Appearing Elsewhere: Resistance and Trauma Therapy

What a lovely surprise! A guest blog post I wrote some time ago is live today on my favorite therapy cartoon site, Therapy Tales. Please go read all about the “R” word and trauma therapy over there, and while you are at marvel at WG’s ability to capture all that is the therapeutic relationship in cartoon form.

Resistance and Trauma Therapy

You may also be interested in our prior collaboration: Talking vs. Processing in Trauma Therapy.

Posted in Psychologist | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Comes After Connection?

I really value those of you who take the time to comment. You often help me refine my thinking and inspire topics for future posts. A commenter to my article Overcoming Shame through Connection did just that by saying the following:

The observation that connection disarms shame is astute and very useful. The dark irony that people suffering from depression are least well able to pursue the “connection cure” on their own might suggest that the therapeutic relationship is a critical foundation to build on for these patients? The counselor can perhaps offer sufficient re-assurance to give the patient enough strength to seek out other support, breaking down the vicious cycle of depression -> isolation -> shame -> depression.

One pitfall I have experienced that arises from relying solely on interconnections to mitigate shame is that it leaves my happiness dependent on the vicissitudes of other people’s moods. Relying on the ability to connect with others to produce the feeling of belonging is not always a reliable antidote to the experience of shame, since other people have their own problems and even close friends won’t always be available to interact.

I have stressed the importance of connection and written about the challenges to connecting created by trauma. I want to go deeper here and say more about why I see connection as so important and how exactly I see it as helping. I also agree that if one’s sense of well-being stems only from the status of relationships with others it is vulnerable to constant fluctuation. This is one reason therapy can serve a purpose different from other important relationships. I see the therapy relationship as transformative.

For many who have experienced early abuse and/or neglect, the therapy relationship may be the first place that feels safe enough to explore connection. The goal however is not to just stop there. The hope is that clients can take what they learn in therapy and apply this to other situations and relationships. The how of this depends on many things, including the therapist’s theoretical orientation.

I believe that we develop many things in the context of a “good enough” attachment to a consistent and caring other: frustration tolerance, the ability to self-soothe, trust in the world, and love of ourselves. I believe that this positive, mutual connection (for we need to value and feel valued by another) is what predates our ability to love ourselves.

Ideally this process happens in early childhood. When it does not, or these capacities get disrupted by later events, problems in adulthood abound. This then becomes the work of therapy: connecting in the service of developing and internalizing these capacities.

At first a client may only be able to experience things like self-soothing while in the therapist’s presence or shortly after a session. Over time this can become something you feel like you own and carry with you. You take what you learn and experience in therapy and use it to create a new self or to reconnect to a self that was lost. This is how the therapy relationship transforms.

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.  -e. e. cummings

Posted in Abuse, Complex Trauma, Psychologist, Relationships, Therapy, Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How to Avoid an Abuser: Understanding Grooming

In the aftermath of the Sandusky trial, we have the opportunity to talk about violence prevention; a teachable moment. One really important conversation to have is about recognizing potential abusers. Stop It Now! has compiled some really great resources  related to protecting children from abusers through increase awareness.

What about adult survivors of childhood abuse who have a pattern of difficult relationships in adulthood? How do they learn to break the cycle?

Recently a reader asked me a related question:

I would really like to see a piece on how predators test their victims, really for grown up survivors of abuse. There is not much stuff out there in books about what is normal and what is not, for people who have never known healthy relationships, we really have no idea what to look for or what our rights and boundaries should be. It is like learning another language and is very confusing but no one seems to address this.

“Like learning another language” is a very apt way to put it! Trauma survivors need to learn things in adulthood that ideally we all learn as children. Predators can be good at honing in on those who have not learned good self-protection skills.

Predators do indeed test or “groom” their victims. The intentionally violate boundaries in small ways and wait to see your reaction. Then they up the ante. An example of this could be as simple as insisting on eating pizza on a date if you have expressed not liking it.

They come on really strong, really quickly. This can be especially hard to spot because it is the stuff of romantic movie fantasies. It can also be flattering to have someone profess immediate love.  You are definitely special and lovable, but someone who met you 5 minutes ago has no way to know that yet. Be suspicious of the motives of anyone trying to “sweep you off your feet”. Their true motive may be manipulation.

Soon after the heavy romancing, or sometimes alternating with, predators also mess with your self-esteem. They criticize you, your activities, you friends and family, again often starting small and then escalating. This serves to make you doubt yourself (maybe more than you do already) your choices, and to isolate you from support systems.

So what can you do to better prepare yourself to pick up on these early warning signs? In Relationships after Severe Trauma: Making Healthy Choices I suggested the following:

  1. Avoid going to extremes. Neither isolation or premature, instant attachment are healthy for you. Learn to share of yourself with people in your life gradually, over time.
  2. Learn to hear and pay attention to your “inner voice”. This could be your intuition, your gut sense of something feeling not quite right with another person. This could also be the voices of other parts of you. Do not discount what they have to say without exploring it. Yes, some parts may have the job of warning you away from anyone, but there may be valid reason for concerns about an individual in your life.
  3. Get to know yourselves. Develop relationships with other parts of yourself. Learn to communicate with each other. Share information about people you are meeting, developing friendships or intimate relationships with.
  4. Do you already have someone in your life you trust? A friend? A therapist? Use them as a sounding board or reality check. Share what concerns you. Listen to feedback, especially if you tend to “forget” things that concerned you regarding the new person’s behavior.
  5. Remember that trust is something that is earned. Trust is built in relationships by experiencing each other over time. Pay attention to whether what others say and do matches up (or does not), look for consistency over time. Let yourself evaluate whether the relationship is mutual or one sided: do you each get a chance to talk, receive support and attention or does it seem to flow in one direction mostly?
  6. Learn how to sort out whether your reactions are present- or past-based.  Are you angry because someone has violated your boundaries now or are you reminded of past experiences?  Sometimes it is both!

In addition, I’d like to add:

  • Healthy people let you say no. They respect (and want to know!) your opinions and preferences. Your job is to get in touch with what you think and feel and learn to express it.  Learn that “No” is a complete sentence.

Practice it.

A lot.

This quote from The art of “no.” (captainawkward.com) really sums it up:

Women are socialized to make men feel good. We’re socialized to “let you down easy.” We’re not socialized to say a clear and direct “no.” We’re socialized to speak in hints and boost egos and let people save face. People who don’t respect the social contract (rapists, predators, assholes, pickup artists) are good at taking advantage of this. “No” is something we have to learn. “No” is something we have to earn. In fact, I’d argue that the ability to just say “no” to something, without further comment, apology, explanation, guilt, or thinking about it is one of the great rites of passage in growing up, and when you start saying it and saying it regularly the world often pushes back. And calls you names.

  • Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I cannot emphasize enough what a good resource this is for learning how to tune into your own early warning system to recognize precursors to abuse.

 

Healing complex trauma requires connection, attachment. The skills that are missing are missing because things went terribly wrong in early relationships, thus a different kind of relationship is required to master them now. The neglect, abuse, betrayal and just plain ineffective environment of your earliest relationships have caused you to develop complex PTSD. It is in the context of a different kind of relationship that you can identify, understand and ultimately heal the impact of your early experiences.

All that being said, the unfortunate reality is that we cannot always spot abusers in advance. Repeat predators are good at what they do. Even people without trauma histories get taken in by master manipulators. If this happens to you, learn what you can and be gentle with yourself in the process.

Posted in Abuse, Childhood Abuse, Complex Trauma, Dissociation, Intimate Partner Violence, Mental Health, Psychologist, Relationships, Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sandusky Verdict: Guilt and Responsibility

Sandusky was found guilty Friday night. As I read the news, I cried. So few survivors receive this kind of justice and public acknowledgment of the wrong done to them. I am so moved by the courage of the survivors who came forward and spoke their truth. I am also thinking about survivors who were not able to speak out. Or who did and were not believed, did not receive justice. I am also keenly aware that a trial verdict is not the end of the healing road.

I am still thinking about justice and healing. I am also thinking about guilt and responsibility. Sandusky, as is the case for any sexual predator, is responsible for his own actions. What responsibility do the rest of us have, individually and as a community, for helping to prevent other acts of abuse?

If you are a survivor, how are you feeling about this verdict? Please work hard not to compare yourself to any other survivors. Please honor whatever choices you have made regarding speaking out or not. Your primary responsibility is to your survival and well-being. That you are alive today to read this means you have succeeded. It is not and was not your sole responsibility to protect future victims; we all have to shoulder that burden together.

Reading ‘Who Would Believe A Kid?’ The Sandusky Jury (NPR helped crystallize my thinking about the need for better bystander intervention to prevent child abuse in the first place. And as always more education about sexual abuse in general.

This article contained the following quotes by Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly:

“One of the recurring themes of the witnesses’ testimony, which came from the voices of the victims themselves in this case, was, ‘Who would believe a kid?’ And the answer to that question is, we here in Bellefonte, Pa., would believe a kid,” she said.

and the wife of a Penn State faculty member:

“But it should not be a reflection on the university and the people that work there, the people that go to school there,” he said. “This is one evil man who did some evil things.”

No.

This presents an overly simplistic picture and one that runs the risk of not contributing to ongoing education and prevention work in a useful manner.

One “evil man” abused children over fifteen years while a community looked the other way. I read Jerry Sandusky case: A timeline of key dates and think about all the different opportunities for sooner intervention. Children were not believed, for a very long time.

This happens every day, in all our communities, and will continue until we all learn to see the signs of abuse and to speak up to protect children.  We have to share that responsibility. We cannot stand by and do nothing.

What can we do to prevent sexual abuse? We can continue to raise awareness and educate others. We can believe trauma survivors and support their seeking healing. We can learn how to stop being complicit with rape culture.

Stop It Now! has some excellent prevention information and resources.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has a great series on bystander intervention by Jackson Katz, Ph.D. :

Part 1: Penn State: The mother of all teachable moments for the bystander approach

Part 2: Penn State & the bystander approach: Laying bare the dynamics in male peer culture

Part 3: Moving Beyond Penn State: Bystander training as leadership training

Posted in Abuse, Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, Mental Health, Psychologist, Sexual Abuse, Trauma | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Treating Trauma… in Tucson

It is official.  I am now opening a part-time private practice in Tucson, Arizona. As long-time readers may remember, I relocated to Tucson from Chicago about this time last year.

It has been a year of transition, discovery, excitement, and at times exhaustion. I wouldn’t change a moment of it. Settling in to coordinating a program for survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking at the University of Arizona kept me plenty busy during my first academic year. Now it is time for the next step.

Here are the details:

Services offered

Time: Saturday hours by appointment

Location: NW Tucson. Contact me for details.

If you or someone you know is seeking therapy to address trauma, complex PTSD, dissociation, gender identity issues, and/or a LGBT culturally competent therapist, I am available and happy to help.

Posted in Complex Trauma, Dissociation, EMDR, Gender Identity, LGBT, Psychologist, PTSD, Therapy, Trauma, Tucson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments