By: Hadar Lubin, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Miss Kendra Programs
Hadar Lubin, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Miss Kendra Programs
Trauma victims often blame themselves for the traumatic events in their lives, leading to a sense of shame or humiliation. They often develop distorted cognitions such as, “I’ve done something wrong” or “I am at fault” leading to the desire to keep these events a secret. Over time the connection to the trauma fades and the conviction that the victim is at fault becomes stronger. This impacts the person’s sense-of-self, leading to lifelong beliefs that they are the problem, they are unlovable or worthless. In this case, the authorship of the perpetration shifts from the perpetrator to the victim.
Importance of Trauma Disclosure
Trauma disclosure helps assign the authorship of the perpetration to the perpertrator. Allowing the victim to disclose the trauma provides an opportunity to locate the wrongdoing to where it belongs.
Sharing the burden of the trauma and toxic stress with a willing listener creates a springboard for healing. The victim can then create a better sense of their story for themselves, while the listener can help to assert that when any member of society is harmed we all fail and hence we all must take part in the healing process.
Non mental health professionals, such as teachers and school staff, can participate in this opportunity to make the school a compassionate place for healing and learning.
Restoring a Sense of Value
Anytime someone is subjected to a traumatic event or toxic stress, the person becomes overwhelmed and unable to organize what happened in a clear linear story. In their mind, events become fragmented, disorganized, or chaotic. When these events are not addressed, behavior in the classroom can then mirror the disorganized and chaotic traumatic experience. By asking students what is distressing them, the teacher can help the child organize their story, loosening its grip, so they can attend to the task of learning.
A Natural Release
It is human nature to feel better when we release something that is weighing us down. The simple act of sharing the distressing event with another person can lighten the burden. Most people are not seeking advice for how to solve the problem, but simply want to share the burden of their experience with another person. Sharing the burden frees the student and restores their natural resilience.
Need for Safe Disclosure
The experience of trauma and toxic stress is damaging. However, the damage does not end with the original event. More damage can occur when the person disclosures their trauma. The way in which a listener responds to the disclosure of a traumatic event can be more damaging to the victim than the original trauma. A heavy-handed response can cement the attribution of the events onto the victim, resulting in a feeling of worthlessness. In contrast, a response of understanding or empathy can help the victim recognize they are not at fault, and the perpetrator was in the wrong.
Impact of Asking
Social-emotional practices in the classroom help identify trauma in children and lessen the damage caused by the events in their lives. Programs like Miss Kendra Programs create safe spaces for students to practice trauma disclosure with their teachers and peers. The program also empowers teachers so they feel comfortable with these conversations and can offer positive responses to trauma disclosure. By asking children about their lives teachers can diminish the impact of the trauma while nurturing resilience in children, building their sense of self-worth and helping them return to a normal life.
Hadar Lubin, MD, is the CMO of Miss Kendra Programs, a national classroom-based trauma program working with thousands of kids around the country, and featured in the documentary, Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope.