The Resiliency of Survivors

“When I joined Nguvu company, I was hopeless. Through trauma healing, my hope is rebuilt … I used to think that I was alone but through trauma healing sessions, I was taught that nobody is alone in the world. I started gaining courage and associating myself with people. Now I have very many friends that I cannot count them one by one.”

Bonny Ojok, a team member employed at Nguvu Dairy in northern Uganda.

An overwhelming, traumatic event that is ongoing or experienced at the hands of another person who is meant to be a caregiver is generally considered a complex trauma. Such traumas as childhood abuse and neglect, abandonment, violent relationships, human trafficking or being kidnapped can leave a person feeling isolated. Men, women and children who have experienced complex traumas often view the world and other people as unsafe and not to be trusted. This lack of trust and a need to be constantly on guard for danger can make it difficult for survivors of trauma to ask for help or form constructive relationships. Some find it difficult to hold down a job.

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Trauma and the Brain

According to a 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health,[1] trauma can change the brain on many levels by altering the neural networks of the brain’s amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Together, these three parts manage stress by controlling emotion and instincts, memory and impulses.

In an article written for Medical News Today, Tim Newman summarizes the function of neurons, “Neurons are one of the most fascinating types of cell in the human body. They are essential for every action that our body and brain carry out. It is the complexity of neuronal networks that gives us our personalities and our consciousness. They are responsible for the most basic of actions, and the most intricate. From automatic reflex actions to deep thoughts about the universe, neurons cover it all.[2]

Newman also explains, “In short, our nervous systems detect what is going on around us and inside of us; they decide how we should act, alter the state of internal organs (heart rate changes, for instance), and allow us to think about and remember what is going on. To do this, it relies on a sophisticated network — neurons.”[3]

Trauma can cause the brain to remain in a state of hypervigilance, suppressing memory and impulse control and trapping the survivor in a constant state of strong emotional reactivity.[4]

Neuroplasticity – Good News for Survivors of Complex Trauma

Neurons can flexibly change. Neurons are able to regenerate. Neurons are able to grow in size and length, diameter and length. Neurons are able to increase connectivity with other neurons. Therefore, the mind has capacity for change after trauma.[5]

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson explains what neuroplasticity means for survivors of complex trauma, “We can see that, whether you’re nine months of age, nine years of age or 90 years of age, the potential for regeneration, for renewal, for changing your mind, for repairing ruptures, is never ever exhausted and this is really good news.”[6]

What does this suggest for the survivors of complex trauma?  The brain of a survivor can change and heal. As an organ, the brain is incredibly resilient, having the ability to adapt, be re-wired and change by laying down new neuronal pathways and connections.

The Market Project – Intentional Trauma-Informed Workplaces

A trauma-informed approach to healing for survivors of complex trauma includes understanding the physical, social and emotional impact of trauma on the individual and creating an environment that allows for and provides opportunities for healing. A healthy workplace can contribute to the survivors’ ability to rewire the way their brain operates.

Dr. Thompson, has explained, “Anytime we think about changing the course of our mind, we’re talking about neuroplasticity. We’re talking about changing the way my neurons are actually firing. One of the most important elements of helping neuroplasticity to flourish is activating it through the use of attention. I like to describe attention as being the engine that pulls the rest of the train of the mind. There’s nothing that we do throughout the day that does not, in some way, shape or form, involve a shift in attention from one thing to another to another.”[7]

The Market Project is committed to creating a supportive community within the businesses or workspaces we build. We want each employee in these workspaces to be supported in their job. This requires intentional training for managers. Workers who are survivors of complex trauma, exploitation and trafficking can find landing a job difficult. Once in the workspace, it is important for coworkers to support one another, to learn how best to listen to one another and be heard.

Key components that contribute to being “trauma informed” within the workplace include:

-Trauma awareness training for all managers helps build a safe physical and emotional environment for all employees. Managers learn how to respond appropriately to the individual needs of survivors.

-Healing groups create opportunities for transformative change as all employees are invited to engage in these interactive sessions. Participants are equipped to share their story and find their voice.

-Safe and respectful avenues for all employees allow feedback to leaders of the business. Voice and choice are encouraged in the daily work together as well as through periodic surveys conducted by professionals outside the management structure of the business. The confidential responses offer insightful responses to the work culture and further inform The Market Project what leadership training is needed.

The Resiliency of Survivor

Men and women find hope and flourish through safe, dignity-affirming work and opportunities for healing at The Market Project’s business, Nguvu Dairy, in northern Uganda.

Nguvu offers meaningful jobs that affirm the dignity of each man and woman while paying a fair and transparent wage. Every person, regardless of their position in the company, is valued. Through the intentional engagement with trauma survivors who work at Nguvu, testimonies abound of those who have come to the place of forgiving those who have inflicted on them such deep, emotional wounds. They begin to see the needs of others, invest in the lives of teammates and family members and become engaged in the community.

“Trauma healing gave me power to maintain my family. It makes me feel like my life is complete.”

Esther Apiding, Nguvu Dairy Team Member

“Trauma healing has let me restore good relationships with my mother and other people.” 

Solomon Odongo, Nguvu Dairy Team Member

Building Healing Workplaces


 

 

[1] Bremner J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461. (https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.4/jbremner)

[2] Medical News Today, “All You Need to Know About Neurons,” December 2017. Tim Newman. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320289)m Exercens dated 14 September, 1989, para. 9: Work and Personal Dignity.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Footnote 1.

[5] Biola University Center for Christian Thought, Curt Thompson, “Neuroplasticity and Spiritual Disciplines,” March 2013. (https://cct.biola.edu/neuroplasticity-and-spiritual-disciplines/).

[6] Biola University Center for Christian Thought, Curt Thompson, “You’re Never Too Old to Change,” March 2013 (https://cct.biola.edu/you-re-never-too-old-to-change/).

[7] Biola University Center for Christian Thought, Curt Thompson, “Spirituality, Neuroplasticity and Personal Growth,” March 2013. (https://cct.biola.edu/spirituality-neuroplasticity-and-personal-growth-curt-thompson-full-interview/).

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