Possibilities for Change

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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