By Lindsey Rogers, LCPC
In the words of Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Given recent events, sexual trauma has become a topic of discussion. We want to make it clear that here, at Tobin Counseling Group, we hear you and we believe you. Hearing testimony and witnessing the social media onslaught of judgment and doubt has been, and will continue to be, triggering for survivors. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the RAINN hotline helped a record number of sexual assault survivors last week; Friday, September 28th was the busiest day in the hotline’s 24-year history. Survivors have started to reach out and ask for help. Please continue to do so. You are not alone and help is available.
Trauma affects our neurobiology.
Trauma can impact us through direct traumatic experience, witnessing a traumatic event, or learning that a relative or loved one was exposed to trauma. Our reaction can be to re-experience the suffering via painful memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. We can often try to avoid any reminders or thoughts about the trauma. We can experience changes in mood or affect, negative thoughts about self, blame and guilt, isolation, and a decreased interest in normal activities. Difficulty sleeping, trouble focusing, irritability, and an increased startle reaction are all common in reaction to trauma. If we have experienced trauma, the fear center of our brain (the amygdala) becomes over-activated and the thinking center and emotional regulation part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex) are less active. This is why it can be difficult to pay attention or regulate ourselves emotionally—our brains are telling our bodies that it is time to fight, run, or freeze. Just as the brain changes with the impact of trauma, there is plasticity to neurobiology, and psychotherapy that addresses the mind-body connection of trauma can help.
Trauma reactions vary.
Everyone’s reaction to trauma is unique. Thoughts and feelings in reaction to trauma can be overwhelming. Trauma survivors may experience a large spectrum of emotions and waves of feelings can come and go. Common emotions include sadness, anger, fear, worry, guilt and numbness. Often guilt and blame creep in and survivors start to question themselves, their memories, their experience, and their decision-making. After surviving an assault, survivors can often punish themselves and feel ashamed by their experience. Another painful aspect of trauma is the lack of an expiration date. What may have felt like a distant memory that has been forgotten or put away can be re-experienced or triggered. Triggers can come in many forms, from comments on a Facebook page to a sensory experience of a smell or sound. With support, trauma survivors can learn to set boundaries to avoid triggers, challenge negative thoughts, and manage varying emotions.
Recovery from Trauma is possible.
Despite the triggering aspects to the recent news, the positive aspect of giving survivors a voice is real. Regardless of your experience, take some time to check in with yourself. Whether you are a trauma survivor yourself, or have a friend or family member with a trauma experience, or simply have been paying attention to the news, take some time to notice how you have been feeling. Pay attention to your body and notice, are you feeling more on edge? Are you struggling with sleep lately? Are you feeling differently than you did weeks ago? Whatever your experience, be intentional about self-care and make sure you are engaging in activities that recharge and restore you. Reach out to friends and family that are part of your safety net. Reach out to the RAINN hotline or call and take steps toward exploring psychotherapy. Whatever steps you need to take, know that you do not have to stay silent or stuck. We will continue to hear you and believe you.