"In my opinion, the opposite of trauma is CHOICE, because if we could have chosen, we would have chosen to NOT be traumatized."
Britt Frank, MSW, LSCSP, SEP is a trauma specialist, teacher, and speaker who is committed to dismantling the mental health myths that keep us stuck and sick. Her work focuses on empowering people to understand the inner mechanisms of their brains, minds and bodies. When we know how things work, the capacity for choice is restored and life can and does change. Britt received her BA from Duke University and her MSW from the University of Kansas, where she is now an award-winning adjunct professor. She is certified as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner through the Trauma Healing Institute and trained in Internal Family Systems therapy. She is also a partner and lead trainer for Narcinon, an organization dedicated to the non-tolerance of narcissistic abuse.
SWY: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came into this work?
BF: I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind. I received my undergraduate from Duke University in Psychology then I received a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Kansas. I have training in Internal Family Systems, Play Therapy, and I am also a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, which is a trauma specialty that focuses on the body. I love this work!
SWY: What experiences have you had in your life that led you to want to go into the field of trauma?
BF: As a trauma survivor, I first came to this work as a client. After many years of trying all kinds of different therapies with very little healing, I found my way to trauma work and found myself starting to heal from long-standing patterns. I was so excited about my own process that I decided to go back to school to get trained to become a psychotherapist.
SWY: What is the difference between trauma and grief?
BF: Trauma is an injury to the brain. Trauma is when our internal alarm system gets stuck on “on” and our bodies constantly react as if they were about to be attacked by a tiger. Trauma can heal, but that requires access to resources and a safe environment, which unfortunately is not experienced by everyone due to systemic oppression and environmental factors. Grief is an experience. It is an imprint on our hearts, minds, and bodies after a loss. Grief isn’t something to “get over,” but rather something that becomes part of our life story. Grief is like the weather – sometimes the days are beautiful, sometimes they are brutal. You don’t “get over” grief any more than you can “get over” weather.
SWY: Can you go into more detail about the 7 types of Empaths and why you think people are so quick to invalidate the idea of them?
BF: When things can’t be quantified or measured, they can be hard to “prove.” Empathy is difficult to nail down to the specifics necessary to quantify or measure, though most of us can describe when we are having an empathic experience. I’ve identified 7 types of empaths based on the patterns of behavior I’ve seen in my clinical practice.
1. Somatic – feeling other people’s physical experiences in your own body. This would be if someone on TV gets punched in the stomach you feel it in your stomach too.
2. Cerebral – This is when you have a sense of what other people are thinking
3. Emotional - Feeling other people’s emotions in your own body
4. Trauma – Having a sense of what types of trauma other people have experienced
5. Environmental – Sensitivity to trauma in the physical and systemic environment
6. Convex (outward) – Rather than focusing inward, these people try to empathically connect with others as a way of bypassing their own pain. This is enmeshment oriented.
7. Concave (inward) – These are people who claim their status as an empath is a valid reason not to do their own inner work. It is avoidance oriented.
SWY: On your Instagram, you talk about shadow parts - Can you explain what this is, and the role that shame plays in this concept?
BF: Carl Jung referred to the idea of “Shadow,” and Richard Schwartz would call these aspects of the personality “Exiles” in the Internal Family Systems model. “Shadow Parts” are any aspects of ourselves that we either dislike or do not think we “should” have. When these parts are denied or rejected, they become suppressed. When we do not deal with our suppressed parts, they have the tendency to compel us to participate in less-than-healthy actions. Shame is a huge part of this process since shame is usually the catalyst that causes parts to be shadowed. In order to re-integrate shadow parts, the first task is to de-activate the shame response.
SWY: What are some methods one can use to deal with their shadow parts and overcome the shame that is linked to their trauma?
BF: Bréne Brown is the queen of shame research. I highly recommend all of her books, podcast, and talks. She says that in the presence of empathy, shame cannot exist. So my suggestion for people who are interested in de-activating shame would be to find safe, empathetic, compassionate people with whom they can share their stories. It can also be helpful to practice NOT shaming ourselves with our self-talk. This can be difficult when we are used to being mean to ourselves, but creating a consistent practice of affirmative, validating, and compassionate self-talk will also help reducing shame.
SWY: Why do you think the COVID-19 media coverage may trigger some childhood trauma in individuals? What can individuals do to manage their trauma in these unprecedented times?
BF: COVID-19 media coverage is fear-filled, divisive, and inconsistent. These are all the characteristics of a childhood marked by trauma. I find that a lot of people are coming into therapy now to deal with COVID stress and then find they have childhood trauma that has not been explored until now. In my opinion, the opposite of trauma is CHOICE, because if we could have chosen, we would have chosen to NOT be traumatized. Therefore, anywhere we can be mindful of our CHOICES, our bodies will be a little bit less reactive. Asking yourself, “what can I do to feel a LITTLE safer or less-threatened” can go a long way in coping with these frightening and uncertain times.
We want to thank Britt for sharing her knowledge of the many effects of trauma and ways that individuals can learn to heal from their pasts. Make sure to check out her Instagram and website for more information about her practices and daily tips for healing.
Starts With Youth would like to thank #RisingYouth, TakingITGlobal, Canada Service Corps and the Government of Canada for their generosity and support. With their help, we will continue working to address intergenerational trauma and childhood abuse, creating a positive change in our community.