As a trauma-informed consultant, I work with trauma-informed phrases and ideas every day—and here are some of the most common phrases you'll hear me say.
These seven phrases distill some complex trauma-informed topics into understandable and actionable phrases that can help you embed the TIC model into your life and work.
1 – "Name It, Tame It"
"Name it, tame it" comes from Dr. Dan Siegel's work on the brain and mindfulness. By recognizing and acknowledging our emotions, we can reduce the intensity of those emotions.
Unspoken anger can turn to rage, unspoken annoyance to resentment, and unspoken loss to profound grief. When pushed aside, our emotions cause dysfunction. When acknowledged and given the space they need to be expressed, there is an emotional release.
Sometimes, simply by naming the emotion, we can tame it. The solution in these cases was being heard, understood, or witnessed. Other times, naming the emotion opens the door for solutions. Discussions of change may follow.
Naming our emotions also empowers us. It reminds us that we are not our emotions and that our emotions are temporary. Consider the difference in mindset between someone who's feeling anxious when they say, "I'm fine" or "I feel nervous."
Acknowledging our feelings is self-validating, empowering, and kind to our inner experience.
2 – "Yes, AND"
The "yes and" model might remind some people of a popular improv comedy technique, but the stage is not the only place that this method works. "Yes and" is an extremely effective communication strategy because it (1) validates and acknowledges the other person and (2) builds on what they've just said.
We often use the word "but" while speaking or writing, and understandably so. Many of the thoughts we have seem to contradict one another. But when we use the word but, it effectively erases what we've just said. "You're a great team member, but…" feels a lot different than "You're a great team member, and…" even if the point is the same.
This way of thinking also applies to many of the abstract concepts and overarching ideas of the trauma-informed model. Yes, we need to focus on community building, relationships, and cultural change. And we need to look at the processes, procedures, and technical pieces.
Rarely are we faced with either/or scenarios. More often, we encounter "yes and" scenarios.
3 – "Inside-Out"
When we commit to trauma-informed work, we must use an inside-out approach. This phrase, "inside-out," serves to remind us of the importance of doing the internal work before expecting to see changes in our outer world. In other words, we need to recognize and address trauma in our own lives before we can effectively help others with trauma.
Many people are drawn to trauma-informed work because they want to help others, and this is an honorable goal. However, it is essential that we approach this work with a sense of humility and self-awareness. If we have unresolved trauma or unexamined biases, we risk unintentionally causing harm to the very individuals we are trying to help.
We also cannot ask others to "buy in" without buying in ourselves first. Consider a manager asking their team members to complete individual safety plans. The manager has not completed their plan, so why do they expect their employees to?
A large part of the work is leading by example or behavior modeling. Before we expect others to change, we must seek to change ourselves.
4 – "Connection Before Correction"
We know that trauma has lasting psychological and physiological effects. The inner turmoil of trauma often appears to others as inappropriate or undesired behavior.
Trauma-related behaviors, such as dissociation and reenactments, often appear as aggression, hostility, resistance, withdrawal, zoning out, and other forms of emotional dysregulation.
For caregivers, educators, and professionals working with people with trauma, these behaviors can be frustrating. They often take a problem-based approach and try to "fix" the behavior by correcting or even punishing those in their care. This approach is neither trauma-informed nor effective.
When working with individuals who have experienced trauma, it's important to prioritize building a connection and establishing trust before trying to correct behavior. This phrase, "connection before correction," emphasizes the importance of relationship-building and helps individuals feel seen and heard.
5 – "Attention Seeking is Attachment Seeking"
This phrase helps reframe what can be seen as negative behavior as a sign of unmet needs. Humans often engage in attention-seeking behaviors as a way to connect with others. We will often start with positive behaviors and seek positive attention, but if that doesn't work, we may seek negative attention to meet our attachment needs.
This phrase encourages us to look beyond the behavior and address the underlying need. Instead of labeling someone negatively, we can consider what needs of theirs are unmet, and then we can take positive action to meet those needs and improve their well-being.
6 – "How Are You Feeling?"
In the trauma-informed model, emotional safety and well-being are paramount, but in most organizations, talking about your feelings honestly isn't a cultural norm. To start shifting norms and values, we normalize asking, "How are you feeling?" at the start of every meeting.
Asking for an honest answer about others' state of being accomplishes several trauma-informed goals. It gives us an opportunity to check in with our authentic inner experience and share that experience with others. In doing this, we create connection, build community, and increase shared empathy. At the same time, it opens a space where people can feel seen, heard, and validated.
"How are you feeling?" is also a grounding question for community meetings, which also addresses goals and support systems. In a community meeting, talking about feelings helps facilitators gauge the emotional climate of the room, which helps us adjust our approaches accordingly.
7 – "What's Strong in You?"
Perspective shifting is a central theme throughout the trauma-informed model, and the question "What's strong in you?" embodies that perspective shifting.
This is one of the most important trauma-informed phrases that I use on a daily basis. It's rooted in the belief that all individuals have strengths and resources, even in the face of adversity.
When working with people, especially those with long trauma histories, it can be easy to focus solely on their challenges and struggles. In fact, many of us move through the world with deficit mindsets.
However, by emphasizing our strengths and resources, we can help to build resilience and empowerment in ourselves and others.
Final Thoughts: Take These Trauma-Informed Phrases with You
As a trauma-informed consultant, I work with these phrases and ideas every day, teaching professionals like you how to implement them in their everyday life. For most people, embedding these ideas into how they move through the world can be difficult at first because we're often entrenched in a certain way of doing things already.
So, I encourage you to take these trauma-informed phrases with you into your life and consider how they might help you approach yourself and others with more care and compassion.
These trauma-informed phrases are powerful tools for creating safe and supportive environments, fostering connection and empathy, and building resilience and empowerment. By using these phrases and ideas, you can help to create a culture that values emotional safety and well-being and that honors the experiences and strengths of all people.