The Key to Overcoming the Effects of Trauma
Jim Roberts
January, 5, 2016 -

Relationships. There has been much written on the topic of relationships. Ranging from difficult to understand clinical research articles to blogs, books and websites, you can find information on every type of relationship in just about every type of format. Romantic relationships, family relationships, work relationships, casual relationships, nurturing relationships, dysfunctional relationships, healthy relationships, abusive relationships… which can only lead us to one conclusion—Relationships are Important!

So why am I jumping into this literary abyss? Two reasons:

  1. to push the reset button and reinvigorate our understanding about the importance of relationships
  2. to put forth a call to action, but not in a “seven tips to a healthy relationship” approach.

It goes without saying, we become human, in essence, who we are, through our relationships. Every one of us has a very unique genetic predisposition to personality, temperament, intelligence, creativity, et cetera, but these characteristics are molded, shaped and developed through the nature and type of relationships we are immersed in. We are social beings, “no man is an island.” Simply put, humans cannot survive without relationships! In the movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks’ character, stranded on an uninhabited island, creates a face on a volleyball and talks to the ball, which he names “Wilson,” as if it were a person. Though fictional and funny, the gesture illustrates something very basic about us: Relationships are important — so important, in fact, that our brains are hardwired to form them.

Healthy relationships are a vital component of health and wellbeing. There is compelling evidence that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy and happy life. Conversely, the health risks from being alone or isolated in one's life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. Seriously, that’s a very sobering bit of information. And it gets worse. Hundreds of thousands of children and youth are traumatized each year through relationships designed to be nurturing and protective. Adverse Childhood Experiences cost society billions of dollars per year in attempts to ameliorate this damage.

Destructive relationships abound. I have worked in the Human Services field for 45 years and I never cease to be amazed at the evil perpetrated in close relationships and the toll it takes. My organization works with children and youth who are victims of trauma—but their lives are not without hope. There is one thing I have learned for sure: children hurt by relationships can only be healed through relationships! This healing, however, is easier said than done.

One of the biggest challenges in providing Therapeutic Foster Care to children and youth who have been hurt through close family relationships, is their strong propensity to resist or reject new relationships, understandably so. Very often foster/resource parents, especially new ones, personalize their foster child’s reaction by feeling rejected or unappreciated, and I have seen many quit for these very reasons. Thus, it is absolutely essential for someone assuming a surrogate caregiver role with a traumatized child to be fully trained and able to provide trauma-informed interventions. Foster/resource parents who are properly trained, extraordinarily patient and who provide trauma-informed interventions get results–they experience first-hand a child’s healing process!

Another very effective, evidence-based, “healing relationship” is the use of non-familial, non-threatening, safe relationships. These relationships can include counselors, mentors, coaches, teachers; even peers. A Mentor can provide one of the most significant relationships a traumatized child or youth can have. Mentors come in all sizes, shapes and forms. They can be assigned through a formalized Mentoring Program (i.e., Big Brothers and Sisters), or they can be an employer, a teacher, a coach, a neighbor or a family friend. Mentors provide significant, life-changing benefits.

At its core, mentoring guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures these youth that they are not alone in dealing with their day-to-day challenges and communicates to them that they “matter.” Research confirms that quality Mentoring Relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic and social situations. Ultimately, Mentoring promotes healing, personal growth and development, and connects young people with social and economic opportunities.

Concerning Relationships, my challenge is twofold.

First, quality relationships are essential for our wellbeing; for us to function in society as healthy, productive and contributing members. Our relationships must not be neglected or taken for granted, but rather, our relationships need to be nurtured, cultivated and maintained with the highest degree of care. Good relationships are to be treasured and put on display for others to experience and replicate.

Second, are you a Mentor to someone? Having now lived the better part of seven decades, I have truly grown to appreciate the mentors I have had, and still have, as well as the opportunities I have had to mentor others. Mentoring is simply developing a relationship with someone else which brings any degree of benefit and positive impact to them. And guess what, mentoring relationships are always mutually beneficial. I have heard countless stories about---and have personally experienced—mentoring relationships where the mentor feels more blessed than the mentee.

Everyone has issues, challenges, pain and trauma, and disappointments–these experiences are a given. So, let us use our Relationships to promote the wellbeing, healing, nurturing and blessing of others!