Trauma and Abuse

Questions to Ask about Trauma and Abuse

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Questions youth could ask the adults (therapists, counselors, teachers, relatives) in their lives who are trying to help:

  • Can you trust that I will stop harming myself when I have become part of a community of my peers where I feel safe?
  • Can you help me explore the idea that they were wrong to harm me at a pace I am comfortable with?
  • Can you help me tell my story even when I don’t have words for it?
  • How could you do this?
  • Can you help me find new ways to relate to my body?
  • If we have different ideas about my problem, can you validate my ideas about why I do this ?
  • Can you support my primary need to be in community with my peers?
  • Can you support my healing in primary connection with my peers?
  • Can you work with me as a team to fight the self-harm?
  • Can you trust that I will stop cutting, burning, or other self-harm when I have learned to trust other ways to tell my story?

Questions for single women:

  • Do you believe your own hands that harm you are “innocent hands”?
  • Is it possible to make the connection between the self-harm and the early trauma, but still believe that you are capable of being in charge of stopping those activities that harm you?
  • Do you believe that, until now, you have found the best way you know how to tell the story of your childhood abuse by harming yourself?
  • How can members of your support network (maybe including your family) get involved in fighting against this self-harm? Can you coordinate these efforts?
  • If you were not so busy dealing with trauma, what else would you be doing? Or like to be doing?
  • Do you think it’s fair that you have to reexperience the injustice of abuse over and over again?
  • Why do so many women end up suffering through their lives at the expense of the people who have abused them?
  • Do you not feel that you have already suffered enough?

Questions for couples:

  • Do either of you believe that the woman’s self-harm/addictions could be connected to her childhood trauma?
  • Is it possible to make the connection between the self-harm and the early trauma, but still believe that she is capable of being in charge of her self-harming behaviors/addictions – instead of a slave to them?
  • Do you both believe that the woman, until now, has found the best way she can to show to tell the story of her childhood abuse by harming herself?
  • Could you imagine what life would be like if you could unite against this trauma (vs. her drinking, or other abusive behavior)?
  • Who else could help you in this battle?
  • What else holds you together as a couple besides your mutual enslavement to past abuses?

Questions for families:

  • What is it that X is trying to tell us?
  • What has each family member already tried to do to change the impact of this self-harm?
  • How can each member of the family get involved in fighting against the reenactment of the trauma in a way that is supportive of the woman?
  • Is their any trauma being reenacted in your own lives?
  • What would help you to understand that the woman reenacting trauma is doing the best she can do at the moment?
  • What might help each member of this family understand that letting go of self-harming behaviors takes more than the “just say no” approach.
  • Based on your experience, are their specific ways this family interacts that have been proven to be helpful?
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Case Study 1: A 16 Year Old Girl and Trauma

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Sixteen-year-old Alexis uses drinking, drugs, and unsafe bodypiercing to tell her story. She was gang-raped when she was thirteen, but she was sexually violated by her father long before she was a teenager. She is very angry and very hurt by a family and a community that has never protected her. Most recently she has become a part of the juvenile justice system, serving time for prostitution and possession of illegal substances.

Alexis says:

“No way I am going to stop using my drugs unless I just can’t get my hands on them”,

and

“It’s my life and my body and nobody’s gonna tell me what I can do with it,” or “When I cut myself or get another piercing done, it feels good and then I don’t feel so angry for a while and it’s cool,”

and

“I am planning to get pregnant so I can have someone who loves me.”

Alexis did not solely create these awful feelings about herself and the resulting life choice on her own. Unfortunately, the State holds only her responsible.

Alexis has a chance to have real control of her life if she is supported through her trauma and not blamed for her life.

Helping young women fight abuse involves looking at the self-harming behavior and addressing it through the lens of the reenactment of trauma and abuse. All of this work demands a community of support, both through joining others who are also struggling with patterns of self-harm and finding others who are refusing to remain in abusive relationships.

For adults working with youth who self-harm, it is important to ask oneself important questions (click to see these Questions about Trauma and Abuse). It is also important to trust that healing will happen roller-coaster style (some changes will happen very quickly, but there will be just as rapid reversals). Alexis may stop using drugs and self-injuring for a few weeks, but then get into a new peer group where she will be invited to begin harming herself again. However, if the connections have been made to help her commit to the battle against self-harm, she will probably return to continue her work in therapy. Youth are remarkably resilient.

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Case Study 2: Single Adults and Self Harm

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Ronnie is an isolated woman who suffers from self-harm: she cuts and burns herself when relationships end and she periodically drinks and uses drugs excessively. She doesn’t have friends or outside support.

Currently Ronnie is in a group with other survivors of trauma who are also self-harmful. She describes herself as having a primary relationship with her dog. The group leaders and the group members have been very supportive of this relationship and Ronnie now brings her dog to the group with her. Although she is uncomfortable talking in the group, she has been willing to engage in group activities, such as breathing exercises, stretching, simple movement to music, outdoors explorations, and drawing.

For single adults like Ronnie, being in several types of groups or communities is especially helpful. Because these women are so isolated, often cut off from families, fearful of intimate relationships and even wary of commitment in friendships and/or one-on-one therapy relationships, finding connection in a group is both desirable and challenging.

It is important that the group not force any type of participation that is threatening. Sharing the stories of past pain and trauma may be overwhelming and create an increase in self-harmful activities. Groups that focus on self-care, non-verbal expression, and that give women new ways to understand and cope with their pain, are safer.

See our Trauma and Abuse Questions.

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When a Partner is Harming Herself

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Trauma and Abuse Case Study

Jane and Paul came to therapy after Paul read the book Women Who Hurt Themselves. Like many partners of women who self-harm, Paul was the one who looked for help for the problem. Jane had been arrested for drunk driving and had lost her license. Jane and Paul, like many other couples living in a triangle with the reenactment of trauma, were caught in a web of secrecy (see our feature article on Concealing and Revealing a Secret).

Couples dominated by trauma find themselves blaming each other for their mutual suffering: the woman who is self-harmful may blame her partner for not protecting her from her pain (seeing him as a Non-Protecting Bystander) while at the same time treating him as if he is also the Abuser. (Although the use of the pronoun ‘him’ for the partner is used here, the same dynamics often occur in same sex couples when the reenactment of trauma is present.)

Jane and Paul have been able to work together to understand how self-harm and the reenactment of trauma dominates both of their lives. The self-harm often puts Paul in the role of parent rather than partner. Jane has been able to connect with other women who self-harm through a resource center based in the community. While she and Paul have had a hard time changing their patterns around care-giving, Paul now feels freer to live his own life and Jane is feeling stronger and more able to be in an equal role in the couple. She has learned to use the other women in her peer-support group for help when she needs it, rather than always depending on Paul or a therapist.

See our Trauma and Abuse Questions item in the Circle of Life.

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Helpful Therapeutic Approaches

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

One helpful therapeutic approach is to begin understanding how we as individuals help support trauma in our own lives and the lives of others and how it is that our society has been set up to support the life of the problem of trauma.

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Possibilities for Change

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

Understanding the logical and functional reasons for self-harming behavior allows women and those who care about them to approach the problem of the reenactment of trauma and abuse from a position of compassion and respect. Many girls (advice on trauma for Youth) and women feel that their connection to anorexia and bulimia (more on Anorexia within Problems), addiction, or an abusive partner, is more “safe” than the offerings of helping, protective relationships.

One way to think about trauma reenactment is that women often see it as the best way a woman can continue to be in charge of her own body.

Without counseling, women might also view self-harm as the best way to tell the story of their pain.

The cycle of trauma reenactment is a story about the actors in the childhood trauma scenario. They are:

  • the Victim
  • the Abuser
  • the Non-Protecting Bystander

A woman struggling with bulimia may be enacting these dynamics when she binges and purges. She may have an internal struggle with herself when she gets obsessed with her boyfriend. Fearing dependency and acute vulnerability, she switches instead to becoming obsessed about her craving to binge. As she begins the binge part of the cycle, she is simultaneously saying “I have to have this whole cake” (the voice of the Abuser) and “No, I don’t want to do this to myself” (the voice of the child Victim). When she says to herself, “But I can’t help it, I have to do it, I just can’t stop myself,” she is also speaking the role of the Non-Protecting Bystander, the person/s who didn’t protect her in childhood.

If you reenact trauma, here is what you can do:

  • Take the voice of the abuser outside of yourself and begin to name whose voice is saying what. This allows you to separate yourself from harmful voices and realize that you are not responsible for the actions of past abuse. You are also able to locate your story of survival and other positive aspects of yourself that disappeared as a result of the trauma. Having now separated the voices and named them, you can tell the experience of your story.

Begin to identify:

  • the Victim voice – “If I do this again it is going to hurt”
  • the Abuser representation – the voice and identification of persons linked to self-harmful behavior or the destructive relationship
  • the Non-Protecting Bystander – untangling self blame and the voices that have told you “I can’t do anything to stop this”
  • Replace these voices with a Protective Presence. This can happen in a therapy relationship or a network of relationships that collectively create a safe environment.
  • Create a network of relationships: this often happens through groups for women and/or girls who have experienced the pain of trauma and self-harmful relationships. For some, it happens through communities such as spiritual communities, neighborhood groups outdoor/wilderness clubs, animal rescue organizations, and so on. where they can begin to feel new connections with others.

The reenactment of trauma is so often centered in the body that it needs to be addressed at the level of physical activity as well. Many women and girls who are self-harmful through abusing their own bodies or being in situations where their bodies are being abused, need to learn new ways to live in their bodies. This can happen through learning to: relax and center through breathing and meditation techniques, yoga, dancing, self-defense, walking, climbing, singing, drumming.

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