In our previous article on Complex Trauma, we talked about what complex trauma is. It is a cataclysmic situation that affects many people. Complex trauma is often misdiagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While PTSD is the result of just one traumatic experience, Complex trauma occurs when individuals go through repeated, multiple experiences of trauma. The word trauma brings up all sorts of vivid images, evoking powerful feelings, emotions and reactions to traumatic experiences. As many factors affect an individual’s responses, the impact of traumatic experiences is complicated. There is a combination of individual, relational, community and societal factors which contribute to the risk of maltreatment. It results in loss of productivity, increases suicidality, violent behaviour and psychological disorder. The occurrences of trauma in an individual depends on a complex and intricate interaction between risk factors, which has the ability to increase the effect of trauma, and protective factors, which have the ability to reduce or eliminate it.
Risk factors are those characteristics that are linked with abuse and neglect but they could or could not be the direct causes. The Protective factors refers to characteristics or factors that help in preventing or reducing vulnerability. Individuals with risk factors are more likely to encounter violence, while the presence of the protective factors shield them from it.
- Disabilities or neurological disorders that may increase caregiver negligence
- Absence of familial solidarity
- Social deprivation or lack of communication in families
- Drug-dependency/mental health issues like depression in family
- History of domestic violence
- Inadequate or feeble relationship and negative interaction between parents and children
- Family stress like separation and violence, including intimate partner abuse.
- Inadequate understanding of children’s needs or inadequate parenting
- Family situation or circumstances like low income or parents’ young age or low education or single parenthood
- Parental mindset, thoughts and emotions that either justify or support abusive behaviour
- Neighbourhood disadvantages like poverty, higher unemployment rates, or poor social connections
Protective factors are internal and external resources which reduce the impacts of difficult and frightening experiences for individuals and that sometimes make the difference between something being hard and something being traumatic. These are not completely foolproof factors which may help in reducing the severity of trauma but are actually something that can shape or influence a situation or experiences for an individual. These factors help in increasing a sense of safety, agency and even hope, and they can be anything from a routine to a ritual to a creative outlet. Anything can be or feel like a protective factor in any way, which can make a person feel safe and help them in coping with trauma.
There are a number of protective factors which have been identified for individuals experiencing trauma, however, it is important to understand which factors help individuals overcome trauma. Trauma experiences are different for every individual. So, what is it that separates or differentiates people who have been exposed to traumatic situations from those who did not? Many researches have been conducted in an attempt to identify characteristics that increase an individual’s chance of screening them from traumatic events. Some of these protective factors are:
- Having good problem-solving skills and being resourceful
- Family environment that is supportive and friendly
- Being able to connect with others like family and friends
- Being able to locate positive meaning in trauma
- Having a good and strong support system that is available whenever the individual is in need
- Having faith in yourself that there is something you can do to manage your feelings
- Stability in family employment
- Parents or caregivers who display suitable and healthy affection
- Building a protective outlet like reading, baking or arts and crafts
- Having and taking care of a pet
Being a part of a protected community which is free of violence, oppression, pollution and poverty can make individuals feel safe and guarded. When the home and the community an individual lives in feels safe, it automatically makes them feel seen and valued, and a sense of resilience is built. Connecting with these factors can be grounding for them.
However, the question, What are the causes of Complex Trauma?, arises. Trauma can come in any form, it could be a soldier returning from war zone or individuals (children) living with physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect or adults experiencing domestic violence. Going through trauma can make an individual experience fierce feelings of guilt which can make a person feel isolated and hopeless, and that they are losing control or not incharge of themselves anymore.
Causes of Complex Trauma:
Trying to look at the causes of complex trauma may feel asserting but can also be triggering. One might notice some physical activation like sweating or racing heart or fogginess or dizziness, which is the body’s way of indicating that a situation or an incident is making you feel scared or overwhelmed. It can be triggered while simply reading something that you resonate with and that is completely normal. Below is the list of some of the common causes observed in people:
- Exposure to capitalistic, patriarchal, and imperialistic environment
- Absence of safety
- Feelings of not being heard or acknowledged
- Witnessing or undergoing domestic, be it sexual, physical, emotional or mental, violence or abuse
- Feeling helpless due to the lack of proper support
- Being pressured into conforming according to the society’s notion of heteronormativity.
- Being exposed to poverty, colonization or genocide
- Being abandoned or neglected by parents or caregivers
- Being a victim to intergenerational trauma
- Living in close proximity to a war zone or natural disaster
- Having an absentee parent or parent struggling from a drug or alcohol addiction
Since the causes of complex trauma are complicated and deeply intertwined with the ‘moral code’ and structures of the society that we live in like classism, sexism, transphobia, fat phobia, homophobia and ableism, they usually intersect with those who are living with complex trauma. The societal oppressive systems create inequalities which make it difficult for the people to gain access to resources. That in turn puts them at risk of experiencing violence and discrimination. Living in a system or society where one feels violated as their identity or sexuality is not represented can be very traumatic.
At Pause for Perspective we believe that everyone deserves spaces where they can be themselves, be held, validated and accepted for who they are. It is important to have a stable and secure attachment base for individuals to feel resilient. When a person is unable to rely on those who offer protection, they might feel like giving up. Do not give up or give into the negative emotions or feelings. Do not allow yourself to be exposed to traumatic experiences which trigger your thoughts, emotions or feelings associated with trauma.
Looking for support groups or going to therapies or getting help from medical providers is okay. We believe that there is a higher perspective always present, our inner wisdom, and all we need is to pause and stay present with ourselves. We also believe that mental health counseling is intersectional, hence our approach is mindful and affirmative of LGBTQIA+, neurodiversity, social justice and transformational justice based. Although the experience with trauma is different for everyone, the recovery process is pretty similar. Hence, individuals recovering from traumatic experiences should be encouraged to seek help and find a recovery process that is manageable, therapeutic and effective for them. It is never too late to find help to get one through trauma. It is the ability and will power of an individual that makes recovery possible.