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Recovering Our Hope and Our Humanity

Two weeks ago, MN Trauma Project partnered with Veteran’s Resilience Project and MN Peacebuilding Leadership Institute to host Army veteran and Peace Leadership Trainer, Paul K. Chappell for an evening talk entitled A Light in the Darkness: Recovering Hope in a Traumatized World. Mr. Chappell spoke eloquently about his own history of childhood trauma and the lessons learned in his time as a military officer and combat veteran. His current work for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation takes him around the world, lecturing and presenting a variety of groups, from high schoolers to adults, on how we can wage peace in a world that is bent on waging violence and destruction. He presents on peace literacy, how to increase our ability to see the humanity of the other and engage people from a place of deep respect and equanimity.

He described that the vast majority of injustice in the world comes from people feeling disrespected and detailed three basic forms of respect.

  • Listening from a deep place of empathy.

  • Leading by example and shedding any forms of hypocrisy.

  • Speaking to the other person’s potential – Always talking to people as though they have worth. When a mistake is made, identify what happened and help them identify what they are going to do to make sure that it does not happen again.

One of the most enlightening portions of his presentation was his description of basic human needs. He described those needs as:

  • Purpose and Meaning

  • Nurturing Relationships (trust)

  • Explanations

  • Expression of emotions and thoughts

  • Inspiration

  • Belonging

  • Self-Worth

  • Transcendence

  • Mastery (this was not on his list, but as psychologist, this strikes me as an important developmental need)

He then talked about the ways in which trauma frequently gets tangled up in these human needs and distorts them and in the presence of trauma, each of these needs can be subverted into something else that can be incredibly damaging to the person.

  • Distortion of Purpose and Meaning -> Meaninglessness and Nihilism

  • Distortion of Nurturing -> Mistrust

  • Distortion of Explanations -> Disillusionment/Ruthless Worldview

  • Distortion of Expression -> Rage

  • Distortion of Inspiration -> Cynicism and Numbness

  • Distortion of Belonging -> Alienation

  • Distortion of Self-Worth -> Shame and Self Loathing/Narcissism

  • Distortion of Transcendence -> Addiction

  • Distortion of Mastery -> Helplessness

When people experience significant forms of trauma, their worldview and behavior are frequently significantly impacted, often times because these basic human needs were distorted through the experience of trauma. Because these needs are so interconnected, the disruption of one can easily interact with the expectation and anticipation of the other needs being met and one area of distorted need can easily distort another need.

It is not uncommon to interact with people who, having experienced trauma, struggle in one of the ways listed above. Trauma is such a disruptive force for people, it has a significant power to lay waste to a person’s expectations for the world and their place within it. We can easily dismiss the struggles of a traumatized person who is facing some of these significant struggles and it is important to remember that human beings are not bad, they are just easily wounded and these wounds can frequently tear at the very fabric of what it means to be human.

In exploring the ways in which human needs become distorted and disrupted in the presence of trauma, it was striking to begin to consider how important it is that our systems of care and treatment pay attention to these various forms of traumatic entanglement. To truly begin to help people recover, we have to think not only of what we are helping people recover from, but also what we are helping them recover. What has been lost or distorted or hidden away that may be recovered in the healing process. Our systems of care must move beyond mere symptom reduction and consider how we help restore people to their fullest humanity.

  • How do we help people begin to recover meaning and purpose in their lives?

  • How do we help them begin to take in care from others and begin to offer it as well?

  • How do we help them begin to grapple with difficult answers as well as be present to situations for which there is no explanation or justification?

  • How do we help people begin to give expression to their internal world? How do we help them find a voice and feel confident in using their voice?

  • How to we help people take in the world around them and find inspiration for the people they want to be and the lives they want to lead? How to we speak to their greatest potential and help inspire them to live up to it?

  • How do we help people find connection, to feel as though there is a place for them in this world?

  • How do we help people move beyond shame and self-loathing, to be restored to their essential worth and value?

  • How do we help people experience transcendence, to experience that which is beyond comprehension, that which is beyond this earthly realm?

  • How do we help people recover agency and the sense of capability, that they can not only handle what is thrown at them, but that they can develop increased capacities and competencies?

It is important that our systems of care, particularly when we are helping people recover from trauma, begin to acknowledge these basic human needs and the importance of restoring and meeting these needs as people begin to heal. In this way, we begin to help clients recover and be restored to their fullest human potential. The restoration of our basic humanity has the power to transform not only the individuals, but also their communities.

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