Managing Trauma to Prevent Future Issues

Dr. Darryl Tonemah provided helpful advice after visiting Sipayik (Pleasant Point) recently on how to avoid causing trauma in children early in their lives as well as how to manage trauma as an adult. (Darryl Tonemah Facebook photo)

By Lura Jackson

Opioid and alcohol addiction. Violent and sometimes criminal behaviors. Suicide. This sobering list comprises some of the greatest challenges facing our society in the modern era. Addressing these issues when they have already emerged is not an easy task – but, as psychologist Dr. Darryl Tonemah believes, there are ways to prevent them from being a reality – and it involves recognizing and finding healthy ways to cope with the trauma from which they stem.

Dr. Tonemah, who has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and Cultural Studies, travels around the world teaching behavioral methods of change. He recently visited Sipayik (Pleasant Point) to speak about childhood trauma and ways of managing it.

What is trauma, and where does it come from?

While every individual experiences some form of stress throughout the day, Dr. Tonemah emphasizes that trauma is “a different animal altogether.” He defines trauma as being “overwhelm stored as a charge in the body for the purpose of survival.” The trauma itself can come from any source – what matters is that the individual that went through it was overwhelmed and unable to process the event fully at the time.

Children, who are at the beginning of their ability to manage the impact of what happens to them, are highly vulnerable to trauma depending on how they are being reared. Even before children are born, they can experience trauma in utero if their mother is living in a stressful environment, Dr. Tonemah advises.

As examples of what could cause childhood trauma during development, Dr. Tonemah provides that it could stem from “a chaotic home, inconsistency, lack of food, lack of warmth, lack of nurturing” – anything that affects healthy, stable development. However, “what effects one child may not affect another. That is why it is important to not judge the cause, but work with the symptoms that are presented.”

Emphasizing that trauma can happen to anyone, Dr. Tonemah elaborates that the “overwhelm doesn’t know culture” and that “it affects individuals indiscriminately.” Through his work with individuals that have experienced the effects of being overwhelmed, he has recognized that there is no typical type of person or family that is vulnerable. “The percentages vary widely from community to community and family to family,” he explained.

There are many factors contributing to the rise of people experiencing trauma and not knowing how to cope with it safely, Dr. Tonemah provided. “I see a great deal of disconnection in current society,” he said, describing how phones, social media, and media “create a lack of human connection” – which in turns feeds a sense of isolation. Isolation, in turn, is “trauma’s sweet spot.”

How do traumatized people respond?

Trauma has many ways of manifesting itself behaviorally, Dr. Tonemah shared. Whether or not we have recognized their past trauma and its impact on themselves, “We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to mediate the sense of overwhelm stored in us.” Some methods of coping are “very healthy,” including exercise, prayer, and sharing with others.

Other methods of coping with trauma are not healthy, potentially damaging ourselves as well as our families and communities. They include drinking alcohol, using drugs, overeating, isolating oneself, and overworking. Sometimes unresolved trauma can produce anger – if not rage – leading to physical and verbal violence, which, in turn, can produce more trauma in those around us.

Statistically speaking, the impact of trauma – especially childhood trauma – is cause for concern. Research from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice indicates that as much as 90 percent of juveniles in the criminal justice system experienced trauma early in life.

Resolving existing trauma and preventing future trauma

Fortunately, there are ways in which we can each help ourselves and one another resolve our past trauma and to actively prevent future overwhelm from occurring, Dr. Tonemah provided.

For expecting parents, the first step in preventing future trauma in an unborn child is to provide an environment for the mother with as little stress as possible. “Having a calm pregnancy can do wonders for everyone involved,” Dr. Tonemah said. Once the child is born, “calm, caring nurturing is crucial to healthy development.”

Parents who have themselves experienced trauma and have not learned healthy coping methods are likely to have challenges in meeting the ideal of a calm environment. In those situations, Dr. Tonemah advises: “Honestly, the bottom line is to ask ourselves, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I bringing to the table?’ Children learn how the world rotates based on how we show them it rotates. Our stress, angers, and anxieties can be absorbed by their still-forming brain and bodies.  Doing our own work and understanding the significance of our roles in our children’s current life and in their futures is key.”

We can help those who have experienced trauma recover easier by working to create a sense of safety around them, Dr. Tonemah explained. “We do not release the charge of trauma until we have a sense of safety. Without safety, the body requires the charge for the purpose of protection and survival.”

 

Finally, employing empathy eases the sense of isolation from which that trauma feeds,  Dr. Tonemah recommends. “We need to discontinue the stigmas associated with those experiencing overwhelm, and understand they certainly are not choosing to be overwhelmed.”