Trauma: You and The Person In Front of You

The Story. Everyone has one. Including those without homes.

We’re transfixed, overdosed, anguished, angry, appalled, and a host of legitimate feelings as this Supreme Court debacle tumbles on. But before dismissing it as a frustrating use of your time, I want to suggest one “benefit.”

If Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would stand before you or next to you, would you have known her story before last week? Her story, no matter how you shake out politically, is anguishing. And it’s one, as we’ve seen by the outpouring of heart wrenching stories of abuse, of literally millions.

Abuse — sexual, physical, emotional — can and does happen to anyone. Ask Kellyanne. When it happens, more often than not it creates trauma. Trauma is different for each person, but in some way the abuse impacts the person’s ability to function.

Some are more resilient than others. Some “present well,” like Kellyanne. They appear to function, but, um…

From my 3 decades of working with families, youth and adults experiencing homelessness, I know that not all are able to bounce back after one or more experiences of abuse. Some are seemingly permanently shattered. Others find ways to cope and manage to patch their lives together, some quite successfully.

When I stopped to get a quick haircut the other day, reeling from the carnage known as Senate Supreme Court candidate hearing, I was in a snarly mood. So was the young woman snipping at my silver locks.

Since neither of us were in the mood to talk, I had time to think.

How do we know what loads people carry? How do I know what she went through before coming into work?

One of the women I’ve filmed and remained in contact with messaged me. She’s not homeless now, but is sure teetering on the edge. Despite her best effort she’s financially and physically hurting. She’s been cut off Medicaid and she desperately needs about $300 a month for meds.

The load — a shitload of abuse as a child and adult — she and so many women (and men, and kids) invisibly carry is devastating. That they can get up each day and try to make a go of it is admirable. From what I know of her situation and too many others, I would not be as stalwart.

Plenty of research exists to illuminate the impact of trauma, but let’s just point out one devastating aspect for women and their families:

…Rates of violence among homeless women are extremely high (Bassuk
et al., 1996; Browne & Bassuk, 1997; d’Ercole & Struening, 1990; Wood, Valdez, Hayashi, & Shen, 1990). Bassuk et al. (1996) documented
that 92% of homeless mothers had experienced some form of physical or sexual assault over the course of their lives, mostly in familial or intimate relationships. (
Zero to Three)

92% of homeless mothers had experienced some form of physical or sexual assault over the course of their lives

Unfortunately, we all have a hand, often inadvertently, of further traumatizing people in our path. What we all need is nurturing to heal our hurts and to bring out our best. I fear we’re moving far away from that practice.

Traumatic experiences challenge people’s idea that the world is a safe and predictable place, and often leave people feeling insecure and distrustful of others. The loss of home leads to an additional loss of safety, security, and control. To begin to heal, families must feel safe. Physical safety is critical — especially in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, but
it is also important for clients to feel emotionally safe. Emotional safety involves the need to feel protected, comforted, in control, heard, and reassured. (
Zero to Three)

Instead of pooh-poohing someone’s story about the abuse they experienced, as most of the Senate committee seemed to do with Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony, let’s be honest. Making someone’s life worse does no good for anyone.

Someone we know has experienced this horror in some way. Someone we encounter during our day has. Abuse and the ensuing trauma affects how people navigate the day. Do we make it worse or better?

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.