We were having a discussion with a group of middle school students who were processing the death of a boy in their school. Just before the session started I was told, “she lies.” The comment took me by surprise. The person who made the comment went on to explain that the student he was referring to most likely didn’t even know the boy who died but she would paint a much different picture. Indeed she did! Her sharing was detailed, elaborate and quite unbelievable. Although I wonder, was it unbelievable because I had been warned?
Prior to becoming a Certified Trauma Practitioner, my level of irritation with someone fabricating a story in order to receive attention was significant. Perhaps so significant that it was apparent to those around me. Since having trauma training in 2018, I find myself being more tolerant in such situations. In this case, I nodded and offered validation while still making sure everyone had room to process and share.
On my drive home, I reflected on the discussion and the way this young student showed up. I wondered, what has happened to her and how do her lies benefit her? Prior to a greater awareness about trauma, I would not have asked those questions. I further wondered, what assumptions do other make about her and what questions do those supporting her ask? I imagine it is easier to ask, what is wrong with you, especially after repeated exposure to her lies. Nevertheless, how would understanding her past provide insight into what she most needs?
While I don’t have answers to the questions I pondered, I realized that my mindset has shifted since the trauma training. I am less likely to assume that something is “wrong” with a person when I find their behavior irritating or hard to handle. Instead, I wonder, how we can better support those who have experienced trauma and what is my role in that work?
Special Projects Coordinator, Calhoun Intermediate School District
Board Vice President, Lakeview School District