Trauma in our “Systems”

We cannot prevent hurricanes or earthquakes, floods or volcanic eruptions. But we can ensure that both people and communities are better prepared and more resilient.
— Miroslav Lajcak

Lately, because of my research, I have come to gain a deep and rich understanding about the internal disruption that is often silent and occurs in our beliefs about our self; others; our emotional responses; how we see the world and come to understand our place in it. We may not realize that we unconsciously hold “assumptive beliefs” about the world in which we live.

One of these beliefs is that the world is benevolent and our impression that overall the world is good and that we can trust in the virtue of people. Then there is the assumption that the world is meaningful, and that there is some sense-making out of experiences that happen to us and others in the world. Lastly, the belief that the self is worthy. The idea that we get what we put into life and there is some sense of predictability and control over our outcomes. (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).

What we may not realize is that trauma can cause a silent disruption to these world views. An internal shift can take place that causes damage to our individual and organizational systems. Of my increasing focus is our lack of understanding as a greater society; as organizations; as communities; and as families of the effect that secondary trauma exposure plays in our everyday lives.... vicarious traumatization.

If we view trauma as an emotional response to an event or to an experience that is deeply distressing, then it is somewhat easier to see, how we are increasingly witnessing (auditory, emotional, physical ) and are exposed ( whether direct or indirect) to traumatic experiences and events that are becoming cumulative and chronic.


I ponder.

What will be the long-term implications for our children, our families, our schools, our workplaces, and our society?

I worry.

A traumatized population starts to detach from those they love, things they love and communities they love. Traumatized people unknowingly make decisions out of fear, are desensitized to atrocities and lose their ability to feel empathy for each other.

I am hopeful.

That when pain spills into our personal and organizational systems, we will respond to it as a cry for connectivity; belongingness; community and inclusion. We will seek human-centered answers that reinforce our consciousness, recalibrate our organizational missions; recognize that our definitions of diversity and inclusion must expand beyond that of color, race, gender; and that resilience is the antithesis of shattered world assumptions.

By Suzanne Spencer
Doctoral Candidate, M.S.
Civic Activist
Human & Organizational Development Consultant

References Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1989). "Assumptive Worlds and the Stress of Traumatic Events: Applications of the Schema Construct". Social Cognition.

Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1992). Shattered Assumptions. New York: Free Press.