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On Culture, Trauma, and Resilience

Leveraging the Capacity for Human Connection


t Circle of Security International, we recognize that how we see the world is shaped by both our experiences and our culture. As a U.S.-based company, our history of colonialism may impact how we do the work. Said another way, when we work with parents and professionals, our positive intentionality to benefit others is shaped by our own worldview, which carries with it the weight of the implicit desire to help them to be more like us. For example, descriptions of security can and will look different across cultures. In Western culture, we may describe secure people as mature, independent, and academically successful. However, another culture may describe security as being shaped more by characteristics of interdependence such as selflessness, doing what’s best for the community, working together as a group, etc.

Throughout history and around the globe, groups of people have been subjected to the trauma of colonization. Scholars name trauma that is inherited as ‘intergenerational trauma.’ Traumatic experiences often have lasting impacts, even altering the expression of our DNA. Not only do such lasting impacts make it difficult to heal in a lifetime, but the effects of stress and trauma can be passed down through the generations — children inheriting trauma responses from their caregivers. Sometimes the pain that we feel reflects our history.

A child's hand resting on an elderly person's hand

At the same time, we recognize that communities who experience marginalization and intergenerational trauma are made up of much more than their history of trauma. We risk further marginalizing communities when we focus solely on intergenerational trauma. By defining communities only by the struggles associated with trauma, we may miss the depth of culture and diversity that sustains resilience. Communities who have experienced trauma remember the pain of their ancestors in their bodies. And they also feel the love and joy and pride of their ancestors in their bodies as well. We believe that where we find intergenerational trauma, we also find intergenerational resilience.

At Circle of Security International, we seek to honor what we call positive intentionality — the deep wish to create secure relationships with our children. Caregivers who have experienced trauma have positive intentionality, but they also have a deep-seated need for protection from trauma. We sometimes see this in what we deny our children. For example, if, in our own childhood, expressing distress, or vulnerability, or competence, led to rejection, ridicule, or abuse, then teaching our children to avoid such expression is actually a loving act. The Circle of Security models are not designed to “fix” or “teach” or even know what’s “best,” but rather to equip individuals and communities to see the Circle of Security that is present in all our lives and with it to leverage the capacity for human connection that’s in each of us.

Regardless of what may be, our deepest intention is that our children will be able to meet all circumstances with both grit and grace: the necessary capacity to stand firm in the face of difficulty and the trust that allows a willingness to ask for and provide support when it is needed. As it turns out, what they learn from us and with us is how they will build the capacities most necessary for their future.

Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell
From the Book Raising a Secure Child