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Trauma

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Sexual violence, including rape, harassment, and other forms of sexual assault, occurs in our society in high numbers. It is one of the most undisclosed and under-reported crimes, partially due to the shame and stigma faced by many of the victims and as a result, the crime is shrouded in silence and secrecy. A reluctance to disclose has been found to be a barrier to treatment, when treatment can often be of significant help in resolving the feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger, anxiety, and depression that might follow a sexual attack. Nevertheless, though sexual violence is a traumatic and life-altering experience, recovery is possible. A compassionate therapist who understands trauma, especially sexual trauma, and its effects is often able to help people who have experienced rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Research has consistently shown that the relationship between the therapist and the person in treatment is the…

The past is never dead. It’s not even past. – William Faulkner Many people mistake trauma to be what happens during “the incident”; however, trauma is what begins after the experience of adverse event. It is the imprint that event left on the mind and sensations of the survivor… the discomfort, agitation, rage, feelings of powerlessness/helplessness the victim has to deal with. Unlike simple stress, trauma changes the victims’ view of life in its entirety and of themselves. It shatters the most basic assumptions about the self and the world, views like – “Life is good,” “I’m  safe,” “People are kind,” “I can trust others,” “The future is likely to be good” – and replaces them with feelings like “The world is dangerous,” “I can’t win,” “I can’t trust other people,” or “There’s no hope.” When people carry the scars of trauma, it’s often an invisible wound that takes time…

Childhood trauma has strong effects and leaves multiple fingerprints on the mind and the body, usually for a lifetime. Traumatic experiences are not always physical; emotional trauma can be just as toxic. Psychologically, the child is often stunted in intellectual, emotional and social development. As adults, these survivors are unable to trust others. Because they fear relationships, they may seem detached, as if not needing others. While corrective emotional experience was initially described as a key factor in longer-term psychotherapy, it also refers to a relationship with a key significant other in the person’s life who responds differently than the traumatizing agent. Over time, the traumatized person develops – after much testing – enough trust in the constancy and accepting, respectful response by the important other to their psychological needs that they feel safe in exposing their deepest feelings. When emotional situations similar to childhood occur, they can now be processed in a new, healthier way. This…

It happens the same way every single time, whether it’s Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Donald Trump and now Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Jeffery Tambor, Matt Lauer, etc:  A victim, usually a woman, will come forward with accusations of sexual assault, and then many others will come forward and suddenly sexual assault dominates the 24-hour news cycle and social media. It’s everywhere you turn. Your social media timelines are filled with new stories, survivors sharing their own accounts in solidarity. Celebrities come forward. Hashtags spring up. It seems impossible to escape; at the salon, at work, at home, people are talking about your worst nightmare. On one hand it might feel good that sexual predators and their sordid acts are being exposed, but on the other hand you might feel sick when these stories trigger memories of your own, as they most likely would. It is always a great thing, a positive step…

For the sexual partners of victims, there is likely to be a temporary disruption of sexual activity. Difficulties may be especially apparent if the rape was extremely violent or involved multiple attackers. Most victims experience temporary changes in their sexual responsiveness, and are concerned over the emotional responses of their partners (you). If you are insensitive to her needs, it may make the resumption of sex seem rape-like, reminding her of the incident. It is not uncommon for victims to have flashbacks during sexual relations. Likewise, males often are insecure about their sexual performance, especially if the victim seems reluctant or displeased. They may even show flashes of anger or frustration when their advances are rejected, or when she becomes withdrawn and anxious during sex, but you should understand that these responses are not criticisms of you…yet your angry reactions to them might make her feel criticized. As her partner,…

  A survivor’s automatic sexual responses may represent a learned response to the abuse or to early association of abuse in its widest sense with sexual arousal. For example, a survivor might report that s/he is only able to feel sexual arousal if the sexual activity incorporates an element of violence. They may feel ashamed to admit to such feelings, but they are common, and often relate to the individual’s first sexual experiences during the abuse. If they experienced violation, humiliation and fear as a child at the same time as they experienced arousal, it can leave a legacy where the two elements are fused and confused. The consequence can be that the survivor associates pleasure with pain, and love with humiliation. In addition, survivors may report that they can only function sexually if they think or fantasize about sex in an abusive context. The early experience of abuse…

At the time I was being molested, I thought I was the only one. My father controlled everything in our house and he always said that what was happening to me was natural and that I should accommodate him. Even though I have to look back sometimes, I am moving forward. And even though it’s painful for me to face my mother’s complacency, doing so has helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault. If I could have read something at the time about sex abuse, if people had talked openly about it, I could have been saved so many years of guilt and shame and secrecy. Each time I talk about my incest, I get rid of some of that shame and guilt. Each person I share with, no matter what their response, takes another piece of the pain away. – Patti Feureisen Even if we have not endured…

With so many allegations of sexual violence on social media and in the news, it can feel overwhelming and triggering for victims and survivors. What kinds of self-care methods will help us when the conversation is filled with rape culture? In general, it’s vital that we prioritize ourselves and our mental, physical, and emotional health. But when we need some extra love, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to just breathe. Below are tips from experts about what you can do to care for yourself when you are having a difficult time. Have an emergency self-care plan. Having a strategy in place for when you have an anxiety attack or a sudden post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) episode can help you take the steps you need to re-center. Whether that’s meditation, breathing, going for a walk, or talking to friend, having a plan in place can help you find…

Resilience is crucial to overcoming adversity. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb, or do you surmount? Environmental threats can come in various ways; from chronic – exposure to violence or poor treatment; being a child of problematic divorce, etc. to acute: experiencing or witnessing a traumatic violent encounter, or being in an accident. What matters is the intensity and the duration of the stressor. What sets resilient people apart? Some elements have to do with luck: a resilient person might have a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or…

Christmas and New Year can be a stressful time for many people and for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, this time of year can feel particularly challenging. All of us have our unique set of strategies – usually on a spectrum between healthy and less healthy – which help us to cope with difficult times. Christmas is a time when it might be helpful consciously to consider what existing coping strategies are going to serve you well, what you might adopt to get you through and what feels possible to you. Here are some thoughts of what might help: 1.       Being realistic: The myth of the perfect Christmas always disappoints one way or another, there really is no such thing as the perfect Christmas, unless you choose to see and experience it from that perspective. Setting realistic expectations of how things might be will protect you from feelings of…