Resilience as a skill

Resilience resides in our bodies, it's always been there. Like the ability for the bow to bend back and then release the arrow, our bodies contain the analogous ability to bend, to absorb potential and to release and move. The ability to contract and to expand outwards is an ancient learned thing; it's been in our cells since way way back. It informs not only movement but also models our ability to be emotionally mobile and flex-able. To take the strain of all that may surround us and all that has been in our story thus far, and yet here we are still standing, still breathing.

How do you know you are safe?

Our sense of safety comes from the interplay of our biology and our environment.

An innate biological consciousness sends out a sort of echo location. For a newborn this a cry, what echos back is the smile of the mother. As we grow this becomes a more complex interweaving of thought, language, emotions, culture and all the noise of human life. 

It is a span of functionality that connects the whole. Here we see the full range: the healthy and the harmonious to the dissociated, the dis-eased and the dissonant.  It is an ancient system that is pre-language, keeping us animals safe.

Harmony and dissonance are vitally important feedback mechanisms. They tell the listener if they are safe or not. Dissonance is the opposite to harmony. It is contained in wavelength form in the sounds of the lions roar or the siren of an emergency vehicle. It is a key that can turn on our sympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for flight or fight, and is appropriate and reasonable if we don’t want to be eaten or run over. 

The genius-ness of the human is that we are constantly broadcasting our state, whether is it harmonic or dissonant. It is contained in our eyes whether bright or dissociated, our ability to make eye contact, in our vocal tone, in our shape, our muscle tonicity, how we hold ourselves and how we move. Much of this is subconscious and happens at every moment of every human interaction. We gather up all the cues around us and then broadcast out the sum result informing others of the current state of affairs. It is a viral mechanism. The one who originally heard the soft growl of a predator suddenly becomes rigid with alertness. This is perhaps an inconceivably small change of movement, but signals to others that they may not be safe right now. Hearts pounding, ears strained and eyes wide. Right now we’re one organism, waiting.

Being human means that this system is ON now and always, and is working and having it’s way with you regardless whether you are a kid at their first day of school or a seasoned CEO of a large multinational. 

Decoding the Roseta Phenomenon

I first came across the Roseto Phenomenon in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. The phenomenon describes a small Italian community who, it was discovered in the 1960’s, had statistically the lowest rate of heart disease than anywhere else in the US. These were not healthy people generally, they would eat meatballs and sausages fried in lard rather than olive oil and smoke local cigars called stogies. So after ruling out diet and lifestyle as contributing factors the lead researchers John Bruhn and Stewart Wolf came upon the missing piece the X factor. They looked at social phenomena to explain it. It was the way in which the town interacted, the families, extended family and the village-like mindedness that kept the people healthy. It was the ability to walk in the street and meet your neighbor stop, talk and connect. Social cohesion was the mechanism of the nervous system’s regulation here. It generated a sense of safety and explained why these overweight chain smoking American-Italians had the lowest level of heart disease than anywhere else in the US. Sadly, over the years as the community started to assimilate deeper into the local population and become more americanized the effect wore off and today the community is statistically the same as the rest of the US.

Read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece on Roseto Here

Read The Research behind the Roseto Effect Here

The paradox of healing

Our understanding of health and disease is bound to the idea of perfection. Good health, we believe, is the absence of pain or irritation; it is the good working order of all our biological systems, including our mental health. This more or less is the current western paradigm of health. 

The word health is a derivative of the word heal, which means whole from the old English hælan. It lends itself to our concept of health in which poor health or illness somehow renders the person un-whole; that there is a piece missing; that there is something to obtain before good health can be restored.

However I remember learning about homeostasis in school biology class. It describes an ever changing self regulating system that always finds balance. To be fair, it may not always fit in with our idea of health-led-balance, but ultimately its role is not to keep us healthy or happy. Instead it is a mechanism of keeping the host alive.

 Could trauma and disease be the result of a homeostatic system? A perfect outcome or response to the stimulus? Could healing not be healing at all, but a way in which we can widen the bandwidth for our capacity of discomfort?

Learn More about trauma ;

Sum of Self

There is a new paradigm starting to approach primary health care. A trauma informed practice should be at the heart of any client/patient communication. More and more it is being revealed that mental and physical wellbeing is not just the sum of self; we are not islands. It is the accumulation of every interaction both loving and traumatising that we have experienced so far. So whatever your modality is, if you are working with humans, the entire presence of the person's lived experience is right there in the room with you. All of a sudden that might just be a much bigger proposition.

Stand like the bear

As we move towards a trauma informed culture, what may come up for us through the act of recognising what prevails in clients, is an exposure to what prevails in us. For many this is an uncomfortable fact and would perhaps go to explain why it is that primary care is littered with good intention but is failing the population while rinsing out the caregivers. There is a song that precedes us. It contains an orchestra of information and is made up of all the lived experience of our entire lives. A trauma informed practice makes us willing to to hear this song and through the mechanisms of human connectedness, co-regulation and empathy, our own song will be present. I for one recognise how my own vulnerabilities show up when working with clients but our vulnerability is not what we may think it is. The bear, when confronted will offer up all that is vulnerable about her. She will stand on her back legs a slightly unbalanced position for her size, she will spread her arms and show the most vulnerable and most softest part of herself, that's what is happening, but to the onlooker this grounded and deeply placed sense of vulnerable self looks like a tsunami of characterised power. hashtag#primarycare, hashtag#traumainformed hashtag#standlikethebear