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STS project diary 2 – Gender and Secondary Traumatic Stress

Updated: May 10, 2023

Girl and Boy

When dealing with traumatic or stressful events – what in us reacts? To what degree does gender play a part in our handling of such events?

The second meeting of the Secondary Traumatic Stress Building Resilience project – Gender part I

March 14 and 21 – both participating cohorts

The first of two Gender modules took everyone into the exploration of Stop Situations and what instigates the change that causes breakthroughs, allowing continuance.  The warm, open, candid, and lively discussions were energizing, inspiring and fascinating.

Although many of the trauma-related challenges faced by men and women are the same, there are some important, statistically significant differences that are helpful to be aware of when assisting others experiencing “stop situations”.

Stop situation is the term used to describe the state of life being locked in, stuck in a cul-de-sac, unable to move on, thrive or pursue what is important, seemingly unable to step beyond the lock. In addition to limiting us in our circumstances, they can restrict the way we function mentally and emotionally.

Woman comforting a younger woman

Stop situations – when we are unable to move beyond the pain, feeling helpless, unable to forgive, ourselves or another, unable to face another day or restart our lives.

Four groups of stop situations were explored: Life-Changing Eventswhich are outside the person’s control; Gender cages – socially prescribed gender roles, expectations, demands, opportunities; Societal Judgement – other people’s opinions of us, often appearing as stereotypes based on our appearance, ethnicity, beliefs,  etc.; Our own prisonshow we then internalize these messages about what we can and cannot do – ‘the story we tell ourselves, which is frequently the most detrimental of all. Quite an eye-opener seeing it all laid out in front of us. As we shared stories from our work and personal lives it became clear that all of us had, at some point, faced a stop situation, that in some cases took years to break out of, or were still being worked through.

The inner compass - time for change

When something tells us it is time for real change and these words begin to have a stronger voice: “I don’t want to be here anymore”, “I don’t want to feel the anger, the hurt”, “I don’t want to be a victim anymore, I want my life back”, “I need to do something…”

The good news is – Stop Situations need not be permanent: we discussed in breakout rooms the fact that whilst some of our programmed thought patterns can keep a person locked in,  we also have the capacity to change direction. We recognize this when we find certain thoughts cropping up: “enough is enough”, “I don’t want to be here anymore”, “I don’t want to feel the anger, the hurt”, “I don’t want to be a victim anymore, I want my life back”, “I need to do something …” The question then arises:

Do I want my life to have meaning beyond this?

The fact is – We are not one thing!  There are different platforms of awareness and perception in us that we live in but can also develop throughout our life:

The first platform: our bodies, their genetic pre-dispositions, the gender we have and its related chemistry, the programming of society, tradition, our parents, teachers, friends – together dominate our first reactions and vulnerabilities: with all that we meet and face.

A self-made person – striving for change in oneself by one’s own choice and desire for growth and improvement, for themselves and their loved ones.

The Second Platform: self-made, as we come to know what we want, and remake ourselves to become what that entails.

The Third Platform of awareness, harder to reach but within everyone’s possibility, is gathered from our natural desire for purpose and meaning, making a difference; characterized by insight, wisdom, a long view, refinement.

This initial experience with the three platforms was not academic or intellectual, it was warmly received, with enthusiasm and curiosity; leading all who attended to take on the personal task in the next few weeks, to study the role of the three platforms in their lives and society; a turning point moment for reflection within, perhaps to revisit our own individual values and priorities carefully again. All of which will be drawn upon in the next workshop on Gender – Part 2.

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