this to seasoned veterans of our community as well. This has a detrimental chilling effect on not just survivors, but those who are actively in crisis and seeking signals of support and safety.

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