Can we learn from ostriches?

Divorce is traumatic, even when it’s amicable. If the marriage was abusive or separating involved conflict, the impact is even more damaging to the psyche. There are a number of ways our brains adapt to trauma. We may numb the pain with alcohol or drugs, bury ourselves in work, dissociate, dissolve in anger or withdraw deep within to protect ourselves.

Another popular way to cope with trauma is to ignore it. Pretend it didn’t happen. Imagine that the pain will go away all by itself, if we just don’t acknowledge that it exists. This idea of burying your head in the sand has been mythologised by the humble ostrich. But ostriches don’t actually do this. When an ostrich is threatened, it will lie flat on the ground to appear less obvious, run away or kick its pursuer with its powerful legs.

The ostrich knows that burying its head in the sand will make it more vulnerable to predators. Not to mention that it’s hard to run (or breathe) when you’re neck deep in the savanna. So, if this adaptation doesn’t work for ostriches, will it work for us? The short answer is, no. Ignoring the breakdown of your marriage will also make it harder for you to breathe. Or move on.

Running away or kicking your ex-partner are rarely appropriate options for humans. So how do we effectively adapt to trauma? Blue Knot Foundation notes that “positive relational experiences assist the neural integration which trauma catastrophically disrupts”. In other words, supportive relationships and healthy interactions play a large role in the process of trauma recovery.

These are relationships with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, as well as professionals. Just as negative interactions can be detrimental, positive interactions can assist healing and repair. Connecting with trauma-informed counsellors, lawyers and financial advisors will help you face your new situation with strength, determination and awareness.

So, can we learn from ostriches? The short answer is, yes. Apparently, they usually live together in groups of ten or more and roam in flocks of around 50 birds. They realise that connection is key. Perhaps they can teach us, when separated from our herd, to remove our heads from the sand and find ourselves a supportive new flock instead.

Solo Legal practices trauma-informed family law in Queensland, Australia

Blue Knot Foundation is the Australian National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma