THE PREVALENCE OF TRAUMA: Part one; “Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness”

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“Several years ago, I participated in Step In/ Step Out, an anti-oppression exercise designed to open one’s eyes to the ubiquity of trauma and oppression.

 

Standing in a circle of 30 participants, a facilitator read from a list naming particular forms of harm.

 

If one applied to us personally and we felt comfortable revealing it, we stepped into the circle.

 

If it didn’t, we stood still, and after a few moments of silence let the others who had “stepped in” step back.

 

I can remember the sound of the cicadas outside of the open window as we stood in a circle.

 

“Step in if you have borne witness to violence,” our facilitator began.

 

A surprising majority of us did.

 

Each of us paused in the middle, taking in each other’s faces before we stepped back.

 

“Step in,” he continued, “if you or a family member have been emotionally or physically abused . . . if you or someone you know has experienced incest.”

 

With each question, our feet shuffled in and out of the circle. We were being asked to feel—not just intellectualize—the statistics we were revealing to one another.

 

A heavy silence hung in the air at the end of the exercise. All but one of us knew someone who had been raped.

 

Nearly two thirds of us knew someone who’d committed suicide. Faces in the circle revealed a mix of shock, anger, sadness, and shame.

 

We hadn’t disclosed any specific details, but had just revealed stories that many of us had hidden and kept out of view.

 

I’d thought of myself as someone who was familiar with trauma, but the exercise had rattled me. I’d known some of these people for years, but clearly didn’t know what they’d witnessed and been through.

 

For the rest of the day, I saw people differently, forgetting that trauma so often rests beneath the surface of our lives.
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