by Glynis Sherwood MEd
Traumatic Triggers That Challenge Us Today
We seem to be living in increasingly troubling and socially polarizing times. It can be especially challenging at this moment in history to be a survivor of abuse, whether it has been family mistreatment – such as scapegoating or narcissistic parenting, sexual harassment, misogyny or to be a man who has experienced abuse, but feels socially invisible.
The advent of the Me Too movement heralded the opening of doors for survivors to be heard and validated in unprecedented ways. Suddenly the survivors of historically denied abuse had a voice, after years of suffering in silence, or being blamed for their victimization. Sadly, in response to this groundswell of survivor’s voices, there has been an unfortunate backlash against victims of abuse, questioning both the validity of their claims and the right to redress. This has resulted in targets being re-injured psychologically.
Secondary Wounding aka Traumatic Re-injury – What Really Happens to People Who Have Been Hurt Then Re-injured
One of the most critical factors that determines the degree of post traumatic injury and recovery time is the quality of support a survivor receives following a traumatic incident. When abuse survivors are doubted, dismissed or blamed by people, organizations or institutions whom they turn to for help, this causes an additional psychological injury known as ‘secondary wounding’. Secondary wounding is a form of re-victimization or scapegoating that not only compounds the original traumatic injury, but may significantly set back the survivor’s recovery process. In fact, many trauma victims report that secondary wounding has been more psychologically devastating than the original traumatic injury, due to having been betrayed by the very people they should be able to trust such as family, friends, health practitioners, counselors, social workers, government officials and clergy.
The discounting of survivors’ abuse experiences can have wide ranging damaging effects. Survivors describe feeling demoralized as their beliefs, sense of self worth and safety in the world are severely undermined. These experiences can lead to feelings of fear, hopelessness, grief, powerlessness and shame. Shamed survivors often respond to this hurt by retreating into isolation, and/or by becoming anxious or depressed.
Real Help During Triggering Times
If you have experienced abuse, scapegoating or secondary wounding, and are struggling emotionally, you may be tempted to withdraw from the world. It can feel comforting to retreat into one’s shell and shut down. The problem with avoidance is that it’s a solution that feels ‘good’ temporarily but, in the end, means that fear and anxiety is calling the shots. Effective therapy can help you overcome the anxiety that’s at the core of trauma, and develop and maintain a reality based sense of control, confidence and hope in the following, critical ways:
- Provide support and validation as you make sense of a difficult past and a triggering present. Over time you will develop the ability to validate yourself from the inside out
- Help you understand and process challenging, sometimes contradictory emotions, so you can achieve a greater sense of emotional equilibrium
- Stand up to false beliefs that make you feel small, inadequate or overwhelmed, so you can discover, and have faith in, your strengths, good qualities and your motivation
- Make decisions about relationships – with family and others – that truly serve you
- Overcome traumatic stress symptoms by learning to contain and neutralize them
- Create a new realistic narrative for your life based on legitimate hope, confidence and a sense of strengthened self identity and direction
A Few Words About Traumatic Stress
Traumatic stress is a form of emotional dysregulation characterized by high anxiety and, sometimes, depression, that requires active treatment if healing is to occur. The first step in trauma therapy is to establish psychological safety in therapy sessions. Survivors learn to stay grounded in the present, and to contain emotional overwhelm / flooding, or numbing, aka dissociation.
Once the survivor’s ability to stay calmly present becomes strengthened IE voluntary, then traumatic memories, feelings or beliefs can be processed safely and effectively. The end goal is the emotional ‘neutralization’ of traumatic memories, so they just become stories about events survivors have experienced and can be integrated with a compassionate view towards the self, without further emotional distress.
Have you been mistreated, abused or traumatized and find yourself feeling alone or stuck in the hurt of being invalidated, blamed or shamed? Are you isolating or feeling disillusioned, fearful or sad, because you don’t feel heard and have no one you trust to talk to? Are your relationships or career suffering?
You have other options that can lead to healing and don’t have to go through this alone. This is a good time to get support from Glynis Sherwood MED, a skilled and experienced psychotherapist who understands the reality of family trauma and re-injury, and is committed to delivering timely and effective therapy that can lead to true recovery from chronic anxiety, grief and traumatic stress.
Photo – Neil Thomas – Unsplash
The Long Half-Life of Trauma, Heather Gaskill MSW, PsychCentral, 2016
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Complete Treatment Guide, Aphrodite Matsakis, 1994
Need help healing from Trauma or Re-Traumatization? Request a Counselling Appointment with Glynis Sherwood