Thursday, May 17, 2018

Notes on the Trauma and Resilience of the Mind, Body, & Spirit

First up in my summer reading is "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma" by Bessel Van Der Kolk. Here are my notes...

The high prevalence of trauma:
  • One in five Americans were sexually molested as a child
  • One in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body
  • One in three couples engages in physical violence
  • A quarter grew up with alcoholic relatives
  • One out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit
The impact of trauma is felt everywhere.
  • Traumatic experiences leave traces on our histories and cultures, families, minds and emotions, our capacity for joy and intimacy, our biology and immune systems.
  • Families are frightened by the rage and emotional absence of soldiers returning home from combat.
  • Wives of men who suffer PTSD tend to become depressed.
  • Children of depressed mothers are at risk of growing up insecure and anxious. 
  • Children exposed to family violence as a child often makes it difficult to establish stable, trusting relationships as an adult.
Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. 
  • It is so upsetting to think about what happened that we try to push it out of our minds, try to act as if nothing happened, and move on. 
  • It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of helplessness. 
The brain - the primitive, reptilian and oldest part.

The part of our brain that is devoted to ensuring our survival is not very good at denial. Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions, intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These post-traumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption.

The brain stem is the part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls functions basic to the survival of all animals, such as heart rate, breathing, digesting foods, and sleeping. It is the lowest, most primitive area of the human brain. 
(from "The Brain - Basic Information")

Monday, April 30, 2018

Mentoring Millennials

When you consult with a millennial social worker about to lead a high school group that stresses her out and she creates a meme with the mantra that you gave her to build her confidence.

Being caring, fair, and firm is the best way to teach, parent, supervise, and lead.

It is being an adult in relationships - balancing the "parent" (rules & responsibilities) and "baby" (needs & wants) parts in ourselves in order to be whole and integrated. We were either raised to be this way or we learned it along the way to maturity.

Our own balance brings out the balance in others because we are not trying to rescue and thus give others the opportunity to save themselves.

If we chronically do too much for others, bending over backwards, then we run the risk of becoming resentful and stressed out.

The target of our over-care is also at risk of becoming resentful from being chronically rescued and infantilized ("What, you think I'm not capable of doing it or figuring it out? You don't think I have a right to succeed or fail if I want to??).

Over-performing in the lives of others (co-dependence) at our own expense (self-neglect) does not end well for anybody.

If you're caught in a cycle of focusing too much on your "parent" part (being overly responsible for others), then your "baby" part is crying out for equal time (because your own needs are being neglected). 
An antidote is deciding to have some fun.
Another is to figure out how we got so out of whack in the first place! What underlying beliefs need to change to keep us in balance?

Core beliefs can make you well.
I'm lovable, competent, strong, and whole.
There are people I can trust.
The world is usually a safe place.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Check out:

Kataoka, S., Vona, P., Acuna, A., Jaycox, L., Escudero, P., Rojas, C., Ramirez, E., Langley, A., & Stein, B.D. (in press) Applying a Trauma Informed School Systems Approach: Examples from School Community-Academic Partnerships. Ethnicity & Disease.

Acuña, M.A., & Martinez, J.I. (in press). Pilot Evaluation of Back to Basics Parenting Training in Urban Schools. School Social Work Journal.

Acuña, M. A., & Kataoka, S. (2017). Family Communication Styles and Resilience among Adolescents. Social Work, 62(3), 261-269.

Acuña, A. & Escudero, P.V. (2016). Helping those who come here alone. Phi Delta Kappan, 97(4), 42-45.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

They Man Up & Come Clean

I love comedians. They are ruthless with the truth, which feels so good it makes us wanna pee in our pants.

With recent news stories about sexual harassment, I was relieved to read Louis CK's response to his allegations in the NY Times.
"These stories are true," he said.
No victim-blaming or shaming, no denials or recriminations, no revisionist Holocaust denial malevolence. No flipping the script with distortions.
"...I wielded that power irresponsibly. I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them...I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work."
"I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it."
In his statement, I read that he credits power and privilege for the conditions that allowed harassment to occur unchecked. I also see his expressed self-awareness, taking responsibility, and empathy, which is grown-up stuff and worthy of NY Times space.

Then my man, Chris Rock, comes out and tells it on the mountain (on stage in his Netflix special).
“I was addicted to porn.” 
Boom. Raw & real. Humbly without shame - just the honest to goodness truth. Referring to his divorce, he said:
“It’s my fault, because I’m a f—ing asshole...I didn’t listen. I wasn’t kind. I had an attitude, I thought, ‘I pay for everything, I can do what I want.’ That s— don’t f—ing work. I just thought I was the s—.”
Again power and money is credited for the justification to behave badly. Real, perceived or fantasized power can make one think that one matters more than others - that personal needs, wants and desires trump those of others, regardless of the cost. This ride only lasts until those taken advantage of speak up and walk out. Chris also expresses self-awareness, personal responsibility, and empathy. It's bold because he doesn't have to say this - and yet he does. It's like he is saving his own soul.

At the end of the game, the cheese stands alone in the middle of the circle.
This moment of self-reflection may be an opportunity for transformation.
"Love the truth and so be saved."

Monday, March 26, 2018

Tape, Watch & Share, "Dolores"!!

Set your DVR (or VCR, I don’t wanna assume) to record, Dolores, the documentary on PBS. I looved her story and was sad that I hadn’t learned most of it while growing up. I would love for all our daughters & sons to know about what she did for our people.

Closing the Opportunity Gap for Men of Color

Please share the article link below with men of color who are interested in higher education and may benefit from inspiration, encouragement, and mentoring. We are aiming to close the opportunity gap in college graduation rates for black, brown and other brothers.

M3 article about increasing college graduation rates

Talking Mental Health on Enfoque Los Angeles

So this happened.
I got a call from an Enfoque Los Angeles producer asking if I could be on the show to talk about the impact of trauma.
In my head I said, "duh," not realizing the ramifications: Look decent on camera and speak extemporaneously in SPANISH about what I'm expert at in ENGLISH (while dancing backwards in high heels).
I gave it my best shot.
If I close my eyes while watching the segment, then I actually feel proud of the opportunity to talk about trauma and recovery, the importance and effectiveness of mental health treatment and social support.
I'm gonna stick to writing and teaching.
I'm better on the page and in person.
TV cameras are humbling.
I will track down the show transcript or audiotape and share ;)

Notes on the Trauma and Resilience of the Mind, Body, & Spirit

First up in my summer reading is "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma" by Bessel Van Der Kolk....