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Trauma Informed? How about just HUMAN informed.

December 9, 2019

Last week, I read something on a message board that inspired me to make a quick Facebook post.  150+ shares and 24,000 views later, I’m thinking I struck a chord.

The post I read was something like “Help me know how to respond to this behavior in my child with a trauma history because if my bio kid had ever pulled anything like this, I would react WAY different.”

Without a doubt, I’m so grateful that children’s history of relationship trauma is creating a pause in how we react to behavior difficulties.  But I’ve long wondered why we need the excuse of a trauma history to be curious about what’s driving the behavior, assume that there is an unmet need, consider the child’s regulation, or examine their connection to important adults in their world.

Because the reality is, these same underlying causes for difficult behavior in children with trauma histories underlie the difficult behavior in ALL of us.  Not just our kids with trauma histories.  Not just our kids without trauma histories.  All of us.  Me. You. Everyone.

Without going into a ton of neuroscience research in this moment, the emerging science of regulation theory, polyvagal theory, and attachment theory seem to make it pretty clear that we humans are pack animals.  We are absolutely born to be in connection.  Connection is actually our baseline (really…it’s called social baseline theory).  And part of being in connection means behaving in a way that encourages people to want to be with us.

Sure.  Humans are egocentric, self-driven.  Because in addition to being born to be in connection, we are also born to be kept ALIVE.  But when we are SAFE (which is subjective, by the way…), our brain is freed up to focus on connection.

Little ones need time to grow and develop a brain that is connected and integrated enough for emotion regulation and impulse control.  To maintain a sense of self and their own needs and desires while ALSO caring about the needs and the desires of the people they are with or connected to.  And this ability to develop emotional regulation and impulse control?  They are basically developmental milestones that are achieved INSIDE the co-regulated caregiving relationship.  What that means is…if we parent through a lens of regulation, the neural structures that contribute to impulse control, empathy, delayed gratification, etc. WILL DEVELOP.

So when children are struggling, ALL children not just children with trauma histories, we need to pause and ask ourselves “Is this child feeling safe?”  “Is this child regulated?” “Is this child feeling connected to me, believes I want to be connected to them, and is also connected to themselves?”

Children with a history of relationship trauma have a lower threshold for when they start to feel unsafe, dysregulated, and disconnected.  But this litmus test- safe, regulated, connect- it’s true of kids with trauma histories AND everyone else on earth.  It’s simply how. humans. work.

So all that to say….I think it’s time to officially move on from being trauma-informed to just plain ole human informed.

Trauma informed has been an important step in helping us begin to understand how behaviors are simply an externalization of inner experience. For some reason, we all needed the excuse of ‘trauma’ to start getting compassionate about behaviors and get curious about what’s happening inside. I wish we hadn’t needed that excuse, but we did (myself included).

And now it’s time to move on and just get human informed. Behavior is simply an externalization of inner experience. In all humans. All the time.

Regulated, connected kids (people) who feel safe (and know what to do) behave well.

The three-year-old tantrumming at the grocery store.  Not regulated.  Why aren’t they regulated?  No idea.  But regulated humans….even small ones…don’t have knock down drag out fits at the grocery store.  Tired? Hungry? Overwhelmed?

And how do dysregulated humans come back into regulation?

Another regulated human helps them.

Maybe they offer a drink or a snack.

Maybe they sit quietly and wait.

Maybe they pick up the kicking three-year-old, whisper things like “I’ve got you…you’re feelings are so big but I’ve got you…” while ignoring the eye rolls and glares from the other adults at the grocery store, take the tantrumming three-year-old out the car, and wait for the storm to pass.

Then they offer a drink or a snack.

And finish grocery shopping, if possible.

No human learns from humiliation or punishment. I mean they do learn, but they aren’t learning what you are hoping. So if we aren’t using humiliation and punishment, then why else do we need to treat people with trauma histories differently than people without?

Look for the need. Structure? Boundaries? Nurture? Connection?  Food? Nap?

Look for the level of dysregulation in the system.

Decide how to respond.

Maybe…just wait it out.  Sometimes big feelings just need to get out.  This isn’t behaving bad.  This is behaving human.

And this is true for EVERYONE.

And it’s true that people with trauma histories are more quickly dysregulated than people without significant trauma histories.

They need more connection and nurture before using structure and boundaries because they were likely LACKING in receiving connection and nurture previously in their lives.

But other than that? Not much difference in responding to behaviors in people with trauma histories than in people without.

Compassion. Curiosity. Respond to the level of dysregulation.

And!!!  Learn how to set compassionate boundaries. It is possible!! We humans don’t have a lot of practice at this. I really believe that once we learn about compassionate boundaries, we will truly embrace human-informed care.  This is another blog post for another day.  But I wanted to be clear I’m not suggested that offering connection, regulation, compassion, and curiosity means not having boundaries or allowing behavior that isn’t acceptable (four pieces of cake for breakfast, for example…).

Assume people are always looking for connection.

Assume people are always doing the best they can.

This is human-informed.


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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW, RPT-S  is a blogger, teacher, trainer, and consultant for therapists and professionals working with children with a history of complex trauma.  

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sarah Canales Rivera permalink
    December 9, 2019 2:05 pm

    Excellent 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 Thank you

    • December 9, 2019 2:07 pm

      Thanks Sarah! I’m so glad that this is resonating with so many people! I’m inspired and hopeful!

  2. December 9, 2019 7:49 pm

    Wonderful post Robyn. You’re awesome. We miss you!


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