Giving survivors of trauma space to heal and flourish starts with a B.R.A.V.E. Heart.
By Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.S.(c), Ph.D.(c), Photo by Clay Banks
Do you remember Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”? This anthem reminds us that our ability to love gives strength to endure hardships and stay connected to our humanity. For survivors, loving again, rebuilding trust and staying connected can be challenging.
“I Will Survive” sheds light on the struggles women face in transitioning from survival to genuinely thriving. In the modern era, the distinction between surviving and thriving may not be as clear as before. The landscape has changed, with skyscrapers and brick houses replacing forests and caves, and primitive threats like panthers and bears replaced by discrimination and toxic bosses. Danger takes on a different form in modern times, but our brain and body systems understand the reality.
Workplace sexual harassment, financial instability, toxic work cultures, predators on college campuses, domestic abuse, human trafficking, social media bullying, loneliness and an ever-escalating school shooting pandemic. The impact of trauma on individuals can have profound effects on their mental and physical well-being, often leading them to navigate life in survival mode. Survivors may grapple with guilt, shame, addiction, and struggle with self-confidence, self-esteem, health issues and maintaining healthy relationships.
By embracing the courage within and nurturing a B.R.A.V.E. Heart, survivors and survivor advocates move beyond mere survival to truly thrive.
B.R.A.V.E. stands for Brain, Resilience, Advocacy, Validation and Emerge, and represents the courage of survivors. Heart symbolizes the emotional and psychological aspects of healing and thriving.
B: Understand the Brain
Recognizing the significant impact of trauma on the brain is crucial. It keeps the brain in a constant state of high alert, with stress hormones and adrenaline coursing through the body. These can adversely affect organ function, disrupt eating and contribute to unhealthy habits and obesity.
The survivor’s brain struggles to handle negative thoughts and memories. Chronic stress shrinks the hippocampus, impairing memory and learning. This can cause forgetfulness, a common trait among those suppressing painful memories yet unconsciously burdened by the past. Everyday activities like sleep, social interactions and decision-making may be influenced by this enduring pain.
R: Resilience Through Intervention
Focusing on building emotional resilience is a key factor in the healing process, helping survivors cope with challenges and setbacks. It also helps to identify the appropriate intervention to promote emotional regulation and resilience, because survivor needs may differ based on the severity of the trauma and the developmental stage at which it occurred (e.g., childhood versus adulthood).
A: Advocating for Policies
To protect survivors and prevent future incidents, stronger policies and regulations are crucial. Increasing awareness, education and prevention at various levels—government, communities, etc.—is vital. Legislative acts like the Violence Against Women Act and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act extend protections to diverse groups, including immigrants, Native Americans and rural women.
Online exploitation of children has increased by 567% from 2018 to 2022 (NCMEC). Founded by LisaBeth Thomas, Not on Our Watch Texas, a local nonprofit that raises awareness about online child sexual exploitation, educates parents about risks associated with children’s devices. Recognizing adverse childhood experiences like racism, bullying, sexism, housing instability and untreated mental health issues is key to proactive interventions against child sex trafficking.
V: Validation and Support
Physical trauma leaves visible reminders, while psychological trauma can have lasting effects even after physical wounds heal. These distinctions greatly influence self-perception and needs. Society tends to be more empathetic toward visible trauma, leading to a trend of dismissing the invisible. This can discourage survivors from seeking help for fear of minimizing their trauma. In countries like the U.S., justice and empathy toward women are still lacking, leaving survivors of gender-based violence to silently endure and suffer.
By prioritizing a healing culture that emphasizes empathy and support, we empower survivors to reclaim their voices, become advocates for themselves and others and foster a compassionate and proactive support system.
E: Emerge Stronger
Positive neuroscience research shows that activities like music, art, nature, therapy, medication, healthy eating, exercise, support groups and community foster trauma healing and promote nervous system reconditioning for thriving individuals.
By promoting a growth mindset, personal growth and development, survivors can move from surviving to thriving. This includes highlighting the endurance and strength survivors exhibit on their healing journey, reminding them that healing is a process that takes time.
Heart: Compassion & Self-Love
Finally, let us empower survivors to prioritize the cultivation of emotional well-being through the practice of self-compassion and self-love, which are vital aspects of the healing journey. It is crucial for survivors to recognize their own worthiness of love and support while surrounding themselves with healthy friendships and confidantes who can provide a safe space to release internal burdens and alleviate stress. Together, we can foster an environment that nurtures and uplifts survivors on their path to recovery and growth.