Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Throughout our last several blogs, we’ve explored the broader themes of how to accomplish trauma-informed cultural change. We’ve also discussed how embodying trauma-informed values is essential to accomplishing that change.
But what does embodying trauma-informed values look like in real-time? How are we practicing the values in our personal and professional lives?
How do the concepts we discuss become embedded and embodied in our work?
Today, we’ll give you concrete examples of how to embody trauma-informed values and provide some prompts for you to reflect on.
By the end of this article, we hope that you’ll be capable of answering some of the more difficult trauma-informed questions and have a solid understanding of how you embody trauma-informed values at home and at work.
SAMHSA and Sanctuary Trauma-Informed Values
As a reminder, some of the key trauma-informed values we focus on at Chefalo Consulting include SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles and the Sanctuary 7 Commitments.
1 Encourage Curiosity Through Inquiry
Although curiosity is not one of the trauma-informed values we highlight, it is a core value at Chefalo Consulting because we believe that curiosity is a requirement for self-awareness and personal development.
To embody curiosity, you can ask yourself and other people questions (you’ll get plenty of examples in this article).
The point of asking questions isn’t to discover a “right” answer. It’s to start a conversation, explore the possibilities, and cultivate a better understanding of yourself and others. Through this process, we don’t want to establish rigid ideas of “right” and “wrong,” but we may find solutions or resources we weren’t aware of.
Curiosity of the self can look like this:
Curiosity in a professional or collaborative setting can look like this:
Many times, we become stuck in a way of being or a policy, and we lose our curiosity. You know you’re stuck when the answer to “Why do we do it that way?” is “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
If the answer was, “Because it was better than these other ways we tried” or “Because it’s the most efficient method we’ve found so far,” what would the methods look like? Would they be the same or different?
Why? Does that answer highlight what is or isn’t working in your current methods?
Curiosity allows our conversations to snowball into insights, solutions, and progress.
It’s important to note that this model resists blind allegiance to authority, a common toxic cultural norm. So, through cultivating curiosity, we accomplish multiple trauma-informed goals: self-awareness, personal development, empowerment, and healthy power structures.
2 Ask and Answer Powerful Questions
In line with our goal of encouraging curiosity, we want to ask and answer powerful questions.
What makes a question powerful? Sometimes, powerful questions are the ones that are difficult to answer. Sometimes, they are the ones that are difficult to ask.
Here are some examples:
Powerful questions can also be specific. For example, “How can we do better?” is a broad question.
Imagine that we instead ask, “How can our team communicate better?” Then, we might ask, “Where are the strongest communication links across teams? How can we replicate that?”
We could also explore, “What methods of communication are creating a hostile working environment? How would we like to change that?”
Powerful questions tend to lead to more questions.
3 Resist Unhealthy Power Structures
Resistance to toxic cultural norms is a great way to embody trauma-informed values. Although it can be challenging, resistance to unhealthy power structures creates empowerment and safety at work.
So, what does resistance look like?
From the perspective of people with power, resistance can look like organizational change management. If you are already in power, you can redistribute power, reassign titles, open communication channels, and move away from a hierarchal power structure.
If you are in power, you can treat everyone who is “beneath” you on the power structure with the same level of respect and consideration as you would someone who might be “above” you.
From the perspective of people without power, resisting unhealthy power structures can feel dangerous if safety at work has not been established yet.
In this case, resistance can look like setting healthy boundaries, communicating your needs, and not tolerating disrespect.
If the workspace is unsafe, resisting unhealthy power structures can be dangerous. Many people do not set boundaries, communicate needs, or speak out for fear of losing their job or facing other consequences.
For people in an unsafe workplace who still want to resist unhealthy power structures, keeping a written record to maintain your safety can be helpful. If there was an in-person meeting or an off-record phone call, sending an email to confirm what was said or decided in that meeting can be a safety and accountability tool.
In healthy power structures, we live our values of peer support, collaboration, democracy, and social learning. We trust in the experts, and we recognize that the experts may not exist on a “higher” platform within the existing power structures.
Once a workplace establishes healthy power structures, we can also create an environment where workers feel safe to make decisions. They become empowered.
4 Empower Employees Through Discussion & Decision-Making
In addition to establishing safety through healthy power dynamics, we can empower employees through discussions surrounding decision-making.
We often adhere to unspoken rules surrounding decision-making power. When in doubt, workers prefer to say, “That’s not my responsibility. I’ll pass it up.”
While some people may be quick to claim that this behavior is the result of laziness, it usually stems from a place of feeling unempowered. They believe that if they were to make that decision, they could face punishment if it were the “wrong” decision.
This ongoing issue can be altered through discussion. So, you can embody trauma-informed values by talking about who has the power to do what.
In these conversations, it’s common for most people to come with a sense of “I don’t have the power to make that decision.” Then, the person who they think does have the power to make that decision says, “I would prefer if you made that decision.”
If your former workplace had a culture of micromanagement, you’re used to being powerless to make decisions. If that’s the case, then embodying trauma-informed values can look like you actively unlearning those beliefs.
Creating space to discuss decision-making can transform your organization by eliminating problems and streamlining communication.
For example, there’s a common problem in trauma-informed implementation where organizations hold meetings between lower-level employees to discuss an issue. No one there feels empowered to make decisions.
So, someone higher up, who did not attend the meeting and who did not communicate with the people who were at the meeting, ends up making the final call.
The thing is, if any one person at that meeting felt empowered to make the decision, they could have made it. They just didn’t feel as if they could—so they didn’t.
This is why empowerment is essential for change. If we want to create change, we need to realize and truly believe that we have the power to create change.
5 Cultivate Self-Compassion
Safety at work is one of the single most important aspects of trauma-informed implementation. After all, our trauma responses arise when we feel unsafe.
However, many times, we create an unsafe internal environment regardless of external forces.
What do I mean by this?
When something doesn’t go as planned, we might turn to self-blame and negative self-talk. We wear down our self-confidence by saying, “I knew it was a bad idea” or “It wasn’t worth all that effort.”
Then, we approach the next project with less belief in ourselves. We may feel that we are not good enough to complete the task, or we might fear that we’ll fail again.
This perspective limits our creativity, creates stress, and can even foster resentment towards our job. Although this mindset may be linked to external pressures, we can still face these same problems in a safe and healthy environment. So, to embody trauma-informed values in this scenario, we must cultivate self-compassion and create internal change.
With self-compassion, that initial failure creates an entirely different experience. Instead of saying, “It was all my fault,” we can say, “It’s okay that it didn’t work out. I learned a lot from this experience.”
Instead of turning to self-blame, we can speak to ourselves the way we would speak to a loved one—with comfort, support, and care. We might say, “Things won’t work out 100% of the time. That’s just how life works.” Or, “It makes sense that I feel disappointed in the results, but the results don’t reflect how hard I worked or my value as a human being.”
6 Practice Healing-Centered Engagement
Healing-centered engagement is very similar to self-compassion—except our focus is on our relationship with others rather than on our relationship with ourselves.
Through healing-centered engagement, we engage with others in a safe, open, and nonjudgmental way. Our priority is healing from trauma for ourselves and others.
In practice, this looks like intentionally creating a safe space by avoiding toxic or hostile language and behavior. If you notice you’ve created an unsafe safe, you work to apologize and correct.
7 Be Honest When You Struggle
It is an extremely common problem to struggle to ask for help. But, when we’re having a hard time, not asking for help can be our downfall.
Sometimes, our resistance to assistance comes from feeling like we don’t deserve help. Other times, it stems from a feeling that we should be capable of doing everything on our own. For some people, help can feel transactional. We think, “If they help me, then I owe them something in return.”
Regardless of what destructive beliefs we need to work to unlearn, we can embody trauma-informed values by learning how to ask for help and being honest when we’re having a hard time.
Admitting failure can be another uphill battle. Here’s where we need to do the internal work to alter our relationship to failure. We can see it as a personal fault—“something is wrong with me”—or we can see it as an opportunity—“I can grow from this experience.”
When you are ready to grow from failure, receiving help in the face of a challenge becomes a positive experience rather than a negative one. It also supports collaboration and social learning. It can build trust, strengthen relationships, and encourage change.
So, the next time you struggle, think about who you can reach out to and celebrate the fact that you’re living trauma-informed values by asking for help.
8 Acknowledge That Some Projects Are Never Done
Growth and change are central pillars of the trauma-informed approach.
In professional settings, we love to see projects finished. A sense of completion is satisfying.
However, if you want to embody growth and change, you need to accept that change is a project that never ends. It is ongoing. It is a way of life—not a project on your to-do list.
A good example is the civil rights movement. Some people will say, “Oh, all that was in the past. Racism isn’t a problem anymore.”
Of course, people of color and women have the right to vote today, and things aren’t the same as they were 50 years ago. But the change we’ve accomplished doesn’t erase the problems we still experience. Historical issues continue to systemically and socially oppressed minority groups. Denial that we still need change becomes an obstacle to accomplishing that change.
The same goes for all trauma-informed values. Instead of saying, “We established safety at work. Now, we’re done,” we should be asking, “How are we succeeding at creating safety at work? Where can we do better still?”
The moment you decide you’re “done” changing is the moment you stop growing. So, if you want to embody trauma-informed values, you’ll embed growth and change into your life by accepting that it is never done.
9 Focus on Your Personal Development
Trauma-informed care is an inside-out process. First, change happens within you. Then, change happens in your organization. If you try to do it the other way around, change will be slow or nonexistent.
So, focus on yourself. Instead of judging and assessing others, reflect and process what’s happening inside your body and mind.
When you think about these trauma-informed values, what comes up for you in your personal life? How do you live or not live these values?
· active listening and nonviolent communication
· compassion, empathy, kindness, connection, and understanding
· honesty, truthfulness, and trustworthiness
· mutual support, collaboration, and social learning
· creating safety through emotional intelligence and open communication
Take Charge of Trauma-Informed Implementation in Your Life and Work
Trauma-informed change requires people like you who are ready to take the work on, share it with others, and commit to real change.
This work can only be accomplished by people like you who see the value in creating environments where people feel safe, seen, and respected—because the truth is that not everyone sees why this work is so valuable and so necessary.
If you want to learn more about what you can do to create real change in your personal and professional life, consider enlisting in a live trauma-informed course, accessing free and affordable trauma-informed resources, or talking one-on-one with a trauma-informed specialist for free.