Out with the old, in with the new?

I used to be terrified of public speaking. Terrified. I almost considered not going to graduate school to avoid the class presentations. Luckily, someone at the company I worked for in my late twenties told me about Toastmasters. That’s also when I first learned that one of the best ways to overcome my anxiety is to face it so that my brain can unpair the “you’re going to die” reaction from a situation that can’t actually hurt me. With time, I started to enjoy giving my speeches. While I still get nervous before getting up in front of a crowd, one of my favorite things to do now is lead trainings. Especially when it is about a subject I am passionate about.

I recently watched the documentary by Gabor Maté called, The Wisdom of Trauma. In it, it is mentioned that when looking at the prison system from a trauma-informed perspective, most of the people incarcerated have experienced a huge amount of ACEs/trauma and are actually the members of society that need the most help to heal and change the wounds caused from their experiences. In order for this to be done, the culture of our prisons would need to shift from simply punitive, to focusing on rehabilitation. I couldn’t agree with this more.

Trauma-informed is a word that most people in the mental health field and beyond recognize. In fact, it’s a word that many people in the Corrections Department recognize too. I think the problem is taking what we understand intellectually and actually changing the culture to reflect what we have learned. A lot of attitudes and perspectives would have to shift for a change in culture to take place. This past Friday I got to give a training on some of this to my team. It’s in preparation for us all to be on the same page when we begin working more with units to see if we can start to help people make this shift in everyday interactions. There are six key components to a trauma-informed approach: safety; trustworthy and transparency; empowerment; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; and culturally, historically & gender relevant. Said differently, to help create an environment where people can begin to heal from trauma, these guidelines need to be present if you want it to work.

A typical prison environment is almost opposite of this (or at least the ones I am familiar with). It’s survival of the fittest, hierarchical, us vs. them, overwhelmingly contains toxic masculinity (if in a male prison) and very similar at times to an elementary school playground with bullies. The tough survive and you learn to play the game. Manipulation is often the way people learned to get basic needs met. Weakness of any kind is detected and exploited. It’s tough.

As you can imagine, shifting an environment like that to one that has the guidelines for trauma-informed care is no easy task. I am a person of great hope though. If I didn’t believe in change and people’s capacity to learn and grow, I wouldn’t be in the field I am. As a society, I think people do the best they can with the tools they have, until they learn a better way of doing it. Then they evolve. With some awareness and effort, I think it can be in a positive direction too. We don’t have to keep repeating the past just because it’s what is normal or what has always been. We can do better.

The catch though, is that the choice is ours. Some people never do. It takes hard work to go against old patterns and create new ones. We have to face things we would rather avoid. The old pain, the fears, the negative core beliefs we have collected through the years- it’s challenging stuff. If we don’t do this though, it stays the same and we hand it to future generations. Each of us has choices to make. How do we want to show up in this world?

I guess my philosophic paragraph comes from the juxtaposition in my head between leading my training on Friday, where I am advocating we stop using violence and dominance to rule and change the culture to something different, and watching the news where Russia just invaded Ukraine. I see the old human pattern of using power and dominance to take from others. The us vs them, the I’m better than you are, the dishonesty and manipulation used without conscience to get what one wants. I want to scream, “This!” this is what I see at the root of all these wounds that affect our society and keep us stuck. This is the attitude I hope to see humans evolve past and learn better ways. How can I try to change this pattern in my little spot in the world, when as a society we are still teaching that this is how to get what you want? I guess in truth, that’s not accurate. In the past, most people would have probably considered this so normal they wouldn’t think it should be different. How many wars have been done similarly? Maybe it’s hopeful that so many people see this as a problem and want to say “no more.”

I don’t have the answers to all of this stuff any more than anyone else, but I do know that the micro reflects the macro. My individual actions and those of others are where it starts. Those then become the cultures in our homes, businesses, cities, and countries. It feels like a shift is happening. Those who still think the old way is all there is, and those that hope for something better and do the work in their daily lives to show up reflecting those values. I can say wholeheartedly that I really hope enough of us start to shift from “us vs them” to the principle’s of trauma-informed care and create a world like that. That’s the one I want to hand down to future generations. Even if I only make a small dent, I want to spend the rest of my life, one person at a time (myself included), doing the hard work necessary to make that shift. Maybe one day it will show up in the macro and the idea that “power over” is the way to get what you want will be a thing of the past. One can hope, eh?

Getting off my soapbox now…

Anyway, in other updates, I just joined a local circus school. I’ve always wanted to learn the trapeze and acro, and I may have just convinced my partner to take a partner acro class with me :). For me, having a hobby that challenges me and I enjoy is a huge stress reliever and act of self-care. It also makes fitness seem way more fun. I highly miss the dance team I was on in Tulsa, so this seems like a similar skill to undertake. I told my supervisor at the prison I had joined a circus school and he laughed and said, “what an appropriate thing to do when you work at a place like this.” Stay tuned for when I either tell you how much I’m considering actually joining the circus, or I tell you about my broken leg.

Until next time, take care of yourself. It feels like a good time to be extra gentle to ourselves and others.

2 thoughts on “Out with the old, in with the new?

  1. This has absolutely made my morning! I hope you have a blast with circus school… and I have it on good authority that your Tulsa dance team misses you very much.

    Liked by 2 people

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