It is called trauma for a reason. It is shocking, full of pain, and often difficult to accept and move forward from. But, growth from trauma is possible.
There are two different philosophies on trauma. The western philosophy is that trauma is an enemy that should be challenged or confronted. The eastern philosophy is that trauma is a “companion,” not an enemy. Victims are encouraged to feel the pathos of nature, the pain. Rather than sticking closely to one philosophy or another, it is best to incorporate both into healing and growth.
Victim, Survivor, Thriver
Post-traumatic growth involves the passage of being the victim, then the survivor, and ultimately the thriver. Trauma is not fair and being the victim comes with a lot of pain and challenges. Being the victim is not something that needs to result in guilt or shame but rather it is something that happened. It is something that needs to be accepted and grown through — hence the “companion” not the enemy. When you accept that you were a victim, that trauma becomes part of you. You learn how to live with the fact that this happened to you and you learn how to thrive.
A person is still in the victim stage when they feel like they are still in the trauma event, no matter what or how long the actual traumatic event happened. The victim might feel overwhelmed, helpless, angry, etc. A victim moves to the survivor stage when they start to see the resources around to help them, the people in their life that care for them, the good things around them. A survivor is no longer completely encompassed by the traumatic event and is on the road to healing. They are beginning to feel strong and confident in themselves.
A person reaches the thriving stage when they have taken their healing to the point of feeling general satisfaction with their life. They have crystallized the survivor stage and are enjoying their life. In the thriver stage, a trauma victim sees long-term possibilities. They begin to focus on taking care of their health and loved ones. They also recognize and know how to cope with post-traumatic stress and any other issues that remain related to their trauma.
A licensed mental health professional has the tools to help trauma victims go from victims to thrivers. Those in the mental health profession know that just because you were a victim of trauma, it does not need to define you. You can grow, move forward, and ultimately thrive in your new reality.
With suicide rates at an all-time high, we must know and understand the signs and symptoms to look out for. Suicide is preventable and is never the answer to your problems. If for any reason you think you may be suicidal or just don’t feel like yourself, please consider seeking help from a licensed mental health professional. So many people want to see you continue in this life and so many resources are available to help you get through these hard times.
If you are someone who is concerned a child, relative, or friend may be at risk for suicide there are some signs to look out for:
- Focusing on death — a person at risk of committing suicide likely doesn’t want to die, they just want a way to end their pain. It is a concern if a person focuses on death and dying, researches different ways to die, and/or seems encompassed by the idea.
- Making plans — someone who is thinking about ending their life may start to make plans. They might make a will, talk about after-life wishes with family, giveaway important things, or start saying goodbye to loved ones.
- Becomes withdrawn — not returning phone calls or showing up for social events can be a big sign that something is not right.
- Shows despair — they might seem sad, distraught, severely depressed, or talk about how they are a burden to others.
- A swing in mood or sleep — a person who is normally anxious, depressed, moody or aggressive may suddenly become calm once they have decided to commit suicide. They may also stop sleeping as much as they used to or sleep more.
- Substance abuse — as with any mental health condition the use of substances like alcohol or drugs can contribute to feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts.
- Acts recklessly — participating in dangerous and risky behaviors like having unprotected sex or driving drunk can be a sign that a person doesn’t appreciate their life and doesn’t care if it ends.
- Victims — victims of trauma or abuse of any kind can be more at risk than other populations. These people have a lot of pain they are dealing with and struggle with wanting that pain to go away.
If you or anyone you know is displaying any of the above signs or symptoms, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK .
When we think of painful life experiences many times we jump right to trauma, but abandonment can be just as raw and painful as physical or emotional trauma.
Abandonment, such as a parent or grandparent who suddenly leaves a child, can stay with a person through their whole life. It can be easily triggered by other situations, such as a significant other who doesn’t call one day or forgets to say goodbye before they leave for work. When it is triggered it often floods the person with fear, panic, and intense shame — why am I not worthy of someone sticking around? What is wrong with me?
That pain can be just as raw as it was on the first day of abandonment. That intense fear of being abandoned again can develop into harmful coping strategies that actually increase the risk of being rejected. This could include being clingy to a significant other, getting upset at missed phone calls or missed connection, severe jealousy, or complete isolation from others, to name a few. It can be a never-ending spiral of events.
If you or someone you love has experienced some type of abandonment it is important that he/she/they recognize that experience deserves some attention. It can seem easiest and safest to push that experience deep within and to not share it with anyone, but it will only compound and lead to more abandonment down the road. Seeking help from a licensed mental health professional can help to confront those feelings and develop healthy coping strategies, leading to healthy relationships.
No. No. NO means one thing, it means NO. I want to shout it from the rooftops. There is no need to explain. No need to elaborate. If you are trying to have sexual relations with another and they say “no” that is all you need. That means stop. It means do not continue forward. Do not pass go.
Those two little letters make up a complete sentence. They are instructions to stop. They mean that the other party has not consented to participate in this action with you. I don’t understand why this is so hard sometimes. All this talk about rape and “me too” in the news. Guys, this is a problem. It is a serious issue and it is out of control. It is never ok to keep going when you hear that word. It is never ok to assume she/he/they is “joking” or “doesn’t really mean it” or “will change their mind later.” No means just that. It means no.
I realize this post is getting repetitive, but I am not sorry. This very fact needs to be drilled into everyone’s minds. We are talking about consent here. Consent for sexual intercourse of any kind. It doesn’t matter if alcohol or drugs are involved. It doesn’t matter if the person “seemed interested” or was dressed in a manner that you viewed as “provoking.” It doesn’t matter if the person said they were interested earlier and then when things started they had a change of thought. It is never ok to continue after being told NO.
It really is simple. It doesn’t matter what kind of urge you may be feeling, or need you might have to fulfill — you have no right to do abuse another person EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Let’s make the right choice here. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s remember that we are in control of our own bodies. We have rights to our own bodies.
No is simply a way of closing the door, making a decision. It is a complete, serious, important, crucial sentence. It has no hidden meanings. No means NO.
If you have been following the news you probably heard about the plea deal Texas prosecutor made with ex-Baylor University fraternity president Jacob Walter Anderson. Despite the fact that Anderson was indicted on four counts of sexual assault, the prosecutor chose to avoid trial and instead agreed to a plea deal keeping Anderson out of jail, giving him only probation.
Disgusting, outrageous, absurd, insulating are just a few of the words that flood my mind, not to mention fear — what does this say about rape in this country? What does this say to survivors? Where is the justice?
The prosecutor’s reasons for keeping the case out of court are ridiculous in my opinion. Citing a previous case, prosecutor Hilary LaBorde listed she was worried a jury wouldn’t convict Anderson and was worried about the survivor’s feelings. What about her feelings now? Without even a fight? The prosecutor said the case was weak because the survivor and Anderson were drunk. Are we saying men don’t need to be accountable because they are drunk? Are we saying this act is ok when alcohol is involved?
We are further perpetuating rape culture. In the previous rape case, where this same prosecutor lost, jurors said the accuser “didn’t look like a rapist” — and what does a rapist look like? Or a murder? Or a saint? There is no concrete evidence supporting the way someone looks has anything to do with their ability to commit wrongdoing. This illogical way of thinking is setting rapists free.
What about the survivors? Are they not worth fighting for? That is what we are saying, isn’t it? We are showing that rape isn’t that bad. We are telling people they can get away with it because no one wants to convict a rapist. No one wants to surface unpleasant memories, intimate information, and vulgar actions.
We need to change this culture. We need to stand up and show that we won’t stand for this kind of behavior. These actions are awful. They are beyond disgusting. They cause permanent irreparable harm. What about our children? Our next generation? What are we doing to show them this is unacceptable?
I am a survivor of sexual assault and a certified assault counselor who has worked with thousands of survivors. The single most important thing you can do if you find out your child has experienced sexual assault is to protect—and believe— them. Not believing them is the first form of harm in their recovery.
Child must come first
This undoubtedly is an extremely terrible thing for your child to experience and as much as you want to get revenge on the person who caused them harm—you must put that attention on your child and what they are experiencing. It is less about justice—while still important and shouldn’t be ignored—and more about your child’s recovery. Make sure your child is surrounded by adults who are emotionally there for them. There will be many people who don’t believe them. They need adults around them that can reassure them that they are believed and say to them: “whatever the outcome is, I am always with you.” Get your child help from a certified counselor. Listen to them. Talk to them. Don’t get caught up your own anger. Get yourself help. Find a licensed counselor that you can turn to for support so you can better help your child.
Your actions as an adult are extremely important to your child’s recovery. Negative or inappropriate responses by family members to a survivor of sexual assault can have profound effects on the child’s ability to recover. Things such as pressure to press charges when he/she/they are embarrassed and want to keep it quite, pressure to remain silent to others or deny that it happened when they feel ready to share, disbelief or distrust in the action itself, etc. can lead to shattering of family relationships and more incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to research by Dr. Sarah E. Ullman published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.
There are many resources out there for victims and their families— use them. Make sure you take the time to care for yourself so you can be there for your child. Don’t pressure them to “get over it,” and don’t give them a time limit — every victim is different and recovers at their own rate in their own time. Keep hope. Remember your child can recover with the right support.
It is important as a parent that you open the doors of communication about sexual assault and what exactly that means with your children. Starting the conversation early with them will help prepare them in case they are ever faced with an uncomfortable situation they aren’t sure of, and it will also help them to feel safe speaking to you about it.
In my past 10 years as a sexual assault counselor, I have coached many parents on having this extremely sensitive conversation. It is hard for both parties and there are a few things every parent should follow:
1.)Plan a time to sit down and talk as soon as possible. Don’t wait until your child hits puberty. They need to know what is right and what is wrong and what they can do to feel safe.
2.)Get your mental game in order. Before you even think about having this conversation think about the words: sexual assault. Say them. How does that make you feel? You want to make sure you are calm and collected when speaking with your child so you don’t make them more uncomfortable.
3.)Define sexual assault. Make sure you know exactly what sexual assault, rape, catcall, stalking, etc. means so you can explain it properly to your child. You might not want to think about it but it is important that you do. You are the leader of the family and you need to get comfortable before you approach your children.
4.)Know your resources and develop a protocol. Think about what you will do if your child discloses that he/she/they has been assaulted. Contact child protective services, visit a hospital or doctor for a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit, more commonly known as a “rape kit,” to preserve evidence. In many counties the survivor has the option to press charges and they don’t have to until they are ready. Do your research.
5.) Know the rights of an assault survivor. Many states have survivors advocates. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Take some time to do an internet search, write out your resources and your plan so you are more prepared for the worst.
This is an extremely difficult topic to approach with your child, but also extremely important. They need the correct information and the best place for them to get that is you. They need to know they have someone on their side who will fight for them if something happens. They need to know they have a safe place to turn.
Sexual assault is a very real thing, and unfortunately, sometimes our children fall victim to it. So why if they were hurt, would they not come forward and talk to us—especially since we are their parent. We love them and want to protect them, and it can be hard to understand why they would keep something like this a secret.
Similar to the reasons why our teens don’t open up to us, there are some obstacles to sharing this super sensitive and scary information. Not only is it uncomfortable to talk about but our kids fear they will get in trouble if they give all the details. Maybe it happened at a party they weren’t supposed to be at, or out with friends they weren’t supposed to be out with. They may have gotten drunk or did drugs and they fear consequences. They don’t want to be blamed for being a victim and they surely don’t want to get in trouble for being or doing things they know are wrong.
They also want to protect us. Our kids, believe it or not, love us similarly to the way we love them. They don’t want to hurt us and they don’t want to see us get upset. They want to protect us from distress. They know how upset their parents will be when they hear their child has been treated this way. Us parents don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing. We start to feel like we are to blame, we might have intense feelings of wanting to “kill” the perpetrator, we want to be reactive to the situation. There is no protocol to deal with this kind of horrible experience. Parents want to protect their children forever and always, and our kids don’t want us to feel like we aren’t doing that.
The best thing we can do is start the conversation with our children. Open the doors to communication so they feel that no matter what they can come to us. Be sensitive with them. Be calm. Let them know that if they are ever sexually assaulted they need to tell someone.
Check back tomorrow for our post on preparing to talk to your children about sexual assault, and opening those lines of communication.
Sometimes scary things happen to us. It can happen to us on an unknown path we take, or in a familiar place we love. When bad things happen to us, we start to question everything around us. We question why this happened to us. We question the validity and fairness of the world. The world becomes different. What are we suppose to do in a world that is no longer safe?
When bad things happen to us, our sense of security is under siege and our defense mechanism is on high alert. Even the nice warm summer wind we used to love can make the hairs on our back stand up. We guard ourselves tightly to the point we can no longer feel.
When bad things happen to us, we may question if there’s something we could have done differently. We desperately attempt to salvage the control we once had but lost. Our mind keeps replaying the fearful scenario that we no longer have room for joy. It’s hard to breathe; even the air feels heavy.
I understand because I have been there. I know therapy can help. With therapy, you can learn to breathe again, slow down the replay in the mind, learn to trust the world, and believe in yourself. You can move from “what was” to “what can be.”
With therapy, You can live again.