This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on June 16, 2016 on the ICTG blog.
In the aftermath of collective trauma, four general phases of response tend to occur. ICTG refers to these phases as Heroic, Disillusionment, Rebuilding and Restoration, and Wiser Living.
First responders began noticing these patterns anecdotally following natural storms, and created a chart that looks similar to a heart beat scan. Since the first chart was produced, various groups have adjusted it over the year. You can learn more about this evolution here.
Below is ICTG's current version of the chart.
The chart is best used as a conversation tool. It is a visual aid to help survivors find language together for what they experience in the aftermath of trauma. When discussing these phases and how they compare to lived experience, groups often find their members feel they are at different points along the scale. Yet, at the same time, leaders also sense how a congregation – as a whole – generally moves through these phases, too.
The chart is not prescriptive. Every trauma is unique, just as every healing process is unique. Still, common experiences exist.
Often, in the aftermath of trauma, survivors experience tunnel vision. It becomes hard to care about or receive anything else beyond the minimal scope of what's occurred. Because of this tunnel vision, survivors often loose sight of how fellow survivors may be grieving or healing at different paces. This chart, when discussed in a group, can help members discovered how similar or different they feel or think about what's happened.
Generally, the chart represents 18-24 months span. Some groups find it takes even longer than two years to resume a sense of "new normal," while other groups may move more quickly through the phases.
The Heroic Phase
Instantly, after sudden impact, many people are filled with hormones and senses of urgency to respond. Helpers rush in. Survivors get out of harm's way, if possible. Food and lodging are provided. Medical, psychological first aid is administered. Spiritual and emotional care are offered.
This phase also can cause more problems. Information can be misconstrued or mishandled. Details are lost or forgotten. Too many material donations are provided or too many unaffiliated volunteers appear, creating disasters within disasters.
This is the time when everything is "heightened" and "on edge" for many reasons.
This phase acknowledging what happened. Not just with words. But in our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits. At some point, survivors begin to realize there is nothing they can physically do to change the fact that the trauma occurred.
Turning toward Restoration and Rebuilding
Somewhere during and after honestly acknowledging what's happened, survivors may feel a sense of "and yet". It's the point where the tunnel vision begins to expand – a sense of this trauma is not the only thing going on in the world, and there is something bigger than our own experience or ourselves at work. It is a point where a glimmer of hope may appear.
When talking with faith groups, we often share how an example of this turning occurs in the Bible, Lamentations 3. For the first two and a half chapters, the author of Lamentations has been railing at God about all the terrible things that have gone on. Then, part way through the third chapter, the author says, "And yet, God is sovereign." This point of acknowledging how both experiences are real – of horror and of goodness – becomes a solid foundation to begin rebuilding and restoring what has been lost or destroyed. Preempted efforts to rebuild before this critical turn has occurred often do not have lasting effect. Yet, the challenge, in order to be a true foundation, this point must occur genuinely, or be invited hospitably, and not be forced.
Restoration and Rebuilding
This phase mostly involves forward momentum. The loss has not been forgotten, but grief is not so burdensome. There are breaths of fresh air, and some inspired vision. There even are hours or days when survivors find themselves not thinking about their loss so much. But then, an anniversary comes up, a graduation a loved one was supposed to be at, or a favorite song on the radio, and suddenly a survivor is consumed with the loss all over again. Still, life continues to move along, and some senses of joy appear again.
After about 18 to 24 months, survivors experience some sense of "new normal." Life has some regularity and ordinary rhythm to it. We call this time "wiser living," because this new normal also involves a sense that life now includes this particular loss. It is not just the kind of loss that happens out there, to other people. It happens here, and to us. Survivors now know, very personally in their bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, what life is like with this loss. They are changed from who they were before this event ever occurred. They are wiser.
As any good conversation piece, this aid likely will recall for you experiences that do not fit well in this chart and ways that the trauma-healing path went differently or has not resolved well. Again, this particular chart is not prescriptive. There are other ways to visualize the mourner's path. This chart also can create a means to discover how your particular group is processing an event, what may be yet to come, and how best to encourage one another along the way.
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