Everyone Carries Trauma Differently: Insights into Resilience

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At ChildSavers, we use this time to bring attention to those who survive and thrive despite their mental health issues. People are resilient. We all have the capacity to overcome. As we deal with challenge and adversity, we can reach inside and find the strength to endure and flourish.

Over the past two months, I have met some incredibly resilient people. Their stories and experiences remind me of the strength of the human spirit.

People Helping People

I have been working with the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America of Virginia (MHAV). Both organizations support those who are experiencing mental illness. They have professionals and volunteers who work with people in their darkest times. This includes deep depression or a first experience with schizophrenia. They help people feel connected and informed. Both utilize peer networks. These networks bring people together who live with mental illness with those newly diagnosed with it. This connection empowers both the helper and the one in need.

Recently, one of the peer recovery specialists, Terrence*, said something that touched me deeply. Terrence said that as he recovered from his first experience of significant mental illness, he realized he would not be able to work in his corporate job anymore. This was a further blow to his self-esteem and mental health. However, when Terrence became a peer recovery specialist, he was empowered. Terrence told me, he experienced a transformation. What he had seen as a burden became an opportunity to help both himself and others. This became the key to finding hope and meaning in his new life.

Understanding Our Trauma Helps us Understand Ourselves

My interactions with both NAMI and MHAV came as they were looking to include learning about trauma and resilience into their programs. I had the honor of presenting at the recent NAMI Family and Youth Leadership Summit. The youth had amazing insights.

At the Summit, we talked about how trauma impacts the brain and the survival response (fight, flight, or freeze). One young person, Monica*, was able to connect the experience trauma to her own experience of panic attacks. As a result, she had greater understanding of the neurobiology and stress hormone experience.

Another young person, Vera*, shared her experience with anger. For many years Vera had struggled with the question, “what is wrong with me?” She finally came to the realization that she was not asking the right question. Vera realized that her challenges came from things that had happened to her. This insight helped her have self-compassion and patience with herself.

We All Carry Our Experiences Differently

Some of us keep our experiences on the inside. Others wear it on the outside, sometimes because it cannot be helped. I spent time with an amazing young man, Philip*. Philip does not look like everyone else. Severe burns have disfigured him. Most people who encounter Phillip for the first time find themselves looking a little too short or a little too long. He can’t be lost in a crowd. Everyone takes notice. Despite his scars, he is filled with spirit and energy. Phillip lights up a room when he enters it. He is inspiring. People who know him, love him, and accept him. Philip is one who cannot hide what happened to him but the nurturing, loving relationships he has formed with people help him thrive.

Conversely, I spent time recently with two individuals, one was career military, and one was career law enforcement. They shared stories of nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and struggles for peace of mind. Both bear their trauma experience on the inside. Yet, they keep the trauma under layers of competence and professionalism. Nevertheless, the trauma is there and strong. It affects them daily.

Relationships are the Foundation for Resilience

At first meeting, you would never know what lies beneath. For those that we work with who have experienced trauma, sometimes they want to hide it and appear unscathed. Sometimes they want to wear it on the outside so that people will have more compassion and empathy for what they are going through. We all deal with trauma differently. What matters is how we respond to it when we see it. Being compassionate and empathetic are both good responses to someone who has experienced trauma.

I am very fortunate to make meaningful connections with inspirational people. We all have these opportunities. We know that relationships are the foundation of resilience. Meaningful connections with other caring individuals are essential to a healthy life. Creating these connections helps us and helps others. Each opportunity for a new connection is a chance to build resilient individuals and a resilient community.

*The names and details have been changed to protect privacy.

By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education

John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.

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