The Trauma Model helps individuals and groups identify conflicts, unlearn specific distortions, develop self awareness, and regulate feelings related to trauma. TRA utilizes the Trauma Model, developed by Colin A. Ross, MD, to address the psychological injuries suffered by individuals and communities in the wake of trauma.
Trauma survivors are experts at keeping the body in the present while thoughts and emotions are somewhere else. The Trauma Model teaches survivors to utilize their five senses to keep thoughts and emotions in the present.
The primary agenda of traumatized persons is to disconnect from feelings. A person can become “phobic about feelings,” developing extreme strategies to avoid feelings. Trauma survivors are encouraged to experience feelings while learning strategies to manage them effectively. The ultimate goal is to experience the deep sadness and grieve the losses that have been experienced due to the trauma that occurred.
Humans have a biological need to be connected in relationships. For young children, life itself depends on these connections. When an individual is traumatized by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, there is also a biological urge to recoil from the source of the injury. This contradiction in biological urges, to connect or to recoil, creates ambivalent feelings about attachment. The more that the individual’s real or experienced survival depends on an abuser, the more dramatic the internal conflict.
Survivors of childhood trauma are prone to cognitive distortions. Their understanding of the world and people are based on the traumatic experiences a long time ago, but then general rules are made instead of looking at each new situation and judging it for itself. They can become so used to thinking in certain ways that when something new comes along, it is not seen as the event or person for itself, but instead moved into automatic thought patterns. It is very hard to correct cognitive distortions because “they seem true.” In reality, their thoughts can be at least partially distorted, if not entirely inaccurate. Cognitive distortions tend to “fan the flames” of survivors’ feelings, which then lead to more extreme behaviors. As survivors correct their cognitive distortions, the intensity of feelings diminish and behavior will become less extreme.
Trauma survivors tend to carry a lot of stress in the body. This is because they react to negative triggers in the present as if the triggers are as threatening as the traumatic events of their childhood. These physical changes induce a sense of urgency which escalates negative emotions and activate behavioral responses. Therefore, it is imperative that survivors learn skills to interrupt these physical stress responses. Mindful relaxation, meditation, yoga, prayer, guided imagery, and exercise are a few of the techniques known to be effective. Just as the body can learn to respond to a negative trigger with a stress response, it can learn to respond to a negative trigger with a relaxation response.
Children who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused or neglected place the locus of control for the trauma with themselves. Often a perpetrator also promotes this mindset. Beyond that, this mindset helps the victim avoid feeling helpless, vulnerable, and powerless in the face of the trauma. The victim believes the trauma is happening because “I am bad.” Therefore the victim has hope that, “if I change,” the trauma will stop. In its original context this is a protective illusion. When that illusion is generalized across experiences, it keeps the victim locked in a cycle of bad feelings, self-abuse, and destructive relationships. A major focus of recovery work is to contradict the locus of control shift, a step-by-step process which initially leaves survivors feeling exposed and vulnerable, but eventually leads to self-acceptance, grieving, and healing.
When children are in a trauma situation they are part of a relationship triangle. The triangle consists of the victim (the child), the rescuers (those whom the child expects or hopes will rescue them from the trauma), and the perpetrator (the one who abuses or neglects). Long after the original trauma, survivors often re-create that triangle in their interpersonal relationship in an effort not to feel uncomfortable feelings of helplessness. In the re-creations, survivors may assume any role on the triangle.
The goal is for survivors to “get off the triangle” altogether and to avoid being locked into rigid polarized behaviors. Instead of being a victim, they realize that there are times they will need others’ help. Instead of being a rescuer, they realize that there will be times that they want to help others. Instead of being a perpetrator or wanting to hurt others, they realize that there will be times that they need to be firm, assertive, and set boundaries.
Forgiveness is a process of healing for a person who has been deeply and personally injured or harmed. Forgiveness is a series of conscious thoughts and actions, an inner response, which includes letting go of a desire for vengeance or harm toward the offender and letting go of negative emotions, such as resentment. Letting go creates a positive change in the injured person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Forgiveness restores a sense of personal power and can lead to improved interpersonal relationships.
Forgiveness is often confused with other things. It does not require an apology or even contact with the person who caused the harm. It does not mean to forget the injury, to condone what happened, or even to tolerate injuries. Forgiveness does not require reconciliation with the offender, because that person may be dangerous, unavailable, or dead. Understanding the process of forgiveness, and being supported through that process, leads to deeper healing.
Grief is a primary feeling which trauma survivors try to avoid. The grief stage comes late in the healing process because survivors set up defenses against the deep pain experienced during grieving. The content presented by survivors during the early stages of recovery focuses on the bad things that happened during the trauma. The content of the grief stage focuses on the good things that should have happened during their childhood, but didn’t. As survivors mourn the childhood that wasn’t, the extreme behaviors and defenses become quiet, and the benefits of recovery work begin to emerge externally as well as internally.