Trauma Informed Care and Sexual Abuse
Trauma Informed Care: A Gift of Healing
By Dr. Jaime Romo
Know anyone whose life has been impacted by trauma? That person might be obviously tortured by painful memories, someone who doesn’t know where to turn for help. That person might also be a colleague at work, at church or a family member who just seems ‘quirky.’
Unsure? Here are some symptoms of being impacted by trauma, followed by some more and less obvious examples:
Aggression and low impulse control in new situations or with new people
Theresa, a resident in a homeless shelter, engages in a verbal conflict with another resident who is speaking loudly. Mike, who shows up late to a presentation, turns the group discussion to his own predicament or whatever is on his mind.
Power struggles and fear in the context of rule enforcement
Jim raises his voice in protest when someone asks him to step outside to smoke. Betty often objects to policies by framing their outcomes as leading to someone’s harm or threat of a law suit.
Disengagement as means of defense
Susan, staring into emptiness, unaware of her surroundings or her children’s needs, even of her own. This may last for minutes or hours. Bill, tuning out in a conversation, or checking his phone in meetings when he consciously or unconsciously feels anxious.
Interpretation of safety enforcement as predatory
Robert transports himself to a hospital emergency room to avoid interacting with police following a car accident, even though Robert is the victim of the accident. Justin’s heart races and he braces for a conflict when sees a police officer approaching.
“Minor” events precipitating catastrophic reactions
Maria hears a classmate whisper something about her appearance, and she leaves the classroom to go home and engages in cutting her arms. Steve, a trustee member, expresses grave reservations about a new church program that the church council has approved because he hasn’t studied it, leading to the program’s delay.
In its more advanced manifestations, the impact of trauma can look like PTSD, anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder and dissociative disorders. Physical manifestations include anxiety, insomnia, addictions, diabetes, obesity, digestive disturbances, infections, and cancer. In other words, a Trauma Informed Care approach to healing recognizes that the majority of behavioral health and addiction problems are neither disease nor disorder but, rather, injury, an injury caused by trauma.
You may be asking, “What can cause trauma?” Trauma occurs when an actual or perceived threat of danger or loss overwhelms a person’s usual coping ability (Beverly James, 1994). Any incident or perceived threat may last only seconds, yet have a profound negative impact, especially over a lifetime of unresolved adverse experiences.
As a Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments, my charge is to promote healing from past or ongoing trauma and to help congregations (my own, Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, CA, and throughout the Southern California Nevada Conference) create healthier (more Trauma and Healing Informed) environments.
In the past few years, my ministry has focused on providing programmatic support to, responding to, and preventing sexual abuse and its damaging impacts on the community life of local churches, associations, conferences, and related ministries. I do this work, officially commissioned by the church and the Southern California Conference of the UCC.
Jaime Romo, Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments, SCNUCC Conference
Resources for Men and Women
Rape And Incest National Network has a comprehensive information base for treatment and support.