COMPASSION FOR THE ABUSED
There were many childhood abuses, including physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuses growing up at home for about nine years by my first abuser, who was my biological father. He was a psychopath, a sociopath and a narcissist. He had a personality disorder characterized by anti-social behavior, impaired empathy and remorse and bold, disinhibited egotistical traits. His abuses caused me to suffer for many years with a psychiatric injury and complex post traumatic stress, even until now (2016) although the Lord and His guidance have blessed me with much healing, especially from 1996 for while and from 2012 to the present time. I also witnessed physical and other abuses by my father toward my mother and brother for many years. My second abuser was my ex husband, now deceased since 2007, who was also a sociopath and a narcissist. He also had a personality disorder characterized by anti-social behavior, impaired empathy and remorse and bold, disinhibited egotistical traits. This hard place in my life was a long term situation that I was not able to escape until 1996, due to many reasons. There was illness, no job, never wanting to leave my children with anyone else even though I was well aware of my inadequacies, etc. So there was nowhere to go with my four children although I did make a plan to leave when my two older boys were in high school but that didn't work out. Slow healing has been taking place since 1996 and especially since 2012 to the present and continuing (2016.) Some of the following is written in a list format and some of it is written in a story format, without giving heed to separate paragraphs. I just wanted to write it out as it came to me so as not to lose the reality of what I was acknowledging or in any way, minimize everything as I had done for so many years. It may be painful to read but I want to show you what takes place within the soul of an abused child who does not receive any help early on. Also, hopefully, my sharing will show what may be avoided if one breaks the silence as soon as possible and also that one who has been deeply affected can be healed and made whole enough through the Lord's love and healing and guidance which includes varied means. These healings inspire others to move forward into healing as well.
SPIRITUAL--As a result of the traumas and abuses, I was paralyzed many times , which impaired me from saying boldly what I should have said or expressing in a firm way what I needed to say to others. I experienced fears in approaching God, which was the most upsetting thing for me. Many times I was anxious in prayer. I suffered due to a wrong teaching in Christian circles which stated that if you did not have a loving father, then you wouldn't know how to relate to your Heavenly Father. With God's grace and time, one can have a close relationship with their Heavenly Father. I withdrew from the Lord because of my damaged spirit and immature emotions and perceptions regarding trust, love, comfort, acceptance, etc. I was thinking some more about my spiritual losses and even though I can’t put it all together, I mourn the MOST over this area! Everything (the losses) seem to be enmeshed with one another--emotional and spiritual and physical, psychological, etc.--all are interwoven and only God can understand it all! This could be a much more expansive topic regarding these losses because I was affected from age seven and at every age and every year, while I was living at home and growing up. I was so depressed most of the time even until I left at age 21 to be married, only to be thrown into another fire, but I will not elaborate any more here.
FINANCIAL--Because of the abuses, I was tormented with fears, so consequently I was afraid to go to East Stroudsburg University where I could have had a scholarship when I was 18 years old. I could have attended there and received my degree and earned a living with that money, but no, the fear and depression, the brain fog, the layers of retreat, the dyslexia, and many other problems prevented me from doing so. Also, it might have gotten me away from Bill (deceased ex-husband) but when the abuser number one (my father), was trying to get through to me about the scholarship and the university, I was cloudy and didn’t “get it”! I think that was the ONLY idea he ever had that was positive, but at that point it was too late to reach me. This area of my not being able to pursue any degree because of missing out on this scholarship and having brain problems with a lack of retention due to my learning difficulties (dyslexia) has saddened me deeply many times throughout my life. However, I did go to school for three summers after I graduated from high school and during those three school semester years I taught third grade. It was very difficult for me due to anxiety and learning difficulties but I did love being a teacher and I loved the kids. The first abuser died in 1964 soon after I was married and had one child and was pregnant with the second child. Thankfully, through God's wonderful grace, we moved into a small single home in the country. After I married, I stayed at home to take care of the children until my fourth child was 14 years of age. These were very trying years because I did mostly everything myself and I was suffering in every way from the past traumas, yet at the same time, I cooked and cleaned, took care of an organic garden with the help of the children, sewed some clothes, made some plaques with scriptures on them to give away, etc. When my last child was 14 years of age, I started to work PT but I was in so much pain. When I did find work along the way, I was not able to get a decent or full time job, except for three years at a health food store and a brief temporary position among other PT jobs because of the symptoms I lived with stemming from all the traumas. I was left with sicknesses, learning difficulties, disabilities due to diseases, mental and emotional crippling, an almost constant loneliness, a deep pain in my soul, lots of crying and feelings of not wanting to live, anxiety, panic, but of course, I needed to live for my children's sake as I did not ever want them to be with anyone else. All of these problems and distortions regarding my view of myself and others all originated from the long term traumas growing up and ongoing abuses in my marriage. I had chronic fatigue syndrome, low blood sugar, thyroid problems, Epstein barr virus, IBS, etc. Therefore, I couldn’t earn a good wage and was poor, during my marriage and continuing after I left my husband in 1996 and through to 2007 when he died. Before he died he took me to Quakertown to a woman doctor because I was in such a panic due to the ongoing PTSD symptoms I lived with and that was a cost of time, money and prescription cost for the xanax! My husband (at that time) also took me to York to meet with Dr. Carey Reams…more time with transportation and more money for the many supplements I needed. I was told I had inoperable cancer among many other ailments. I thank the Lord that He healed me in His mercy as my youngest son was only 14 years old and I begged the Lord to let me live so that I could be there for him. My body and my feet were hurting me so much that I really couldn't hold down even a PT job for very long. I had no stamina and I felt fragile many times. It was hard for me when people didn't understand me and my limitations and I experienced secondary wounding along the way. That’s why I hardly ever told others much at all about anything. That was the way that the Holy Spirit guided me in wisdom many times. I have lost so much money through the years buying supplements that I truly needed because insurance doesn’t cover the cost, yet I was thankful then and I am thankful now for the supplements that the Lord has led me to take for my health. I finally went to a counselor in 1996 who was used of the Lord to introduce me to a Christian clinic which I was able to go to for two weeks. I thank God that my husband's insurance covered that entire stay because that was a turning point in my life in that the professionals at this Christian clinic helped me to leave my husband at that time, as well as giving me so much other assistance while I was there. I did not have my own place to live until almost a year later but God always provided a place for me. Then when I did find a place to live, my family had to pay for my rent at one point in time which added up to three months of rent that I could not pay. I also had a friend in Oregon who sent me some money to help me pay for that time period. A pastor that I was friends with in NY also provided me some money to help me out with the rent. Sicknesses were so pronounced from a short time after I was married and especially from 1987 through the 1990’s. I even had a problem volunteering at different places after I left my job at the health food store job in 1990. I had no ability to work, hence there was no money for me to use or to save for any kind of escape. The cost of supplements continued and I borrowed books from the library for years so I could read about others' true stories and their abuse. There was a loss of all career opportunities because of my brain and emotional dysfunctions. A woman that I was friends with in the latter part of 1990’s after I left Bill gave me some money ($10-$20) to help me each time we met, probably about once or twice a month and that was perfect timing…it truly was God's merciful love, care and grace!
EMOTIONAL--I had limited myself from being too social because of the symptoms and also because of the possibility of secondary wounding, i.e. people not understanding me. When I did say something, even if it wasn't related to the abuses, I was taking a risk of hearing ignorant questions or critical comments or angry, pushy, stupid statements that would only grieve me all the more. I experienced emotional immaturity in conversations with my family especially. I was hyper in talking at times…sometimes passive and quiet. I had quick, angry reactions within me toward family members or others, although I mostly kept these attitudes internalized until it passed. My emotions were held back from sharing with people due to fear. I resisted playing the piano many times because of fear and possible intimidation. I used to call one of my children’s names and then I would pause for even a minute or more before I would continue with my thoughts and this was very frustrating for my children. The loss of my brain working properly caused many problems through the years. I believe that the brain injury I had from the time I was a young girl also contributed to my problems with thinking and memory, etc. Many feelings and problems were internalized instead of sharing them which caused more toxicity in me and less relationships or a problematic relationship, less communication, less opening up normally, stuffed anger, stuffed hurt, twisted thinking, usually no one to bounce anything off of, but always I was ever thankful for the Lord’s understanding and care. Feelings of anxiety, near panic and panic, fear, inadequacy, that ‘less-than’ feeling, that blocked experience, the feeling of helplessness, the lack of understanding in my family or from others which all contributed to no rest, no peace or joy, no camaraderie with anyone. At times I felt bitter and there were many times that I didn’t even know that I was bitter. I felt rejected a lot...rejection was like a an unwelcome live-in. I felt left out, on the outside of the scene or on the other side of the fence. There was a lot of emotional numbing and very little motivation along with the boredom. I mourned over the loss of the inability to serve others in a better way. The lack of motivation cost me a loss in pursuing and practicing the piano or teaching others (until a much later date). It was hard to pursue art, women’s groups, music; I felt impaired because of the fear to speak up about any issue that I knew inside of me was right, or to speak the truth, even to the point of not being able to follow what I read in God’s word at times. There were many times of withdrawing from my family which cost more time lost and lessened relationships. At times I was hyper when talking with someone and when with family members which turned out to be a problem. I experienced feelings of guilt for my depressions because I thought I was really failing as a Christian, which was a lie, but this belief was due to hearing wrong teachings at time about how we, as Christians, are not to be depressed! Subsequently, I would hide my struggle with depression from others as best I could. I didn’t want to pour out ‘stuff’ to others. This emotional list is so overlapping and extensive…psychological and spiritual. I moved to another town in 2001 and during the years of 2001 to 2009 I suffered terribly due to the deep wounds and pain since I was not yet healed enough, yet at the same time, I was very interested in investigating things regarding the behind the scenes things in the world and that helped me to be using my mind in a profitable way. My family was busy with their lives and not equipped to help me and I lived in an unsafe neighborhood with unsafe people in my apartment complex which raised up the level of my PTSD symptoms. Thankfully, at the present time, the neighborhood is now safe. A most awful thing took place in 2001. I went to the Crime Victims Council for counseling and there I had an appointment with a counselor that I knew because I was her student at Northampton Community College in 1997 for a few months. I was SO happy to see her and although we did not have any personal communication hardly at all since I finished my course at the college, I instinctively knew that she and I had a rapport. However, because I was her student in 1997 she told me that I could not have her as my counselor!!! This was shocking to me and hurtful because I knew she was the right one for me. It really didn’t make any sense and it was just one more UNFAIR thing taking place in my life that I couldn’t do anything about. I did not agree with this policy and it left another wound inside of me. Of course, the counselor I would have liked could not do anything about the policy either. Then I was given a very young woman as my counselor and I instinctively knew that this was not a match, but I was told that if I didn’t take her I would miss my spot for counseling, which I found out later was not true! I was also told that 16 weeks was the limit of my counseling! This was injurious to my life and process...it was like wasted time. I could have really made progress with the counselor that I had a rapport with had I been allowed to counsel with her each week! Then in 2009 I met a couple of young girls in the neighborhoodand paid attention to them and spent time with them in the next year and a half. In time, I witnessed one of the children being physically abused by her alcoholic father so that is when the PTSD symptoms flared up! This was an awful experience and due to my anxiety my youngest son encouraged me to find a counselor. So the good that came out of all of this is that I did find a counselor right away at the end of 2011. I went online and found out that the counselor that I loved and could not be with me in 2001 had moved back to our area (she had been gone for a few years and was far away). Yes, it was the SAME counselor that I wanted to be with in 2001. I then made an appointment and had been seeing her from 12/2011 to 8/2013 when she had to take a leave of absence. I then went to the Crime Victims Council and met with another counselor but it was not a good experience so I did not stay there for long. Costs are mixed into this emotional section. I feel like I could write a ‘book’ regarding these emotional costs! I emotionally clammed up many times with Bill (2nd abuser) when I should have spoken up, although even when I did, I rarely won out. Depression, big time, which colored the whole of my past life, relationships, thinking, living, ad nauseum seemed to envelop me much of the time. I felt kind of lousy at times, yet lifted by my children and especially on holidays. The loss of the ability to attach to others and to trust them has caused me to experience such a loss of any real friends and the comfort I could have received from them which only prolonged my healing process, but the good that came out of that is that I turned to the Lord and truly, He has been my very best Friend! At the present time that I am writing this particular part about the loss of friends, we are now in 2015 and I am able to have at least a friend or two but none that I confide in regarding the injuries of my past.
PHYSICAL--Throughout the years I have had to take care of my adrenals due to all the traumatic stresses, my thyroid and my brain with supplements. I suffered with many ailments. I realize now more than ever that there have been and still are physical changes in my brain. One of my limitations is that I cannot drive for over more than about a half hour due to anxiety. I believe that the reason I had so many body problems is because I internalized my sufferings. I experienced deep soul pain which felt like I was having a heart attack many times over and I felt as though I was sobbing from the bottom of my soul within me at times. During the years that I was raising my four children, I had prayed for a single home with private property that we could afford and it was as though God handed it to us on a silver platter. Shortly after that prayer we went to see a beautiful stone home with four bedrooms, three porches and private driveway and large private yard. Everything had been remodeled inside and it was only $17,000 with NO down payment. We were all happy about it and decided to take it. Before the realtor came to our house to pick up a small sum to hold it, Bill told someone about the house at work and that man told Bill that there was going to be some kind of piping going through that area and the taxes would go up, so Bill called me and told me NOT to go ahead with the house! I was shocked and tried my best to convince him of this deal but to no avail!!! The realtor thought we were crazy for passing this house by. And thereafter there were SEVERAL single homes in that price range after this one but, NO, Bill would not sign any paper for us to have a home. He was NOT a good provider for his children’s needs of a home! We lived in a four room house until my youngest son was 14 years old! The reason I wrote all that about the loss of our new home is because that loss was another cause for me to become bitter although I did not realize it till much later when the Lord pointed it out to me.
MANY LOSSES--The losses were many…the simple things, like being able to cook or clean or walk as much as I would have liked to, but especially losing time with my family and others in relationships. That was all hard to bear. The loss of a loving, caring, protective, teaching, safe father. And at times, the loss of a supportive, loving, caring, protective, teaching, safe mother. The loss of sharing feelings, thoughts, my real person, with parents or anyone. The loss of time, the loss of joy, the loss of my childhood, the loss of having health in my growing up years and for many years afterward, the loss of trust, the loss of friends, the loss of interacting with others growing up and for many years afterward. The loss of feeling whole or normal, the loss in my soul of feeling accepted or loved or approved of. The loss of a man that would receive my love or give me love, kindness, gentleness, caring, etc. (i.e., my now deceased ex-husband). The sadness I have had to experience was due to the frustration of being stuck for so many years without proper counsel and the funds to pursue any counseling, even at a reduced rate, especially during the years of 2001 and 2010! For sure, as I continue on my journey of healing and recovery, I commit to trust the Lord for all things. I know that includes my desires and needs and prayer concerns for my dear family as well as myself.
COPING--Through all those years, especially from around the mid 1970’s, the awareness of the Lord and His answered prayers for me and the times I played the piano were very uplifting and calming. There was a period of time where I made beautiful arrangements with flowers and wreaths to give away to my family and that, too was therapy. I loved walking alone and especially wth my precious dog, Lisa, who was my faithful companion. Writing in journals through the years about my sorrows and problems, joys and prayers was especially helpful. At some point I began to play the dulcimer and sang inspired spiritual songs. Then a small piano was provided for me for a few years in the late 1980’s to 1996 when I left my now deceased ex-husband. Just talking to someone or being around people was generally a help as well. Being with animals and pets was also a blessing. In these latter years I have added pottery, painting with watercolors, acrylics and oils, making mosaics out of glass and again, playing the piano. Recording more of my story here and there is also very helpful. And of course, sharing any words of wisdom or help to others is a blessing to the Lord and myself as well. My prayer and hope is that IN SPITE OF whatever has happened that I may continue to bless the Lord and many others with His flowing, loving Holy Spirit more and more. I trust the Lord for His continued will and ways to be revealed to me as I pursue Him.
On April 25, 2014, I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering called Breaking the Silence. Every prayer was answered as the talk I gave about my ongoing progress and transformations went smoothly and I experienced the Lord's loving Presence, peace and power. In the winter of 2015 I was awfully stuck for a few months but at the Break the Silence I was able to show some of my art work & do a bit of sharing about my story. At the beginning of 2016, God gave me a clear knowing within me that the new year of 2016 was going to be a good year! And for sure as of this date of June 30th, it has so proven to be true! The Lord kindly guided me to
In April of
In April of 2016 I presented 3 drawings with messages about sexual abuse & also shared a writing about the hidden wheelchair within. It went quite well.''
Sexually traumatized children and adults feel stripped of their dignity and sense of control, and often reenact in feeling, thinking, and behavior the dissociated imprints of horrific, and loathsome memories. These and other untoward effects tend to encroach upon all spheres of victims’ existence—upon their bodies, minds, emotions, faith-based values, relationships, and cultural values. The persons being discussed in this article are child sexual abuse (CSA) victims, and sexual assault (SA) victims.1,2 While in SA the trauma wears away and fractures the structure of the personality already fashioned, in CSA repetitive, trauma-on-trauma deforms the personality.3,4 In CSA the very foundation of the self structure is affected due to the experienced battering to the spirit and injury to the soul.
Essentially, the effects of trauma activate and embed within the survivor a legacy of chronic, unrelenting, inescapable traumatic anxiety. Both show a number of shared abuse-based responses; for example, both forms of trauma leave indelible trauma imprints on the mind and body, associated with both classical and operant conditioning and biochemical encoding of fear structures on the substratum of the self. These trauma effects pervasively influences the way victims (a) process feelings, (b) think about their distress, (c) find a personally purposive theory of healing, (d) shape the quality of communicative interpersonal transactions, and the way they (e) experience personal identity. This article sets out to highlight the impact, and increase recognition, deepen understanding of sexual trauma, and provide a guide for helping victims. Studies have shown that women who have endured sexual assault are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental condition, such as anxiety, somatic, depressive, and substance abuse disorders, than women who have not experienced this type of psychological trauma. These survivors, moreover, are more likely to suffer suicidal attempts, experience sexual dysfunction and general health problems, and a significant minority experience revictimization; that is, being subjected to another assault. Scientific findings reveal that sexually assaulted women who were also abused as children have a higher degree of psychopathology than not only nonvictims, but also CSA and SA victims.5 Trauma experts also hold that revictimization is associated with having been sensitized by the original trauma, and losing the sense of self-protecting acuity essential to accurate appraising of environmental threats and risks.6,7
IMPACT—PREVALENCE OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
AND ADULT SEXUAL ASSAULT
Generally, scientists found that there is a 25% estimate of CSA for girls and 10% for boys. Traumatizing abusers are often not relatives, but know the child victims they molest (60%). Fewer perpetrators are relatives of the children they abuse (30%).7 The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) estimated that 500,000 persons were sexually assaulted in the United States during the period between 1992 and 1993. Of this figure, 28% were attempted rapes, while over 33% were completed sexually traumatizing assaults.8 More recent statistics indicate that in 2001 there were 249,000 victims of rape, attempted rape, or assault. While one in every six American women have been victims of attempted or completed rapes in their lifetime, on American college campuses one in every five women reported being a rape victim at some time during their lives.9 Studies and clinical experience reveal that CSA victims are more likely to suffer severe mental illness, along with acting-out, violence, suspiciousness, and hostility.10 Depending on the age at the time of the trauma, adult patterns of sexual trauma symptoms differ significantly (e.g., trauma in early childhood vs. at the adolescent years, etc.).11 Child sexual abuse and assault victims of both genders often respond with numbing of emotions, and avoidance of feelings, people, places, and circumstances that may trigger horrific remembrance. They experience, moreover, memory problems, anxiety, and reexperience aspects of the abuse in waking and sleeping states, and go through the sense of being dazed or “spaced out,” and feel as if perceptions of self and world are unreal.
In contrast to CSA victims, who strongly desire the abuse to end, and have had to adapt to violence and abuse over time, the SA survivors aspire to return as speedily as possible to pre-trauma levels of normalcy, and eschew mental and behavioral rehearsing of the trauma, preferring rather to put the trauma ordeal out of their minds, now.
For many SA victims the urgent, post-event motive is to go on with their lives, to include continuing intimate and sexual relating, even though this activity may exacerbate their distress. In spite of fear associated with affectionate touching and being touched in intimacy contacts, SA victims’ struggle to make sense of what has happened serves distracting ends to allow them to minimize the anxiety they would experience were they to become fully aware of the meaning of the sexual terrorism they had endured. The SA victims also set out to “prove” that the event had no untoward effects on their lives, as they engage in denial, avoidance, and numbing. This excessive suppression of strong affect contribute to the expression of dissociative vulnerabilities. Denial is particularly strong in victims who knew their assailants.
As a consequence of trauma, victims become hypersensitized to “sexual signals” from the opposite sex. They may perceive more “evidence” of sexual interest than non-traumatized women,12 as they scan the environment with high levels of hypervigilant anxiety. They are on edge as they anticipate and evade further assault, take flight away from relationships and from life itself, and into the arms of isolation and stasis which strip them of vitality and of a future of possibilities and personal growth. These victims can benefit from the intervention of well-trained trauma therapists.
RECOGNITION—GENERAL RESPONSE TO SEXUAL TRAUMA
The Subjective Experience of Transgression
People have a natural subjective belief that one’s self is an inviolate and highly prized, stubbornly personal possession. As a consequence of tragically overwhelming events, the belief is smashed to smithereens. This is especially true for victims of sexual trauma—an experience that sets body and mind into a tailspin of disorganization. In child sexual abuse and adult sexual victimization the person experiences the traumatic onslaught as a transgression of the self. Here, the word “transgression” has to do with an infringement or violation of one’s most precious and guarded possession held up to self and world as something of awe or reverence, irreducible and irrefutable in the uniqueness of its cohesive structure and functions. People often speak of “spirit” as being a part of the total self, as in the well-known components affirming expression, “mind, body, and spirit.” Perhaps the truth is that spirit is not “part” at all, but pervades the whole of the self. Recently, one of the authors saw a training card at a national trauma/substance abuse conference that read: “There is no part of life that does not contain spirit; therefore, spirit is not a “part”. Saying that one’s spirit is a “part” is like believing that some of the ocean is not wet.” What is transgressed in CSA and SA is not solely the victim’s body and mind, which are experienced as narcissistic wounds, but rather the spirit that holds the fabric of the self together,13 promoting “the power to know, to love, and to will.”14, p. 28-29
What’s Missing in Contemporary Explanations for What Makes
Sexual Victimization “Traumatic”
When sexual abuse or assault victims explain why their responses are so persistently distressing and disruptive to most spheres of their daily lives, they typically respond by saying, “I was violated!” We keep in mind that the victim is 100% accurate in this assertion. But we go beyond and ponder the question, “What is the true significance of “being violated”? What is its role in the “traumatic state”? It is clear that being violated derives from a subjective appraisal of the inner state of the self.
The trauma literature is replete with assertions and explanatory models of trauma induction, employing variously such terms as overwhelming, negative conditioning, breach in the stimulus barrier, or meaning/appraisal of life-threat or injury to self or others. Additionally, science-based vulnerability factors as the role of prior trauma, age, gender, lower SES, ethnicity, and the subjective response of fear, helplessness or horror. Most trauma experts who explain why an event is traumatic or nontraumatic admit the area still remains unclear, and in need of more scientific investigation.
Though study and practice in the area of psychological trauma have demonstrated beyond question the inextricability of mind and body, forcing us to rethink our Western tendency to separate one from the other, available knowledge still lags behind and is incomplete. It’s incomplete because inquiry into the third force has been overlooked, abandoned, and relegated to fanciful, religious speculations. Many believe that such musings are too far-flung from the highly esteemed standard of hard science. As science-based knowledge grows, however, trauma experts are recognizing that hard science does not have all the answers, and that a science of persons that incorporate both relevant scientific findings and an appreciation for art, wisdom, and spirit.
The chemical elements that comprise the human body are said to have a monetary value of 98 cents. But from cultural, philosophical, and theological systems of belief human being are esteemed to possessing inestimable value. If this view is correct, then the total value of a human being would go beyond the physical body and its biochemistry. But, what factor would confer such inestimable value on human beings so undervalued as determined by the pittance of 98 cents? It is spirit, referred to here as the third force in the organization and meaning of life, neglected far too long in the discourse on trauma initiation and course of associated symptoms and comorbid disorders. Spirit infuses the mind and body with healthy narcissism, and sense of self, and the uniqueness of personality and identity, all of which are seriously compromised in sexual traumatization.
Does spirit being discussed here refer to a mental disposition, to a lively quality of action, to an attitude, or to a tendency? Or, to something else? The specific meanings of “spirit” being referred to in the context of traumatic disruption and annhilatory anxiety come from the Latin spiritus, meaning breath, and from spirare, to blow, breathe. It is the animating, vital force integral to the living. This is what is squelched, shattered, battered, or hammered in child and adult sexual victimization, battered women syndrome, and torture. Thus, in the aftermath of traumatic distress, Zen (Buddhism) therapy holds the spirit is dis-eased and in need of liberation.15 But because the physical body and spirit are inseparable; that is, the living body never exists without spirit, infringement upon the victim’s body, as in incest or rape, violates intrinsic spirit as well. These untoward events are experienced as a traumatic transgression of mind, body, and spirit. Dealing with the transgression against the life of the self, the traumatherapist’s role may be translated from Greek roots as one who serves or attends to the soul.16 Spirit is the common denominator that permeates and unifies all aspects of the self, contributing to its coherence and cohesiveness, and to its contemporary and future efficacy and aliveness.
Though in trauma it is undeniably true that it is the body that “keeps the score” (B. van der Kolk), “tells the embryonic trauma narrative” (E. R. Parson), or “bears the burden” (P. Levine), it is the spirit-violation, along with overwhelmed mind and body functions, processes, and structures, as in CSA and SA, that cause the event to be traumatic.
From Awesome Self to Awful Existential Yoke: The Demise
of the Awe-Inspiring Self
In the repetitive sexual molestation of a child, there is a virtual traumatic mugging in the dark alleys of adult wanton abuse of the child’s natural and developmentally-expected awe of self. Perhaps a child’s biotendency to be with others, a “wish for company,” as Anna Freud put it,17 result in a state of consistent vulnerability and innocent availability for adult abuse. A truly negative change occurs after this transgressive manipulation, the misuse of a child’s body for adult sexual gratification. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, the child experiences this change deep within the self as a down-spiraling, from being spirit-infused and alive to being essence-defused and vacuous—from awesome to awful. For some victims exposed to CSA cumulative abuse stress, the dehumanized self18 may be so altered as to appear stripped of most of the vestiges of feeling human.
The altered view of self with awe lay at the heart of post-victimization stress experience. After trauma awe of self (or the awesome self) is replaced in the abused child by the awful omnipresent yoke (or burden) and dread that accompany relational transactions and the physical environment. As Sandor Ferenczi once noted, the child is blamed for the incest, as the adult denies responsibility. The victim senses the trauma-altered self as unconformable, that is, as a force going in opposition to the former self’s “traditional pattern” of perceiving, learning, knowing, believing, trusting, and acting. Thus, the trauma-tainted self experiences the constellation of PTSD symptomatology as rebel against the organization of the pretrauma self. This transgression creates a myriad of symptoms whose masquerading language of secrets are too terrible to be uttered,19 at times resulting in mental and somatic distress illustrated in the words of a 9/11 victim, “every part of my mind and body aches!”20
Self and Relational Dynamics: Being “Sane”
in Insane Totalitarian Places
The child’s trauma-generating interpersonal network can be described in terms of a set of bizarre relational dynamics. These transgressive dynamics continually threaten children’s sense of “going on being,”21 debasing and forcing them to surrender self to the heavy burden of growing up fast, and learning how to survive. Survival depends on skill acquisition: among these is preemptive appraisal of cues emitting from adults’ behavior in a pathological environment of totalitarian child-control. These burdens of unspeakable stress involves, as well, the maintenance of preemptive/defensive readiness through a hypervigilant orientation that sees the obvious, but goes beyond the “facade” to possible subterranean emotional and behavioral landmines in unstable, uncharitable adults.
Thus, abused children often find themselves forced into detective work in order to psychologically traverse a potentially treacherous interpersonal terrain. They learn to assess the “abusing lethality” of adult’s mood and behavior, and then mobilize adaptive maneuvers to detour around, over, and under—to execute any necessary evasive action to survive this troublesome family environmental terrain. The child attempts to de-activate the mines before they explode. To this end, she or he uses both good adaptive common and uncommon sense by “being good” and adopting a “pacifying demeanor” to avert adult wrath. The cumulative trauma-on-trauma pattern of abuse re-exposure over time results in a system of relational abusive violence. Here, the abuse is, essentially, in ominous opposition to the soul of one who is least able to defend and protect self from the abusive ravages of adult power, vice, and depravity.
What contributes immeasurably to the child’s distress and helplessness is the awareness that the transgressive violence against the spirit and inner life of the young self is deemed “legitimate,” and so the light of the young self dims and laughter is no longer heard. Moreover, from the child’s perspective, the traumatizing environment is a place where no joy, no light, no hope, and no love is allowed to take hold and flourish, only a quandary of emotional and spiritual darkness, helplessness, and buried rage to be resurrected at a later time, and unleashed suddenly on unsuspecting targets, to include the self. The child suffers day by day existential malaise, and faces contradictions in mood and behavior—of appearing to be alive (or animate) yet emotionally lifeless. Extinctive anxiety was originally experienced during the abuse, but is now relived when the delicate filament of the self is strained during subsequent abuse or memory revivifications of the trauma. This form of anxious arousal is akin to annihilation anxiety in that both have to do with fear of non-existence, a notion that is rather threatening to most human beings.
Caught up in the throes of the trauma, the victimized child is also robbed of his or her individuality and sense of self—of free will, of spontaneous aliveness, and autonomous behavior. Many of these children suffer severe deficits in the development of awareness of self and body image, and show a mental fixity on sexual themes and distortions of the body.22
This form of anxiety also involves the subjective experience of non-being, of “being erased,” and is characterized by “a chronic suspenseful, ‘up-in-the-air’ feeling … [with] a despair-inducing diffuseness.”23 Due to the dreadfulness of continuing abuse, the child is rapt, seized, and stress-worn by tormenting emotions that ultimately lead to suffering “prison-like confinement”24 as a way of life. The child’s very existence is unendingly threatened to decompensate into stillness. It is the child’s own resilient strengths—from pre-trauma, constitutional, and post-trauma islands of health—that are deployed to maintain the organization of experience even in these dire circumstances. Without such inexplicable adaptive clout on the part of abused children, they may go downwards into a sense of abysmal nothingness,25 the demise of consciousness.
The traumatized child, additionally, is exposed, in this the bizarre relational dynamics to secrecy, threats of exposure (to vilification, humiliation, and moral condemnation), threats of abandonment, fear of repeated sex-based and physical injuries, and further degradation. These children are constantly wary when adults come near, and when they are away from home may fear returning home (and may become runaways).
What’s profoundly remarkable is the abused child’s trauma-derived capacity to keenly intuit and be perceptually and emotionally in sync with the “admired”/despised adults. Adept at reading adult inner states of evil, selfish indulgence, idiosyncrasies, instability, potential violence, irritability, and episodes of sexual arousal, these children find a way to survive. In the context of high acuity to adult behavior, these they learn to distract themselves—away from dwelling on adult predatory appetites. They learn not show how they feel internally—to survive a child-hostile, lascivious, and destructive milieu. Indeed, the children hide their true self, subterraneously, and are in a persistent state of near-adrenergic burnout. Associated with this state are paranoid expectations of attacks. This state of being chronically revved-up with terror-driven paranoid expectations, is akin to living in a internal police state.
Abuser relational dynamics lay at the center of the child’s dissociative/annihilative fears. Abusive adult relationships deprive the child of genuine, unconditional regard, affection, and psychological protection from being overwhelmed by environmental impingements.26 In the absence of such interpersonal protection, the child’s own intrapsychic defense operations fail and to mature to provide optimal protection against traumatic anxiety. With the absence of first and second lines of defense, the child’s efforts to establish and maintain his or her own internal homeostasis, produces the emergence of an “autonomous, split-off organization” of the personality.27 Generally, this functional survival system may be characterized as relational adaptive dissociativity. This consists of a psychic split between being emotionally close/dependent on the abuser for love/sustenance, on the one hand, and being separate/detached enough to anticipate and take physical/emotional cover when threats of sporadic episodes of abuse or violence are given free rein in attacks. Cues-reading is a critical survival skill in the armamentarium abused children are forced to develop—to be able to make strategic decisions “on cue,” to either stand with and join the “the enemy,” or engage in silent but active evasive action. The child’s empathic channels may lead to inside knowledge on how to mobilize hypervigilant detouring to forestall/circumvent the abuser’s erratic narcissistic practices and idiosyncratic abusive corruption.
Children’s search for psychological mastery over their trauma-influenced lives also involves repetitive play of trauma themes, accompanied by intense levels of paranoid fear. They may feel “entitled” to punishment associated with a “bad-self introject,” and low self-esteem. With a poor self-concept, the child exhibits a “frozen stare,” one that communicates the struggle between being too insignificant for adult protective love, and, at the same time, aware of being too significant for adult defilement. Many feel they have seen, felt, and understood too much about human cruelty and wanton carnal indulgencies.
MULTIPLICITY OF STRESS RESPONSES AND LIFELINE EFFECTS AND ALTERATIONS
There are three types of psychological responses associated with sexual abuse or assault—normal, pathological, and growth-enhancing. Normal responses occur after overwhelming events, and often recede into the background in a very short period of time. However, some responses may persist, making it more difficult for the survivor to conduct his or her day-to-day routines. In this case, the unresolved stress responses adversely affect the person’s mind and body. These problematic reactions often result in behavioral and attitudinal patterns that interfere with survivors’ ability to use the blueprint (or innate potentialities) of their pre-trauma lives.
These normal responses become pathological when they persist for several weeks or months after the event and, instead of working through to completion or integration remain a pernicious psychological and biological influence on mind and body. The traumatic experience tend to distort each stage of the lifeline—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middleessence, and senescence (or the senior years). Some responses and symptoms of this almost radical personality alteration are seen in the following response tendencies in victims:
(2) Traumatic sexualization (disturbance in sexual desire and functioning—either hypersex or sex avoidant).
(3) Eating disorders.
(4) Self-harming behavior.
(5) Avoidance as a way of life—of thoughts, feelings, place, conversations, and taking action.
(6) Flashbacks to the sexual trauma event.
(7) Pervasive sense of vulnerability.
(8) Sense of inner fragmentation and dissociation.
(9) Sense of betrayal.
(10) “Holding in” anger.
(11) Pervasive sense of helplessness.
(12) Low ambition.
(13) Disturbance of memory—too much (hypermnesia), too little or non-existent (amnesia).
(14) Concentration and attending difficulties.
(17) Disturbed ideals.
(18) Sense of hopelessness.
(19) Pervasive relational disturbance.
(21) “Sitting duck” behavior that leads to revictimization.
(22) Pervasive sense of personal defilement.
(24) Distrust as a way of life—in relating to self (not trusting one’s own body, thoughts, feelings, and actions).
(27) Low self-esteem.
Complex PTSD and DID: Effects of Extreme, Prolonged Trauma
Early childhood trauma shatters the victim’s identity system, resulting in three major outcomes characterized by disorders of extreme stress (“Complex PTSD” also known as “Disorders of Extreme Stress” [DES]),12 dissociative identity disorder (DID), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).13 DES occurs when the victim is exposed to “extreme, repetitive trauma”14-15 The stress responses associated with DES include a highly negative view of self as damaged with weak regulatory controls over the tendency to emotional reactivity in relation to anger, guilt, shame, and other emotions. Additionally, survivors experience self-destructive tendencies, as in suicidal thoughts, and self-mutilative behaviors (e.g., self abuse seen in wrist-cutting), seen chiefly in sexual trauma survivors, and in adrenergic “living-on-the-edge,” self-destructive, risk-taking behavior in war veterans.
Survivors of sexual trauma also suffer distressing physical symptoms and medical conditions, poor social functioning, experiencing the “spaced out” feeling of being “unreal.” These difficulties often chip away at rational decision-making and general sense of well-being. Further complicating the chances of making positive forward movement in life, is the survivor’s problematic meaning system (e.g., absence of hope, lack of capacity for forgiveness, crushed religious faith, and distorted beliefs about self and others).
When the survivor’s internal world is experienced as a persistent danger zone, there is little or no internal peace or sense of security. These experiences of vivid, intrusive images and painful emotions often interfere with the ability to plan and make decisions, as they displace whatever the survivor may be thinking or doing in the moment. Trauma, therefore, takes the person away from the present moment, robbing victims of the now. These symptoms take “center stage” in one’s life, especially when a flashback occurs. A flashback is a reliving symptom, a strong recollection forcing the individual to experience the horrific effects of the trauma as though it were recurring before your very eyes. Not getting a good night’s rest due to nightmares may plague the victim’s life from time to time, resulting in chronic tiredness and fatigue, listlessness, and feeling out of kilter in the morning that can continue for a part or entire day.
Cumulative adversities faced by many persons, communities, ethno-cultural, religious, political, and sexual minority groups, and societies around the globe can also constitute forms of complex trauma. Some occur over the life course beginning in childhood and have some of the same developmental impacts described above. Others, occurring later in life, are often traumatic or potentially traumatic and can worsen the impact of early life complex trauma and cause the development of complex traumatic stress reactions. These adversities can include but are not limited to:
Poverty and ongoing economic challenge and lack of essentials or other resources
Community violence and the inability to escape/re-locate
Disenfranchised ethno-racial, religious, and/or sexual minority status and repercussions
Incarceration and residential placement and ongoing threat and assault
Ongoing sexual and physical re-victimization and re-traumatization in the family or other contexts, including prostitution and sexual slavery
Human rights violations including political repression, genocide/"ethnic cleansing," and torture
Displacement, refugee status, and relocation
War and combat involvement or exposure
Developmental, intellectual, physical health, mental health/psychiatric, and age-related limitations, impairments, and challenges
Exposure to death, dying, and the grotesque in emergency response work
To summarize: complex traumatic events and experiences can be defined as stressors that are:
(1) repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative (2 ) most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults, and (3) often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim's life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability/ disempowerment/dependency/age /infirmity, and so on.
Such complex stressors are often extreme due to their nature and timing: some are actually life-threatening due to the degree of violence, physical violation, and deprivation involved, while most threaten the individual's emotional mental health and physical well-being due to the degree of personal invalidation, disregard, deprivation, active antipathy, and coercion involved. Many of these experiences are chronic rather than one-time or time-limited and they can progress in severity over time as perpetrators become increasingly compulsive or emboldened/entitled in their demands, as trauma bonds develop between perpetrator and victim/captive, and/or as their original effects become cumulative and compounded and the victims increasingly debilitated, despondent, or in a state of adaptation, accommodation, and dissociation. Because such adversities occur in the context of relationships and are perpetrated by other human beings, they involve interpersonal betrayal and create difficulties with personal identity and relationships with others.