Posted on October 2, 2015
As we have followed our hero through the process of transformation, we’ve hit a difficult truth. Transformation, to be lasting, takes a great deal of time and energy. Hope, mindfulness, and mindsight set the biological and psychological stage for permanent change and healing, but the impact of trauma, stress, and addiction can take years to reset and recover.
Here it is important return to the concept of epigenetics. We examined this science when we looked at the impact of darkness, pain, and suffering, and how living in poverty, homelessness, or violence impacts the expression of our DNA (http://coldspringcenter.org/mattsmumblings/thedarkness/). This same science that can be so destructive on one hand is also the key to recovery and post-traumatic growth.
Recent research has shown that it isn’t the environment alone that influences the expression of DNA and the creation of traits. Certain psychological states also impact genetic expression in powerful ways. Through mindfulness and shifting to more positive mindsets, one can also dramatically change their brains and other biological systems. These shifts in psychology are being shown to directly strengthen the brain areas that are underdeveloped or damaged by trauma and addiction.
Transformation is a mix of environmental (social and relationship) and psychological variables. The return to normal life is both an internal and external process that, over time, builds a sense of worth, confidence, and support that allows the client to take small calculated risks, leading to a realization of their potential as a human being. As the mentor and helper in the situation, it is important that we help surround the client with resources that establish stability, security, and safety, while providing opportunities and support for psychological growth.
There is a challenge here, not only to us as helpers, but to the larger society. Do we truly care enough about those in poverty and suffering to provide what they need to live their potential? If the answer is “Yes,” we have a long way to go.
Regarding the mind, we know that people in pain, or attempting a transformative life change, need a great deal of support. For most of our clients, this support takes the form of a professional helper, as they often lack social support in the community. Helping clients establish mindfulness and gain mindsight into their situation is a time- and energy-intensive process. Too often, the time and energy necessary to just “be” with someone through the process is taken away due to budget cuts, focus on paperwork, and other “hoops” that distract from the number one driver of outcomes: the relationship.
We have also failed on the environmental side of the transformational process. While it might be cheaper, at least in the short term, to put people into shelters, residential programs, or prisons, these are not places that naturally promote transformation. Epigenetics shows that the best environment in which to regain mindfulness and well-being is one where someone is surrounded by healthy, regulated people who care about them. Even the best-run and most well-intentioned shelters, residential programs, or prisons often surround the person with other struggling, mentally ill, or violent peers. While this can provide a sense of support and opportunity for group treatment, it is at best a difficult task for the often-underfunded programs and overworked staff to create and maintain.
While the current situation is frustrating, the great thing about living today is we know what clients need to find the hero that lies within them. We also have many of the pieces located in our communities. It is up to us to figure out the right fit and mix for the specific situation facing each unique individual, and also consider where they are on their hero’s journey. We also must ensure that these services are delivered by healthy, empathetic, and trauma informed professionals, or risk adding to the suffering and missing an opportunity to truly help someone find their path to transformation.
My challenge to you this week is to consider the mix of environmental and mindfulness/mindsight) that your clients need for their own transformation. Are there any systematic barriers that exist? If so, where and how can you and your organization advocate to evolve systems to match the science?