The five main principles of trauma-informed care (TIC), as developed by (Fallot & Harris, 2006) are safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, empowerment, and choice. How might we use these principles with ourselves and our feelings?
It can be really common, particularly amongst trauma survivors, to dismiss our feelings. This is especially the case when we feel scared of our feelings or feel like we don’t have a right to those feelings. The problem is that feelings don’t just go away simply because we don’t want them or don’t acknowledge them. Instead, unwanted feelings tend to grow when they are not acknowledged. In fact, the great psychiatrist Henry Maudsley once said, “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep” (Aldous & Mann, 1963). This is one of the reasons why we see a lot of ‘somatic’ symptoms with trauma survivors (which are physical symptoms with no known physical cause). When trauma survivors have headaches and stomachaches and backaches, but no known physical cause, what is really happening for them? It’s highly possible that there’s a lot of feelings that are stored in the body. When we don’t feel safe acknowledging our own feelings, even to ourselves, those feelings still must be expressed somewhere, and sometimes the way these feelings express themselves is through our bodies.
One idea I have is to use the principles of TIC with ourselves. So, for instance, the first principle: safety. Let’s say we are at a holiday event with our family, and a family member says something that triggers a *‘negative’* feeling (*Please note – no feeling is right or wrong. All feelings are okay, they are just feelings. An action/behavior is right or wrong, but a feeling is just a feeling, and has no inherent rightness or wrongness*). How might we make it safe for ourselves to have uncomfortable feelings? One way would be to just acknowledge the feeling. Literally, we can just think to ourselves “I am upset with Uncle John because of what he said to me.” Or even “This feeling scares me.”
Part of learning how to trust ourselves and our feelings is learning how to separate out our ‘adult rational self’ and our ‘hurt child self’ (which is usually the part of the self reacting to something hurtful and showing us how hurt it is by causing physical pain somewhere in our body). Then we can use the next principle of ‘trustworthiness’ with ourselves by changing our thought process from ‘I am not feeling this way’ to ‘I trust myself that these feelings are rightful and okay for me to feel, and I trust that my adult rational self will allow myself these feelings, and will act on them appropriately.’
It is natural for our traumatized self to subconsciously be afraid of having ‘unsafe’ feelings (like anger) in emotionally unsafe places (like holiday gatherings with family). A way to use a TIC perspective might be to use the principle of Collaboration by changing the self-directed thought of ‘I am not allowed to have feelings here’ to “My ‘adult self’ and my ‘triggered child self’ collaborate with each other by allowing all feelings. The adult part of me comforts the child part of me.”
Finally, we can utilize the principles of empowerment and choice to complete a healing cycle with our adult and child selves by changing our thoughts from ‘I am not feeling this way’ to ‘My child self is empowered to feel every way they feel, and my adult self is empowered to comfort the child within, and take charge of the situation by behaving in an adult manner. I choose to embody the adult part of me by comforting the child within, and allowing myself to act on my feelings in healthy, appropriate ways.’
Aldous, N. R. & Mann, A. M. (1963). The pathophysiology of depression. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 89, 937-943.
What is Trauma-Informed Care?
SAMSHA’s Concept of Trauma-Informed Care
Your Experiences Matter: Principles of Trauma Informed Care
Trauma Informed Care: Using the SELF Model To Gain Awareness