“Trauma leaves fingerprints on the victim. These don’t fade when the bruises do.”- Dr. Ellen Taliaferro
Childhood trauma has a lasting effect on an individual’s life. The trauma which is either physical, sexual or emotional in nature, creates a devastating ripple effect on every aspect of the individual’s adult life.
According to one study, more than 21,000 child abuse survivors, age 60 and older in Australia reported a greater rate of failed marriages and relationships.
Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with members of the military, veterans, police officers, emergency personnel, and people who have faced life-threatening situations, the disorder can be triggered by any overwhelming experience, including years of emotional abuse and neglect in childhood.
The Importance of Active Repair in Healing from Trauma
Tian Dayton, Ph.D., TEP
Trauma can leave us feeling helpless in the face of our own lives, our own days, our own relationships. “Learned helplessness,” a term coined by psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman, describes an aspect of trauma akin to giving up. We learn the negative lesson that no matter what we do, we cannot seem to make a difference in the lives of those we love and we can generalize that feeling to other areas of our lives as well. But Seligman who studied this phenomenon began to ask the question, ‘if we can learn how to be helpless then why can’t we also learn how to be optimistic?’
Dan Griffin, a Senior Fellow at The Meadows, recently sat down with Dr. Jon Caldwell, Medical Director for Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, for an in-depth conversation about early childhood trauma, attachment, triggers, reactivity and more.
The conversation was featured on Griffin’s new podcast, The Man Rules, in which he talks with guests about the challenges men face in finding success and happiness.
By Shahida Arabi, M.A., Author
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood - establishing independence and intimacy - burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
– Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Violence to Political Terror
By Caileigh Smith, MC, LAC
We often try to motivate ourselves through should statements:
“I should have done better.”
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I should only have one cookie.”
When bystanders pulled Stanford University swimmer and Olympic hopeful Brock Turner away from the woman he was sexually assaulting behind a fraternity house dumpster, he laughed.
When the judge in the resulting sexual assault trial handed down a sentence much more lenient than the recommended six years of jail time, citing the “severe impact” he feared a harsher sentence may have on the 20-year-old, many felt that he might as well have laughed.
Both reactions to Turner’s crime make light of the traumatic and often devastating impact that rape and sexual assault has on its victims. The Brock Turner case opened up many fraught and painful discussions about rape culture and the way that society tends to blame victims of sexual assault and normalize sexual violence.
Many of those same wounds are being reopened this week with the news that Turner will be released from jail after serving only 3 months of a 6 months sentence. The news is not surprising—most expected him to only serve part of his sentence on a presumption of good behavior—but, for many, it’s serving as an unwanted reminder of their own sexual traumas and the ways in which their pain was silenced, ridiculed, or ignored.
Researchers aren’t sure why, but rape seems to have a more severe impact on a person than other types of trauma. It’s normal to feel some symptoms of traumatic stress for a few weeks after any experience with violence. Those who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), however, can continue to experience problems with sleeping, nightmares, panic, severe anxiety and depression that last for months or years. As time goes on, if the person does not receive treatment for the disorder, the symptoms can get worse and worse, and even become debilitating.
People can develop PTSD after any number of horrific events including combat, car accidents, and life-threatening injuries, but rape victims have been found to be more likely to struggle with long-term psychological and physiological issues. They also have a higher risk of developing PTSD and related disorders.
In addition to PTSD, women who were raped have also been found to be more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction, pain during intercourse, menstrual problems, and inhibited arousal.
Though no one has yet been able to determine the reason why rape has such a heightened traumatic impact, some theorize that both brain chemistry and rape culture play a role.
Cortisol, a hormone that is released in times of stress, was reported in a 2011 study to be found at higher levels in rape victims than in those of people otherwise traumatized.
The exact reason is unknown, but some researchers believe that it could be that the physical closeness of rape prompts the body to respond differently to rape and sexual assault than it does to other types of trauma.
Another possibility is that rape victims’ levels of cortisol are elevated due to the level of shame they experience—shame has been found in some studies to be linked to higher levels of cortisol. If the shame theory holds true, it further illustrates the importance of changing the way we treat rape and sexual assault victims as a society.
Many women who are traumatized by rape experience a secondary traumatization through the harsh scrutiny, blaming, and shaming they receive from law enforcement, family, peers, and others are often reluctant to ask for any further help. Men who are raped or sexually assaulted may be even more unlikely to report the crime or ask for help from the resulting trauma, due to stigmas related to men, sex, and powerlessness.
More must be done to help lift the burden of shame from both male and female victims of sexual assault, and raise awareness about treatment options for PTSD and other mental health issues that often result from the emotional trauma of sexual assault.
If you’d like to talk to us about treatment options for sexual trauma and related disorders, please give us a call at 866-330-1925. Our specialists are glad to answer any questions you may have and understand the importance of keeping your call strictly confidential.
Trauma that arises from natural disasters—like the horrific flood that has devastated much of Louisiana this week—can have a heavy emotional toll on those who are directly affected, including survivors, rescue workers, volunteers, bystanders, and witnesses. Mild to moderate stress reactions are normal and expected for anyone involved. Although their reactions, emotions, and behaviors may seem extreme at the time, they generally don’t turn into chronic disorders.
For some, though, the trauma can be so overwhelming that it more or less “rewires” the person’s brain, putting them in a state of hypervigilance and/or helplessness for many months or years beyond the event leaving them with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety and depression.
Peter Levine, a renowned trauma expert and Senior Fellow at The Meadows, defines trauma not by the event, but by the person’s reactions to it and their symptoms. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, shootings, and massive violent attacks are events that typically come to mind when people think of traumatic events. Many might also include being involved in a serious accident, being a witness to a serious accident, or being the victim of or witness to a serious crime as “trauma.”
Some people will be more severely affected by a traumatic event and struggle for varying periods of time based on the nature of the event and their own temperament. Some of the warning signs that someone is experiencing levels of stress beyond what is normal and expected after a traumatic event and may be struggling with PTSD include…
Any of these symptoms indicate that the person likely needs help from a mental health professional or treatment program.
It’s not possible to predict when or if someone who has experienced a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Some people will seem fine at first—maybe even strangely fine—only to be overcome with the disorder some time later. In general survivors of natural disasters should see a therapist or mental help professional if acute stress symptoms don’t subside after a month, or if they feel that their thoughts and emotions, and their lives, are spiraling out of control.
If a treatment program is needed, it might be helpful to look for one that offers not only talk therapy but also EMDR, Somatic Experiencing©, and the latest neurofeedback techniques for treating trauma. A comprehensive, brain-based approach can help PTSD sufferers recover more fully and return to “normal” more quickly.
By Cassandra Rustvold, LMSW, MEd, Trauma Therapist at Gentle Path at the Meadows
Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has the potential to transform the trajectory of one’s life in a multitude of ways. While the effects of childhood sexual abuse are largely individualized and can manifest at different points throughout the lifespan, commonly reported symptoms and long-term effects include dissociation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, relationship difficulties, and addictive or compulsive patterns of behavior (Aaron, 2012).
The sexual functioning and sexual identity in adolescence and adulthood is a particularly vulnerable factor in survivors. When a child suffers sexual abuse, sexual arousal becomes activated prematurely and can largely impact the survivor’s sense of autonomy over their body and sexual sense of self (Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross, 2009).
It can also draw early connections in the neural networks of the child’s brain that associates sex with power, fear, shame, confusion, secrecy and/or pain. It is not difficult to imagine why those whose sexuality has been impacted are more vulnerable to struggles with intimate relationships and sexuality.
When attempting to reconcile one’s abuse, a particularly confusing component for survivors of CSA is the experience of pleasurable physiological responses to their abuse, in conjunction with their emotional and psychological distress. Children who have experienced these positive and pleasurable feelings often report feelings of shame and responsibility tied to their abuse and sexuality, and may experience an overall distrust of their bodily reactions (such as arousal) or physical dissociation (Hunter, 1990 & Long, Burnett & Thomas, 2006).
This fusion of shame, secrecy and pleasure has the potential to predispose one to sexual aversion, sexual anorexia, dysfunction, or compulsion; thereby deterring them from developing healthy sexual scripts in adulthood.
Three commonly experienced symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are also cornerstones of sexual addiction: compulsivity (the inability to control one’s behavior), shame, and despair.
In sex addiction, shame and despair act as a precursor to the beginning of future cycles, where the need to keep emotional pain at bay leads to mental preoccupation as an escape. The result of this addictive cycle often includes isolation, anxiety, alienation from loved ones, a breaking of one’s own value system, and secrecy; all things that often increase feelings of despair and a yearning to escape and repeat the cycle.
When an individual is struggling with intrusive thoughts of their sexual abuse or insidious negative self-talk as a result of their abuse, the lure of escape through addictive patterns of behavior is not only compelling but sometimes a means of psychological preservation.
In Dr. Patrick Carnes’ book The Betrayal Bond, eight trauma responses common among individuals who meet the criteria for sexual addiction are identified: trauma reactions, trauma pleasure, trauma blocking, trauma splitting, trauma abstinence, trauma shame, trauma repetition, and trauma bonding.
These patterns of behaviors are often unconscious attempts to reconcile, reframe, or repair the abuse that happened in youth. Unfortunately, they do not always accomplish this task and can result in perpetuated psychological and emotional damage.
Gender differences also appear to play a role in how these difficulties manifest in adulthood and whether or not someone will seek out help.
Even in 2016, boys and men are still provided with narrow cultural and familial messages about what it means to be a masculine. This narrative includes such things as devaluing emotional expression and vulnerability, while prioritizing promiscuity and maintaining control.
Research has found that male survivors are less likely to report or discuss their trauma and more likely to externalize their responses to childhood sexual abuse by engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors (Aaron, 2012). For a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse, these expectations are in large conflict with the need to shatter the secrecy of their trauma and/or obtain and maintain healthy sexual relationships; both of which require an open and honest dialogue.
For men struggling with childhood sexual abuse and sexual addiction, learning to abstain from problematic sexual behaviors that reinforce abusive sexual scripts is just as important as learning how to develop healthy intimate bonds and create a sexual identity that is affirming.
For someone attempting to face these complex issues the importance of having acceptance and unconditional, non-judgmental support cannot be understated. It is the abusive and negative interpersonal interactions that created the pain and it is the supportive and affirming ones that have the power to lift it.
At Gentle Path at The Meadows, we specialize in creating this space while offering a host of trauma-based services that are informed by the most current understanding of the nature of trauma and its impact on the person as a whole. Additionally, the therapeutic focus at Gentle Path includes not only learning to identify which components of one’s sexuality are subtracting from the quality of their life but also identifying or creating ones to enrich it.
Give us a call today at 800-244-4949.
Aaron, M. (2012). The pathways of problematic sexual behavior: a literature review of factors affecting adult sexual behavior in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19(3), p. 199-218.
Carnes, P. (1997). The Betrayal Bond. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Hunter, M. (1990). Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Long, L. L., Burnett, J. A., & Thomas, R. V. (2006). Sexuality counseling: An integrative approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross (2009). The sexuality of childhood sexual abuse survivors. International Journal of Sexual Health, 21, p. 49-60.
Thomas was very sick, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. After trying other treatment programs, he thought that maybe happiness and sobriety were just not in the cards for him. At The Meadows he learned how trauma, shame, and guilt keep people stuck and prevent them from being able to maintain their sobriety. He also learned how to let go of that shame and guilt and to have hope again.
If you need help with addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, emotional trauma, or other mental health issues, please call The Meadows today at 800-244-4949