by Anna Peterson Macsalka
I recently participated in a Trauma Sensitive School Symposium sponsored by the Kohl’s Mindful Me program. The keynote speaker, Danisha Burnett-Bonner, supplied wonderful tools that teachers, therapists, and caregivers can use to regulate, relate, and reason with kids suffering from any level of trauma. She highlighted a statement that “behavior is the language of a person who has lost their voice.” I wrote it down and later repeated it over and over in attempt wrap my brain around this idea. I took an unbiased look at my own behaviors, especially the ones that I’m not particularly proud of, and they are indeed based on trauma that has come back as a reaction not a memory, as Bessel van der Kolk explains in his work. It’s so easy to lose our rational voice when we are suffering.
I think back to a moment a few weeks ago, when my three-year-old son was joyfully riding his bike and misjudged an entrance to a sidewalk, slamming into the curb and tumbling over his handlebars. I screamed and yelled at him for not paying attention as I frantically ran to pick him up and examine the road-rash on his chin. I yelled at my poor child who was already scared and in pain. I quickly tried to recover and spoke very gently to him as I carried him and his bike back to the house. All the while, embarrassed and shocked at the way I had instinctively reacted. I can now relate it back to a fluke accident I experienced when I was 16 that left me in the hospital with severe injuries and has since remained a trauma filed away in my brain. This was my fear coming in full force disguised as anger. I heard Jim Dethmer on an episode of the Tim Ferris Show explain that anger is often a result of fear. I fear for my kids wellness with every cell in my body. And from this knowledge, I was able to sit down with my son immediately after and explain that I had a fearful moment and was not angry and that I couldn’t wait to watch him ride his bike again when he felt ready.
Trauma is tricky, especially for those with compound/complex traumas, which as we age and live our lives, can become more and more common. Danisha began her talk saying that all humans have brains, thus mental health is for everyone. Mindfulness and meditation has been shown to help with processing trauma and stress as well as concentration, sensory, and physical activities. We need to look at ourselves and those around us with eyes that see the trauma not the behavior. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others because the root of behavior is so often fear and suffering. Sending love.