Healing and the Power to Choose

Though the work of Global Rights for Women focuses on systems change and legal form, we believe that in order to do our work effectively, we have to be continuously connected to the voices and experiences of survivors. In a four-part series on trauma-informed skills, Twin Cities, Minnesota advocate and survivor Sarah Super shares her insights on how we can be trauma-sensitive in our support of survivors of gender-based violence. Read on for Part Two in Sarah’s series. Part one can be found here

At the heart of trauma is disempowerment: being powerless, forced against your will, immobilized. In a traumatic event, there are seemingly no choices; a perpetrator is overpowering you, in control of you, and something horrific is happening to you without your consent. This extreme sense of powerlessness felt within the context of horror follows the survivor in the aftermath of violence. Thus, any following interaction where the survivor senses power being taken from them can be triggering.

Because at the heart of trauma is disempowerment, healing happens with empowerment – restoring a survivor’s sense of agency or ability to act and choose for themselves. In a culture that celebrates assertiveness, ego, and expertise, sharing power equally for the sake of helping survivors heal is a radical act. Learning to balance power equally requires effort and intention. In my work organizing sexual violence survivors and in my own healing, I have found two things to be the foundation for empowerment: 1. the ability to offer choices in a trauma-informed way, and 2. the belief that I only know what’s right for me, not for anyone else.

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