December 7, 2008
Current safety is a building block of therapy for clients who have been sexually abused.
It is a known fact that children are being abused and exploited on a daily basis by sexual predators. Any child trapped in an abusive situation will naturally continue to use trauma-based coping strategies. They need safety in order to develop healthier strategies. If children are not given safety, they often do not learn how to find it on their own, no matter how old they become. Often a childhood filled with abuse continues into a lifetime filled with abuse. Sometimes it even continues right into the next generation of children.
An important part of working with adults who have been severely abused is to check thoroughly about their current safety. People who have been severely abused as children are often still deeply tangled in abusive relationships as an adult. This comes in many different forms.
People who have not resolved their childhood trauma issues are at high risk for adult relationships full of abusive dynamics, many of which parallel their childhood abuse. These include physically or sexually violent partners, sexual compulsivity, using sex as a weapon, promiscuity, and sexual repression. Due to the power of dissociation, some people continue to be victimized by perpetrators well into adulthood.
Some people continue to act out their childhood sexual abuse, with or without their conscious awareness, by repeating the patterns of the original trauma bonds. Survivors may find that their adult relationships mimic the dynamics of the original perpetrator relationship. People might harm themselves in the same manner that they were abused, or a child who was raped by a variety of offenders might become extremely promiscuous as an adult.
Due to this reenactment process, it is not uncommon for adult survivors to be involved with prostitution, sadism, masochism, or pornography. Dissociative survivors may have whole other lives involving these activities of which they are unaware. Such involvement is not universal, but the frequency with which the issue occurs means it must be thoroughly and repeatedly checked out. It is absolutely essential that any repeated patterns of violence be addressed thoroughly in the therapy process.
Self-injury, self-induced abuse, and self-directed violence also undermine safety and stability. “Self-injury” ranges from cutting and burning, to breaking bones, to crashing cars, to refusing appropriate medication. When people are actively hurting themselves, they are undermining their healing process. However, self-harm is a very common issue in the treatment of severe sexual abuse and dissociative disorders.
No child or adult will be able to make significant progress in their emotional growth, stability, and healing if they have frequent contact with a perpetrator. The constant anxiety, extreme stress, emotional paralysis or emotional chaos, and hypervigilence of being perpetually on alert for the next abusive incident interferes with the ability to make treatment gains.
Each violent episode causes medical and emotional crises, detachment, and destabilization, so it is imperative that therapists and support people pay consistent attention to the safety of the abused person.
People of all ages need to feel safe in order to talk about and heal from abuse. Ensuring a person’s safety is the first step in the therapeutic process. It may be a very long step, but it is absolutely essential.
Kathy Broady, LCSW
December 5, 2008
Why do I work as a trauma therapist?
I’ve been told it would be soooo much easier and less stressful and probably more lucrative to sell shoes.
However, I have devotedly worked with trauma survivors and their loved ones for over 20 years.
During this time, I have come to appreciate the depth of pain, the atrocious injuries, the years of dysfunction, the heartbreaking losses, and the overwhelming grief caused solely from severe childhood abuse. I have seen the sweet faces of abused children – they are so tiny and innocent, yet their torture has been incomprehensible. I have heard the heart-wrenching cries of mothers whose children were stolen – theirs is a nightmare of deception by perpetrators. And this purposeful destruction of children – it leads to a sorrow beyond words.
My utmost admiration goes to the ones who have fought against these evils on the very front line. Because of your courage to defy the most vicious cruelties of this world, I dare to join you and participate in the fight against the destruction of our children. I will continue to support and encourage such brave souls who have chosen to tell about the hidden atrocities. I absolutely admire those that refuse to continue years of destruction onto the next generation of children.
Deliberate crimes of abuse must be stopped. Innocent lives are being destroyed. The cost to individuals, to families, and to society is just too huge to ignore. This war is ugly. It is even dangerous. Fighting against child abuse can leave some people beaten to death. Nonetheless, it is not in vain. I have seen many tiny sparks of tortured lives grow and blossom even from that most horrid starting place.
Yes, I have seen people move past that horrible, traumatized dying place. I have seen their flickers of life and joy flourish to become a daily reality. I have seen the most tattered souls offer beautiful bits of comfort to the shattered soul sitting beside them. I have heard poetry and heart-filled music that makes a roomful of everyone burst into smiles. I have seen sparkling eyes and bouncy steps as children run in play-filled laughter. I have seen healing evolve even after everyone else had given up.
The journey required to heal from childhood trauma is tangled, incredible, painful, exciting, torturous, exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding. My hat goes out to anyone that chooses to heal from their trauma, and to anyone who chooses to stand supportively beside a trauma survivor. For all of these heroes, the healing journey is beyond difficult. It is grueling and agonizing. Healing consumes enormous amounts of energy, time, and resources. It seems to take as much strength to survive the healing process as it did to survive the original abuse itself.
Yet these survivors, these amazing people, continually demonstrate an insatiable need to find healing, comfort, freedom, truth, and peace. Their need is so strong and so compelling, that these brave souls seem required to travel this road, whether they quickly reach their goals or not. I wonder: How have they survived the sheer ugliness of the torture and kept such precious beauty in themselves? Every single time a trauma survivor brings laughter and joy to my day, I am reminded of the strength and the pure resilience of life. I feel love in a world full of hatred. I am reminded how I believe that good can prevail. I am reminded that there is hope. I see their healing, their comfort, their freedom, their truth, and their peace. Yes, trauma survivors are truly amazing people.
And, their road is long – very long. It’s often a lonely road, as most of the others in the world can’t seem to tolerate the intensity, the pain, or the confusion for very many days. Step by step, day after day, I encourage and support each and every one of you survivors out there to stay on your journey to a safe and meaningful life. The road does lead to healing. There is comfort. There is freedom. There is truth, and there is peace. Your pieces may still be scattered everywhere, but your life’s puzzles can be solved on your journey. Stick with it. Life really can be beautiful. It can be worth it.
Thank you for coming to this blog. Thank you for reading and learning about sexual abuse, a most devastating and criminal global issue. Please feel free to browse around my various websites as much as you like, and if you are kind, you are welcome to come back often.
And maybe we can work together to diminish the effects of child abuse.
I stand for the children.
Kathy Broady, LCSW