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Showing posts with label survivor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label survivor. Show all posts

Friday, January 10, 2020

#MeAsWell, Part 2 - Trauma: The Wild West of Emotions

Paraphrasing what a counselor once said to me: Trauma doesn't necessarily occur when the incident or event happen, it is when you become aware of or start processing it.  His point was that someone can have a traumatizing experience, but the trauma or the impact isn't necessarily immediate.  What follows includes a deeply personal story and if you aren't ready for that, I don't blame you for stopping here. Anyway, I think for a CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) survivor, trauma occurs when he or she realizes how wrong and how violated they were.  CSA can occur when an adult or much older kid wins the trust of a young child and groom them in the process, eventually leading to SA.

A groomer can
  • Being a 'good listener' aka 'being there'.
  • Showing 'empathy'.
  • Be seemingly nice and generous.
This gives the CSA survivor trust in their predator who might then
  • Rubbing on a back
  • Patting a leg
  • Putting hand(s) on shoulder(s) 
  • Intense tickling 
As trust is won and the survivor gets used to the 'warm' physical touch, a predator may
  • Show too much affection such as forced kissing
  • Touch/fondle in inappropriate places
  • Engage in sexual abuse at varying levels.
Unfortunately, this wasn't just a theory for me.  In my blog post, #MeAsWell: For What It's Worth, I go into my own experiences with CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) at the hands of at least two males, one of whom was a church camp counselor. I didn't immediately recognize what was happening even when the groomer(s) took it to from a little inappropriate to an unquestionable violation of my person.  As puberty was descending on me it all started to dawn on me.  I had been sexually abused and the ignorance of my youngest years about what was happening gave way over time to many emotions/cognitions:
  • Confusion: Why did I allow it to happen?  Why did I tolerate it? Did I 'secretly like it'?  I've over time come to the understanding that I didn't:
    • Ask for it.  It was forced upon me.  Not always necessarily physically, but often after by what I realize now emotional blackmail.
    • Appreciate what was happening.  I was nowhere near puberty when it started. So, I realize that (and this disgusts me saying this) any positive feelings from the grooming and inappropriate touch early on were mistaken feelings of acceptance.  That is, if he is comfortable 'touching'*** me and being this close then that must me I be likable.  Little kids value and crave acceptance and I was no different.  Clearly my young child psyche was telling me I wasn't getting appropriate type and level of acceptance where I needed it.  Therefore, when a predator threw 'acceptance' at me, disguised as 'caring', I was unfortunately taken in by it.  Mistaking inappropriate attention for acceptance.
  • Feelings of Weakness/Shame/How could I have let it happen?  Unfortunately, 20/20 hindsight can be brutal
    • As a teenager and beyond I thought to myself how could I let myself be violated like that, especially by other guys.
    • Why didn't I stand up for myself and how the hell could I not have realized it was wrong.  In other words, deep shame.
  • Anger
    • How dare someone use me like that, looking out for themselves. (I believe this is one reason I despise idiot drivers who risk my safety for their own impatience).
    • That someone was able to turn my vulnerability on me and take advantage of me.
    • That I wasn't protected by those who were supposed to be my guardians.
  • Deep distrust
    • Those who purported to have cared about me, really didn't and they were looking out for their own 'fulfillment' (at my expense).  One was in a position of 'religious' leader.
      • It's a pretty easy step step to default distrust of intentions (even subconsciously) if those who were supposed to 'care' about you proved to have deeply selfish, sick and harmful motives.
    • Those who were supposed to be keeping me safe, let me down. So, I have to look out for myself.
      • I realize to some degree now, the world was a more trusting world back then.  Priest/teacher/Hollywood producer/etc. type scandals were not in the news. 
      • Things like this weren't spoken of.  So, parents I think in some ways were 'groomed' to not be able to appreciate and handle these type situations.
      • If there is already dysfunction in the house, it can be distracting from a primary purpose of parents to keep the household (including kids) safe.
  • Disgust
    • I am disgusted by some behaviors now that I might have just overlooked.  Obviously, seeing a grown-up be 'too friendly' with a kid is one of them.
    • In some ways, I am deeply put off by arrogant behavior.  I'm almost in a way disgusted by their behavior.
    • I have struggled at times in my life being comfortable around older men, especially if I sense anything 'off' about them.
  • Anxiety 
    • I'm not going to delve into this one.  I think this one is obvious and it is really in some ways an extension/logical conclusion of all the other feelings/cognitions.
  • Powerlessness
    • I was pressured, bullied, cajoled, and even though I didn't necessarily always realize it at the time, threatened in other's pursuit of their unhealthy/wrong satisfaction/needs.
    • I've heard from other CSA and/or SA survivors that their feelings of powerlessness can get in the way of intimacy.  In other words, if you felt powerless in an area which you should have felt safe--your personhood--that it is hard to give up control or power in that area.  In other words, that's an area which we'd tend to default to trying to 'get back' control.  
      • Seeking control can take the form of 'frigidness'.  This means, I won't allow you or anyone into my intimate space.
      • Seeking control can take the form of promiscuity.  This means, I am taking back control or at leverage of my intimacy for my advantage as opposed to that of others.
*** I mean more than touch but you know, not an easy thing to share with the world.

In this blog post, I am focusing on CSA because that's the one I'm most personally familiar with (being a survivor of it).  However, I'm aware that other traumas can cause a wide range of emotions.  The murder/death of someone close or the sudden and acute health problems are just a couple.  

I refer this this as "The Wild West of Emotions" as we think of the Wild West as being:
  • Tending to be intense
  • Often unpredictable in timing and intensity
  • Raw, especially emotionally.
  • Untamed
I think my own personal list demonstrates this.  I'm sure many others who have experienced significant traumas can relate.  To whomever reads this, I hope you gain a little insight or unfortunately if necessary can relate.  In any case, as always feel free to take what you can use from my post.


* A personal note.  I think my late brother was a CSA survivor.  Unfortunately, I believe effects of this haunted him in some ways for the rest of his life and help lead to his early passing.  RIP Bill.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I will survive: Survivors vs. victims

I was visiting my brother's grave-site today and realized that he'd tough circumstances and obviously he didn't make it.  Yet, I had faced some of the circumstances or demons that he had, yet with God's help and grace, I managed to pull through, though not unscathed.  We were very close in age and had similar personalities.  So, I've wondered to myself why him and why not me?  But,  I digress.

Long before the reality TV show Survivor started its run, people actually did have to emotionally and physically survive trying circumstances.  Survivor has people artificially "marooned" in various remote locations and they must seek out food, water and shelter.  To me, it seems like a little extreme version of roughing it to try to win a huge cash prize than an actual situation or circumstance to survive.  I mean really are they going to let the contestants get anywhere close to dying or allow them to be risk deep trauma?   When we think of survivors, we think of those who have had to endure the horrors of war and being subjected to daily risk of not coming home, the trials of sexual and other types of abuse, the devastating effects of illness or the stress of not knowing where their next meal will come from and other similar extreme circumstances.

When we discuss people who have gone through rough circumstances, we generally put them into two main categories: survivors and victims.  Being a survivor doesn't mean you go through life unscathed, just like being a victim doesn't mean you end up dead or permanently maimed.  A survivor is thought of as a person who has made it through trying circumstances and come out alive, if not mostly physically and/or emotionally intact.  A victim is thought of as a person who faces trying circumstances and dies or is significantly physically and/or emotionally damaged or destroyed.  In some instances, however, whether a person is deemed a survivor or victim depends on perspective.
For example, a recovering drug addict can be emotionally intact but physically debilitated, but yet we might view them as a survivor if we focus on their emotional well-being or spirit.  But, we might view them as a victim if we focus on their deeply compromised physical health.  But, I digress, why do some people face rough circumstances and "live to tell" about it, whereas others are destroyed physically and/or mentally if they even live after them?   As they say, "That's the $64,000 question."  Anyway, the purpose of this blog post is ponder the characteristics of each and what leads to or is behind those who fall in those categories.

First characteristics of "victims" as I see it:


  • If they don't die or give up immediately, they tend to break down over time.  Either way, they tend to be heavily physically and/or mentally damaged if not destroyed (either figuratively or literally as in death).
  • They have stopped being able to recover from bad breaks or circumstances in life.  They've had one too many bad circumstance or too large a circumstance for them to recover from.
    • For example, an addict who loses custody of their child and that is an psychological bridge too far for them and as a result they lose the will to live or have a death-wish.
    • An childhood abuse victim who seems to "make it", but really have just been hanging on and finally a bad break destroys their will to live.
  • They have lost their hope or faith (and often feel the loss of support)
  • They tend to live a glass half-empty type life. They may be:
    • Afraid of living.
    • Afraid of failing. (paralyzed by it)
    • Afraid of trying.
    • Afraid of dying.
  • They lose their ability to 'scramble' or 'cope' when adversity hits.
    • They may fold under adversity, expecting that there is no immediate hope or that it will all end up bad anyways.
    • They tend to be more paralyzed by fear rather than more motivated to find a way past it, when adversity hits.
    • They may end up 'requiring' someone to 'save' them.  But as we know ultimately, there is so much 'rescuing' that others can do before that option is exhausted. 
  • They may not be blessed with the same level of survival skills as others.  I believe that while survival is based largely on spiritual and environment factors, I don't discount that DNA plays a role in our ability to survive.  After all, some people from a family with a history of mental illness for example.  (In short, they may have some Humpty Dumpty built into them).
In short, victims tend to get stuck, lose faith, ultimately expect failure, may be fragile, tend to fall apart rather than recover and fold when their support system fails them.

Now characteristics of "survivors" as see it:

  • They tend to find a way to make it through rough times (even the roughest).  The find the resources to either limit 'breaking down' if not halt it or to recover from when they break down.
  • Their hope and faith may not be perfect, but deep down inside they know they have support from their Higher Power (God).
    • Their Higher Power (God) may allow them to face adverse circumstances, but they sense that He is with them and will help them through the bad circumstances.
    • They know someone has their back (their Higher Power, family and/or friends)
  • Their Higher Power (God) may have blessed them with the constitution & mental toughness to withstand even the worst pressured.
  • They tend to see the glass as half-full and even when they don't, they are aware that more often than not, the glass has enough in to allow them to get what and where they need. 
    • Afraid of not having tried (will take chances or try)
    • Motivated not to fail,
    • Determine not to give up or in (to live).
    • Not paralyzed by the fear of dying.
  • When adversity hits, they go into "assess and survive" mode.
    • Determine what they need to do to survive.
    • Determine what is extraneous to the need to survive.
    • May ask or be willing to ask for help.
      • They don't sit around and wait for it, but plan for the possibility that they may not get it to the extent they could use it.
      • Though they may be able to count on others, they understand that ultimately it is up to them and their Higher Power 
    • They are willing to do what it takes to pull through, even when the price is steep or level of effort is extreme.
  • Their Higher Power has blessed them with an inner fortitude.  They may not always thrive, but they have been blessed with the fortitude to make it through or hold on even in the toughest scrapes.  In short, they are like a blessed with a spine of steel.  That is they may bend in the storm, but they will not break.
In short, survivors find a way, find hope and faith, have enough optimism, have the ability to scramble and they have a strong enough spine to endure, if not thrive.

Now, this covers the two extremes: survivor and victims, but I believe there are many people who've faced trauma(s) and are hovering between "life" (survivor) and "death" (victim).  Granted if you are not completely a victim, then one could actually argue that you are a survivor (at least at that point).  Ultimately, we all will be a 'victim' of human mortality and pass on one day, the real question is will we live (and die eventually) as a victim or survivor'.  Ultimately, though we may have support of others, this is really a question that we have to resolve with our Higher Power.

Thanks and I hope this sees everyone who reads this hanging in there, even in the roughest moments.

-- Rich