May 19, 2017

From Karah Frank, MSW Intern at Trauma Informed Oregon

Stories of Resiliency

Since I was little, I’ve been hearing stories about the problems in Indian Country. The narrative I learned about who Indians were and who I was, was a caricature equal parts domestic violence, alcoholism, poverty, Appaloosa paintings, and cast feather wall decor. In elementary school, I listened to the account of Chief Joseph with admiration and pity; as if what we were learning hadn’t happened to my ancestors, and, compared to the account of Chief Joseph, the Indians I knew seemed like shadows of their former selves.

I knew all about our problems but I missed the stories of wisdom, strength, and resiliency of Native people that weren’t taught at home or in school. What my stories about Native identity were missing are what so many problem-focused stories of identity and community are missing, resiliency. Far from a foolish refusal to face reality, resiliency stories don’t lie to us about the severity, nature, or history of a problem. At the same time, they don’t leave us hating who we are, hating where we are from, or feeling defeated because resiliency narratives carry in them ideas for the way forward. Even in very oppressed communities where a lot of past and present trauma needs healing, models for community resiliency can help us articulate creative and comprehensive solutions.

Model of Resiliency

This is one such model for community resilience to trauma. Adapted from a popular step by step guide to disaster resilience, this model includes components for sustainability that are useful for the long term public health problems that trauma represents. Knowledge, interpersonal connections, skill development and sharing, and community empowerment are broad categories each individual community can populate with resiliency activities that makes sense to them. It is important to know why each of these categories are separate, essential, and build upon one another to prevent and heal trauma.

Know Your Community – Knowing what your community needs and what resources are available is an important first step in preventing and healing trauma.

Develop and Strengthen Personal Connections – Connection and positive relationships with friends, family, neighbors, and others can be a powerful tool for reducing and preventing trauma. Connection helps the brain wire itself to maintain a sense of calm and well-being, cope with stressful situations, and make good decisions. Strengthening the part of the brain responsible for integrating both inner experiences and experiences with others can increase resilience, kindness, and compassion toward yourself and others. In short, spending time connecting with others creates a healthier, kinder world.

Sustain Efforts through Community Empowerment and Political Action – Unlike acute disasters, public health problems like trauma are ongoing and can even effect people across generations, socially, and genetically. Connecting with local unions, community coalitions, neighborhood advocacy groups, and more can ensure appropriate state and local resources are directed to the parts of your community in greatest need.

Develop New or Use Existing Skills – Research shows that strong community networks may reduce health and safety problems for the entire population. Communities that engage with each other not only increase connections between people (making us safer, more supported, and more accountable to one another) they also increase connections between state, private, and community service.