How to Start: Think "Connection" Over "Best"
Because everyone is a trauma survivor, it's important to trauma-inform the care/education/support that you offer.
I adapted my definition of trauma informed from the one on the SAHMSA website. I added "education" and support" because not all of us do direct care. (Think peer support leaders, sex educators and crisis line workers). As I prep to speak at two upcoming sexual health conferences, I want to look at the "responding" part of the definition.
Trauma sensitive responses always start with connection. And they value connection over perfection.
But what is "connection"? Connection is about staying where you are. It's not attempting to solve or fix. Connection is about letting someone feel what they feel, even if uncomfortable for you. It's "I may not know what you've been through but I get it was hard,". It's a response that centers connection takes the long view. It's the incrementalist approach, as opposed to the rescuer one.
But many of us tend to respond from a place of perfection. You want to remedy the situation in front of us. You offer resources, and tools first. You want to avoid feeling that sick, unsettled feeling that slinks into the room when someone is desperate or ashamed. Perfection pushes feelings aside in favor of action. It's the exact opposite of that aphorism "good bedside manner,". Perfection is a rescuer.
The ultimate flaw with the perfectionist approach is the assumption that everyone starts out in the same place.
Because perfection says, "heck, if it worked for her, she should be able to do it too,", ...and so should that guy over there, her and them. Perfection doesn't account for difference. There's no room for anything other than the one formula. Which leaves a whole lot of room for failure, shame, disappointment and self-loathing.
But you can do better.
When you value connection over perfection, you not only respond from a trauma sensitive perspective, you build trust. Trust is the game changer. Trust is what keeps someone coming back to your peer support group. Trust is why they keep their appointments. Trust is why they follow the plan that you co-created. Trust is why they ask questions and are open to feedback.
Sometimes it's hard to know where to start, especially if the person you're dealing with has a lot of complicated needs. The first, best choice is always stepping forward into connection. Because, if we can't build a relationship, how we can ever really help?