sad boy looking out a window remembering sad past.

Why It Can Be So Hard to Meet the Needs of a Trauma-Impacted Person, Part 2

Last week, I invited readers to consider the fact that it can be much harder to meet the needs of a trauma-impacted person than someone who has not experienced significant trauma. Readers were encouraged to appreciate that trauma-impacted children and adults are different in many ways from those who are not deeply impacted by trauma.

Their brain architecture is different, their neurological responses to themselves, others and the world are different, their abilities to be open, honest, transparent, vulnerable, articulate and able to process life experiences with others are usually deeply impaired. It’s very difficult for them to trust others.  They often live in a constant state of anxiety and fear.

This information made me think of something that happened approximately eight years ago right in our offices. One of our staff members and her husband had spent five years trying to gain custody of their little granddaughter. Their son and daughter-in-law had very serious mental health issues and the first few years of this child’s life were spent with her sometimes being left alone, sometimes being homeless, and sometimes having police show up at the door.

Eventually the family moved south and problems continued. This child eventually ended up in foster care and her first experience there was horrific (a second foster care family treated her much better but she had already had most of her earliest years living in a state of hyperarousal and her little brain being traumatized.) Needless to say, this child had been seriously impacted by her life experiences and the lack of healthy parenting, creating in her the wounds trauma causes.

When my friends finally were able to gain custody and bring her to their home, it was clear that the trauma had hugely impacted her. One day my friend was bringing her to our offices when the CEO arrived. When my friend introduced her granddaughter to him, she suddenly turned and insisted that he leave the building and go back out into the parking lot.

She was adamant! Because he was trauma informed and understood that this little one needed power and in some way was probably trying to protect her grandmother from this authority figure, he complied and allowed himself to be escorted back outside. It was an important moment for this child to experience her power and have an opportunity to feel safe because she was heard. In these few moments the adults around her were able to help meet some of her needs.

Of course, it would take years of work to allow her to successfully address the many trauma-related needs she had. And today she continues to navigate some of the issues early childhood trauma created But she is doing so with the teaching and understanding of how her brain was impacted during those early years. It explained to her and others her thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors.

This journey has been a labor of love by her grandparents who in turn received support from the entire staff at work. It is a beautiful example of how it takes a village to help a child, especially a child with trauma-related needs.

In my last blog, I stated that attempting to meet the needs of a trauma-impacted person requires high degrees of observing in order to gain some clues about where they are in any given moment. It also requires the ability to develop a very thick skin when that trauma-impacted person responds as if you were intentionally out to hurt them, have suddenly become threatening or dangerous, and need to be treated as if they were dangerous. Our CEO very quickly assessed the situation and said later it was a no-brainer as to what he needed to do to reassure and empower this child.

This story provides us with an example of the complex challenges parents and caregivers and all those involved in the life of trauma-impacted children or teens can face and the need for them to respond quickly in situations where it is clear that the child’s behaviors are a reflection of the wounding that happened when they experienced trauma at some point in their young lives. A key principle of meeting the needs of a trauma-impacted person is to find ways to allow them to experience personal power, something someone does not have when they are being traumatized.

As you can imagine, it’s challenging and you do not always see the positive impact you are having when you provide trauma-informed responses because trauma involves wounding deep within a person’s brain.

In my next blog I will continue providing information on the many nuances for meeting the needs of the trauma-impacted person.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What are some of your reactions to the story of how this CEO knew how to respond to a young trauma-impacted child?
  2. What do you think might have happened if he refused to go outside as she was demanding that he do? What beliefs about herself and about the world might have been reinforced?
  3. How does this information help you better understand the needs of the trauma-impacted person and what your role might be in moments when you have opportunities to address their needs?