Interpersonal Trauma: At the Root of What Ails Us + What We Can Do About ItNov 02, 2022
Trauma is a hot topic these days, with increasing attention being given to its’ existence, to how different types of experiences influence the way our histories are expressed, to the overarching costs it has on society, and to ways in which we might begin to curtail the intergenerational ripple of preventable pain.
Yes, I am asserting that the majority of trauma is preventable. Particularly when we consider the fact that interpersonal trauma carries the largest burden PTSD, meaning the majority of those living with it have experienced a trauma at the hands of another human.
Here are some statistics (Kisiel, C., et. al. 2014):
- Interpersonal violence (IPV) carries the heaviest burden of PTSD (42% of all PTSD)
- rape 13.1% of all people with PTSD
- other sexual assault 15.1% of all people with PTSD
- stalking 9.8% of all people with PTSD
- unexpected loss of loved one 11.6% of all people with PTSD
We should just take a moment to answer the question "what kind of trauma counts for PTSD?" just so we we are all on the same page.
It’s important to clear this up, especially in the context of understanding how trauma self-perpetuates across generations. The opportunity for nuanced experiences becomes greater in the context of relationships, especially over time.
So what kind of trauma counts for PTSD? The kind that causes distress, a sense of overwhelm, terror, and helplessness in the person, the kind where the person is weathered by a cumulatively exhausting or unsafe environment, the kind where the person feels alone or left behind.
This list is by no means exhaustive.
The point is, the thing that determines what trauma is is the perspective of the person experiencing any given event. Only the person knows how they felt in any given moment. There really is no objective measurement of what categorizes a traumatic event.
This matters in the moments we begin to listen to a story. Any given experience may not sound like something significant to the listener. However, It isn't the listener's perspective that counts here.
So back to trauma.
The thing about intergenerational trauma is that it is often rooted in interpersonal trauma.
Remember, interpersonal trauma carries the highest burden of PTSD.
And, interpersonal trauma can be prevented.
Other forms of distress also influence our health and ways of being in the world, too.
Perhaps by now many of you have heard of the ACES Study? The effects of various forms of trauma are spelled out in this pivotal research study. From the perspective of a mental health provider, this was long-awaited proof of what we already knew - that childhood adversity in whatever form causes chronic disease that can be quite difficult to treat. These diseases then repeat themselves one generation after the next and impair a parent's ability to care for their children.
And on it goes.
But, there is not only hope, but well-defined steps we can all take to make our world a better place.
Here is a link to a video that provides an example of how adverse experiences in communities can affect children, but also offers some concrete examples of what kinds of things support resilience.
And, if you're curious, here is a link to take the ACES quiz so you can see where you land in terms of health risks based on your history. Scroll down a little on the page to find the quiz.
So guess what? The good news about problems that are caused by trauma can also be prevented and treated.
We literally have the power to change the trajectory of future generations in the best way!
As with anything, first comes knowledge, then comes action.
So now we know that trauma (particularly IPV) causes a whole lot of social, physical, and emotional ailments. And we all have the power to change things. Unlike a hurricane, we can change it's path through healthy and informed interventions.
Examples of these include:
1. Trauma-informed practices in schools, healthcare, government...basically everywhere. Because you know what? Approaching every interaction through a trauma-informed lens won't hurt anyone. Not doing so has the potential to cause significant harm.
For more information on what being trauma-informed means, take a look at my blogs here:
2. Mentorship: Support a kiddo who could use the support
3. Interfere with abuse. If you know of someone who is being abused as an adult or child, do something. If the fall within a protected class, such as children or elderly adults, report it. Here are some ways + places to do so:
Child Abuse: https://childhelphotline.org/
Elder Abuse: https://www.hhs.gov/answers/programs-for-families-and-children/how-do-i-report-elder-abuse/index.html
Sexual Assault: https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline
Domestic Violence: https://www.thehotline.org/
Every state has its' own place to report abuse or exploitation of a vulnerable person. For example, here is the information for Oregon: https://www.oregon.gov/dhs/ABUSE/Pages/index.aspx
4. Acknowledgement: Listening is medicinal. Talking can be risky. Listen more than you talk and believe what you hear.
5. Address systemic issues that perpetuate and exacerbate trauma. These include all of the "isms," such as racism, sexism, agism, ableism, and binary approaches to gender.
6. Poverty is another profound variable that influences every single dimension of someone's life. Support organizations that support people in climbing their way out of poverty.
7. Small interactions make a big difference. Try to shape your interactions with others humanely. Be kind. Be gentle. Assume the best in others. Be helpful when you can.
If you made it this far in the article, THANK YOU! You are already armed with more information, hope, and motivation that can help interrupt the generational spread of trauma.
Athena Phillips, LCSW, PsD Student, is the Founder of Integrative Trauma Treatment Center (www.traumacenternw.com) and The Orenda Project (www.theorendaproject.org). She continues to offer professional consultation, continuing education courses, and offers a Trauma Coach Certification course through The Orenda Project, LLC.
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