More Than Self-Determination
In studying the effects of trauma, working with people who have experienced extensive trauma and even in considering trauma I, myself, have gone through, I often wondered why some people are able to have successful, relatively normal lives despite what they must overcome.
Resiliency is the official name for the phenomena I am referring to but other words work well. Grit. Determination. Purpose. Or in the words of my 8th grade basketball coach, moxie. In regards to the study of trauma, resiliency refers to the “ability of an individual, family, or community to cope with adversity and trauma, and adapt to challenges or change” (SAMHSA, 2016).
Some of what makes a person resilient is inborn. It can be attributed to a variety of genetic influences which affect individuals differently (Marano, 2003). But, this is not to say, resilience is completely genetic. Researchers have found several external influences which affect the degree to which one is able to be resilient during and after traumatic events occur (Marano, 2003).
One external influence is the quality of relationships one has with other people. In simplest terms, those persons who have positive and supportive relationships in their lives may be more likely to overcome a traumatic experience (White, 2017). These positive and supportive people are sometimes referred to as buffers. This is not to say a positive and supportive relationship will always mitigate trauma but only to say positive and supportive relationships may be a mediating factor in lessening the long-term effects of trauma (Craig, Baglivio, Wolff, Piquero, and Epps, 2017).
I have experienced a chronic traumatic event. I’m not going to go into details as the event ended long ago and the persons involved have taken positive steps to reconcile with me and others who were affected. I only mention it because I always wondered why this trauma did not bring me down. By most indicators, I have so far led a successful life. Even when controlling for privilege, why have I been able to overcome where others have not?
I have never found myself to be particularly ‘special’. I work hard and try to do the right thing but I am by no means perfect. I struggle with depressive states, extreme cynicism and distrust of others, and avoiding addictive habits. Obviously, I can easily identify a number of areas in my life in which I need to make improvements. But, a lot of people work hard and are, unfortunately, unable to break free from the lasting effects of trauma so again, why have I been able to overcome where others have not?
In studying trauma, I have come to two conclusions regarding how I have been able overcome my own traumatic experiences:
One, I had an incredible support system which I was mostly unaware of but which continually challenged me to trust that I already possessed what it took to be a better person than what my inner demons wanted to me to believe.
Two, I believed (and still believe) in a Good and Loving God, a God from whom I took confidence that no matter how bad things seemed I was loved and I ultimately had a purpose in being in this world. Without these two factors intervening in various points in my life, I am unsure how well I would have been able to overcome the traumatic events I experienced.
As I reflect on the people who are currently are or in the past were a part of my support system, I am reminded again of how fortunate I have been while also feeling the positive obligation to self to serve others in the same way. I have often felt helpless to affect change on any sort of broad level. But, I can be a good father and help protect my children from the after-effects of the often-random occurrence of traumatic events. I can encourage and support the friends of my children who may feel hopeless because of the trauma they experienced. I can encourage and value friends, family and others who struggle to overcome their own traumatic experiences.
You can take the same approach.
Trauma can occur in a moment while taking generations to fully work through. Healing does not occur in a vacuum, rather it takes a community of empathetic and compassionate people willing to set aside prejudices and assumptions and instead focus on the greater needs of our current world. Your serving as a buffer could help the person who has directly suffered the traumatic event, but even if there’s no noticeable difference, perhaps it will help the person’s child or grandchild or great-grandchild. How many generations removed does it make it not worth it to help now? Perhaps seventy generations times seven is a good place to start?
Craig, J., Baglivio, M., Wolff, K., Piquero, A., and Epps, N. 2017. Do social bonds buffer the impact of adverse childhood experiences on reoffending? Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage Publishing.
Marano, H. 2003. The art of resilience.
SAMHSA. 2016. Trauma resilience resources.
White, C. 2017. Putting resilience and resilience surveys under the microscope.