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Trauma & design

Some basic definitions key to understanding the relationship between trauma and design

Published onAug 12, 2020
Trauma & design
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Table of Contents



Some key terms

The terms listed below are intentionally framed in plain language, or words that are commonly used in conversation. A wide range of disciplines contribute to, document, study, or ameliorate trauma, including: behavioral health, clinical psychology, decolonial studies, education, gender studies, indigenous studies, law, neurophysiology, positive psychology, public health, social justice, and wellness. Each discipline has specialist terms to describe various aspects of trauma; these are listed in the 'related terms' section below each main term.

Trauma 101

What do we talk about when we talk about trauma? Some of the commonly used terms, and our collective understandings of them.

Trauma
A complex, disruptive, and painful phenomena that people experience individually and collectively from abuse, deprivation, neglect, violence, or other violation of their basic needs and human rights.

Triggered/trigger response
A person’s extreme, involuntary, rapid, physiological and mental response to an experience that the ‘reptilian’ part of their brain associates with an earlier trauma. Being triggered renders important parts of a person’s physiological and mental capacity temporarily non-functional.
Related terms: amygdala hijack, ptsd episode, annihilation panic, disassociation, rage

Trigger experience
Not all people who experience trauma, experience triggers. It results in greatly reduced capacity for the duration of the person’s response. This experience is frequently, but not always, terrifying for the person involved. It can be extremely difficult for people around the person who is triggered, too.
Related terms: fight or flight, freeze, fawn response, tend response, befriend response, panic attack, annihilation panic, rage, emotional numbness

Fight response
Fight can look explosive: in facial gestures (tensing of jaw muscles, furrowing of brow or raising of eyebrows, widening of eyes), posture (shoulders back, relative rigidity in torso, think ‘cobra preparing to strike), limb movements (repeated involuntary movements such as shaking clenched fists, flapping, yelling and/or increased volume of noises of distress.Fight can also look like hyper rational arguing in inappropriate contexts, ‘harsh' tone of voice, dull ‘lifeless' stareMore extreme fight response includes losing control of bodily functions (bowels etc), hitting objects, themselves, or others;
Related terms: flight, freeze, fawn response, tend response, befriend response, triggers, responses to trauma.

Flight response
Flight response can  be chronically busy and perfectionistic.Flight can look like obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior, feelings of panic or anxiety, rushing around, being a workaholic or over-worrying, [and being] unable to sit still or feel relaxed. More extreme flight response includes involuntary and urgent running away at great speed.
Related terms: Fight, freeze, fawn response, tend response, befriend response, triggers, responses to trauma.

Freeze response
The freeze response may also refer to feeling physically or mentally “frozen” as a result of trauma, which people may experience as dissociation. Freeze looks like spacing out or feeling unreal, isolating [yourself] from the outside world, being a ‘couch potato’ … [and having] difficulty making and acting on decisions.
Related terms: Fight, flight, fawn response, tend response, befriend response, triggers, responses to trauma.

Fawn response
This combines an involuntary fight or flight (activity) response with an acted out positive emotion presentation that the person doesn't feel. This can appear as counterintuitively and or unusually charming, ingratiating, or persuasive words and/or behaviors toward the source of the threat. For example, a person smiling during or after being insulted.
Related terms: Fight, flight, freeze response, tend response, befriend response, triggers, responses to trauma.

Tend & Befreind response
The word 'tend' refers to tending to your offspring and 'befriend' refers to seeking out social support during times of stress. Response to the threat by nurturing and protecting offspring and seeking social support and attention. There’s a study from 2000’s around binary gender exploration into tend/befriend which is worth a read but not ‘up to date’ as it were.
Related terms: Fight, flight, fawn, freeze response, triggers, responses to trauma.

Regulating
A person returns from a triggered state to a stasis state (whatever that looks like for each person ie stasis may be comparatively distant from, or close to, the triggered state). This takes at least 1 hour, and up to several days.
Related terms: heart rate variability, embodiment, vagus nerve

Trigger/triggering
An interaction or thing that, when experienced, results individual, in a person becoming triggered. Anything can be a trigger. Triggers are different for different people.
Related terms: hate speech, misrepresentation, aggression, violence

Trigger warning (also known as a content waning)
A disclaimer given before raising an issue that may be likely to be set off this extreme response in other people who are present. Not every trigger can be given a warning.

Immediate response and delayed response
Different inviduals can have, at different times, immediate and delayed responses to trauma or to triggering events (for those with PTSD). Immediate and delayed responses can be physical (e.g. Muscle tremors) or emotional (e.g. Numbness ). The added complexity being that for some individuals they can have a commonly immediate response but delayed and vice-versa. A more comprehensive list can be found here via The National Center for Biotechnology Information.


What are the negative associations with trauma? Our understandings of the origins of trauma, and harms or negative effects associated with it.

Triggered/trigger response
A person’s extreme, involuntary, rapid, physiological and mental response to an experience that the ‘reptilian’ part of their brain associates with an earlier trauma. Being triggered renders important parts of a person’s physiological and mental capacity temporarily non-functional.
Related terms: amygdala hijack, ptsd episode, dissociation

Trigger experience
Not all people who experience trauma, experience triggers. It results in greatly reduced capacity for the duration of the person’s response. This experience is frequently, but not always, terrifying for the person involved. It can be extremely difficult for people around the person who is triggered, too.
Related terms: fight or flight, freeze, fawn response, tend response, befriend response, panic attack, annihilation panic, rage, emotional numbness

Regulating
A person returns from a triggered state to a stasis state (whatever that looks like for each person ie stasis may be comparatively distant from, or close to, the triggered state). This takes at least 1 hour, and up to several days.
Related terms: heart rate variability, embodiment, vagus nerve

Trigger/triggering
An interaction or thing that, when experienced, results individual, in a person becoming triggered. Anything can be a trigger, and triggers are different for different people.
Related terms: hate speech, misrepresentation, aggression, violence

Trigger warning
A disclaimer given before raising an issue that may be likely to be set off this extreme response in other people who are present. Not every trigger can be given a warning.

Trauma origins
Trauma has a lot of origins. Debilitating effects of trauma can be caused by a single event, primary, secondary, ancestral/intergenerational, systemic, environmental.
Related terms: triggers

Trauma effects (individual, in a person)
Compromised immune system, exaggerated startle response, feelings of foreshortened future, absence of felt sense of self.
Related terms: adverse childhood experiences score, anxiety, autoimmune diseases, depression, heart disease, post traumatic stress disorder, post traumatic slave syndrome
People doing pioneering related work: Peter Levine, Joy de Gruy, Gabor Mate, Carl Jung, Hans Seyle, Stephen Porges

Trauma effects (relational, people relating to one another)
Annihilation panic, absence of felt sense of connection, normalization of destructive relations.
Related terms: abuse, domestic violence, gaslighting, harassment, hungry ghosts
People doing pioneering related work: Bessel van der Kolk, Gabor Mate

Trauma effects (cultural, within large groups of people)
Normalization of violence and disconnection, marginalized people face increased oppression, and widespread stress-related illnesses.
Related terms: capitalism, cognitive injustice, colonialism, eugenics, genocide, slavery, xenophobia, white supremacy
People doing pioneering related work: Bessel van der Kolk, Gabor Mate, Joy de Gruy

Moral Injury
Experiencing distress or trauma as a result of taking part in, failing to prevent, or witnessing acts that violate one’s personally held moral beliefs.

Trauma and privilege
Less diagnoses and more severe symptoms are often experienced by people with less multigenerational and systemic privilege.
Related terms: mental health, diagnoses, criminalization


What are the positive associations with trauma? Our understandings of the healthy and healing associations with trauma, and benefits arising from it.

Trauma healing (individual, in a person)
A person with ‘healed’ grounded, regulated, and resilient neurophysiology will experience potentially traumatic events, and heal from those events, in very close proximity to one another (sometimes in milliseconds).
Related terms: post traumatic growth, fear extinction, positive psychology, neuroaffective regulation
People doing pioneering related work: Francine Shapiro, Laurence Heller, Peter Levine, Carl Jung, Emma Seppala

Trauma healing (relational, people relating to one another)
The capacity for people to relate to one another without debilitating, terrifying, or otherwise disruptive symptoms inhibiting interpersonal connection.
Related terms: advocacy, collaboration, harm reduction, neuroaffective relational model, care ethics
People doing pioneering related work: Sue Johnson, Bessel van der Kolk, Laurence Heller

Trauma healing (cultural, within large groups of people)
Cultural understandings of life, lead by previously marginalized and silenced people.
Related terms: ancestral wisdom, consensus building, decarceration, interconnectedness, intersectional feminism, posthumanism, reparations, social justice, sovereignty
People doing pioneering related work: Bessel van der Kolk


Trauma and human rights centered design

How does human rights centered design relate to trauma? Our early thoughts on trauma as an intersectional term, and a lens through which to view human rights centered design work.

Trauma and social justice
Trauma can be seen and used as an intersectional term. Healing trauma is a form of intersectional liberation. Trauma healing and social justice work require one another.

Trauma and design
Design is both a contributor to trauma and a tool that can be used for healing from trauma.

Design as an origin of trauma
When an experience of design (as a user of a designed thing, service, or experience; or as a person working within a design industry) functions as a trauma trigger for one or more people.
Related terms: dark patterns, disinformation, misrepresentation
People doing pioneering related work: Sasha Costanza-Chock, Lauren Klein, Catherine D'Ignazio, Katherine Hepworth, Christopher Church

Design as a source of healing from trauma
When an experience of design facilitates healing from trauma for one or more people.
Related terms: autonomous design, biofeedback, calm technology, cognitive justice, design activism, design justice, empathic computing, humane technology, inclusion nudges, decolonizing design, ethical visualization, data feminism, society centered design, harm reducing communication, person-first language, plain language
People doing pioneering related work: Arturo Escobar, Katherine Hepworth, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Lauren Klein, Catherine D'Ignazio, Charles Kostelnick, Marion Dork, Christopher Church, If Collective, Digital Democracy


Collective
  • Data for Black Lives
    Type: Collective | Topics: Trauma, justice, representation

  • Ni Una Menos
    Type: Collective | Topics: Trauma, justice, representation, visualization

Teaching
Repository
  • AI.Assembly
    Type: Repository | Topics: Trauma, machine learning

Concept
Foundation
Chat
Concept, book
Documentation
Manifesto
Institute
  • Data & Society
    Type: Institute | Topics: Trauma




    Trauma trigger first-aid

    When a trigger is experienced, there are many strategies from a wide range of knowledge traditions that can assist a triggered person with regulating, and accelerate returning to a non-triggered state. Some of the ones listed below we have found personally helpful.

  • Jin shen point (energy lock) 17
    Why/how it works: Deactivates the vagus nerve
    Instructions:

    Stage Fright/Anxiety: Simple Jin Shin Jyutsu Self-Help

  • 3-4-5 Breathing
    How/why it works: Stimulates the respiratory pacemaker in the brain

    Instructions:

    3-4-5 Breathing Exercise with Instructor Jess (AUDIO)
  • Orienting
    How/why it works: Speeds reversal of amygdala hijack through combination of somatic experiencing and prefrontal reasoning.
    Instructions:

    Somatic Experiencing - "Orienting"
  • Breath of fire
    How/why it works: Stimulates the respiratory pacemaker in the brain
    Instructions:

    How to Do Kundalini Yoga: Breath of Fire
  • Therapeutic tremoring/trauma releasing exercises
    How/why it works: Accelerates nervous system regulation by dispersing rigidity/tenseness in fascia

    Instructions:

    TRE® : Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises, an Introduction with Jessica Schaffer
  • Tapping
    How/why it works: Speeds reversal of amygdala hijack through combination of somatic experiencing and prefrontal reasoning.
    Instructions:

    A meditation expert shows her stress relief 'tapping' exercise which you can do in 2 minutes
  • Grounding
    How/why it works: Speeds reversal of amygdala hijack through combination of somatic experiencing and prefrontal reasoning.

    Instructions:

    Grounding Exercise: Anxiety Skills #5

  • Hand massage
    How/why it works: Massage therapy was to be considered a cost-efficient noninvasive intervention that positively influenced and contributed to the reduction of pain, anxiety and depression in seriously ill cancer patients and can be self administered for similar effects.
    Instructions:

    Massage for the Medically Fragile: Hand & Forearm




    Healing-related self-care

    Certain habits have been proven to increase or decrease the amount and severity of triggering a person experiences over time. While this doesn’t replace working with qualified experts, the below activities can be helpful during particularly heavy times of challenging experiences.

  • Regular yoga: Yoga for Every Body

  • Regular meditation: Trauma sensitive mindfulness

  • Sleep hygiene: Why We Sleep | sleep hygiene

  • Journalling: Neuroscience of gratitude

  • Regularly eat nutrient-dense food to maintain consistent blood sugar levels

  • Continuous hydration



    More resources

    If you find the above activities aren’t cutting it for you, and/or you’re curious about other strategies for trauma healing, you may be interested in searching for information on the following topics:

  • Biofeedback

  • EMDR

  • Somatic experiencing

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