Healing sexual trauma


#metoo #ChildAbusePrevention #SexualAssaultAwareness *Trigger Warning*


It seems on a regular basis, there are certain sexual abuse stories that make headlines, ones that finally get people’s attention. Truth be known that every 73 seconds, someone in the US is sexually assaulted. The statistics are worse worldwide. These statistics do not surprise me, I am actually more alarmed that many others are surprised. Our society is a petri dish for sexual abuse.

Sex is a basic physiological need. Healthy sexual development begins at day one of life. Our society tends to shame and repress our natural desires of sexual expression. So what do we do when we are not allowed to find healthy ways to express ourselves? … We hide it and seek out any opportunity to get our needs met no matter how wrong it may be which most often means taking advantage of vulnerable people. On top of this, we have a catch-22 in our society where we “train” children, our most precious and vulnerable, that they must obey authority figures and have no rights to say “No.” Then we neglect to teach children how to tune in and listen to their intuition as well as the skills they need to assert themselves in any context.

Sexual expression is a very complex and sensitive issue because even though we have been trained to feel mentally or morally wrong about it in many situations, even more conflicting for females. Yet sex is a fundamental physiological need, it feels good and is essential for holistic well-being. It is not enough to have the one ‘big talk’ or random assertion that “You should have no one touch you” and “to tell mom or dad if someone does”. It is a constant open dialogue in small teachable moments throughout life. It is in the subtle messages you send via your choice of words, clothes, media, and so on.

Although it angers me how ignorant people are to the prevalence of sexual abuse and that children are at greater risk with those they trust, I understand why we ignore the signs. To accept that this is going on in your city, your school, and even worse, your family would mean that you have to accept the responsibility that this went on without your awareness. Of course, it is easier to be in denial, it is a natural defense mechanism as who would want to take any responsibility for suffering.

The common reactions of when these stories of sexual abuse make headlines, “Yeah, let’s string ’em by their balls and make them suffer” or “They should rot in jail!” do not make things better. For me, those reactions come from the same vein as the initial crimes themselves, ignore the root problems, and no one can heal. I was sexualized and given inappropriate attention since I can first remember. I was molested by a neighbor and sexually harassed on a regular basis whilst attending a Catholic school. These events had led to traumatic consequences and emotional scars that I am still healing.

Only after years of having safe relationships where I could thoroughly process all the memories, feelings, and thoughts, I experienced a surprising sense to want to forgive all the boys and men who used me as an object and no longer wish ill on them. I understand that they were doing the best with the resources they had. I do not blame them per se, as we live in a culture that promotes sexual abuse. I choose to be part of the solution. I empower, educate, and support people to find healthy, respectful, and non-violent ways to get their needs met. I want to stress that forgiveness was never my goal nor do I believe people must forgive. This level of awareness only seemed to magically unfold as I gave myself permission to feel and heal. I had to learn to love and accept myself for where I was in my healing journey without pressure or expectation.


Here are links to get you started on promoting positive and empowering sexual development for children:

Top 10 Tips for Talking to Children about Sexuality by Vanessa Hamilton

https://e2epublishing.info/blog/2013/12/29/how-to-educate-your-child-in-body-safety

https://birdsandbeesandkids.com/

http://goodmenproject.com/families/the-healthy-sex-talk-teaching-kids-consent-ages-1-21/

http://coreparentingpdx.com/2013/sex-can-your-kids-really-talk-to-you/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joyce-mcfadden/things-little-girls-need-from-their-fathers_b_3348956.html

http://www.plannedparenthood.org/parents/resources-for-parents

Books

Talking with Your Child About Sex: Questions and Answers for Children from Birth to Puberty by Mary S. Calderone and James W. Ramey

Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids – A Guide to Sharing Your Beliefs about Sexuality, Love, and Relationships: Everything YOU Need To Know Before Middle School! by Amy Lang

10 Conversations to Have with your Teen about Sex, Dating & Relationships by Dr. Pepper Schwartz

Here are links on healing sexual trauma:

Sexual Healing

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/recovering-from-rape-and-sexual-trauma.htm

https://wgac.colostate.edu/support/sexual-assault/healing-from-childhood-sexual-assault/

DISCLAIMER: Positive Reframe shares resources with the intent of the positive progression of informed decision making related to issues associated with emotional, relational, physical and spiritual wellness. While I share personal and professional perspectives, my writings reflect my personal opinion and not intended to substitute professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment thus the content shared on this page is for informational purposes only. This online medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and rapport building required for thorough assessment and therapeutic intervention. To make well-informed decisions that best meet your family’s unique needs, I highly recommend exploring and researching available options, consulting primary health care providers, engaging in respectful dialogue with friends and family as well as seek referrals from a trusted source for professional counseling. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy in the state of Illinois, USA

If you or someone you know is at risk of harm, please call or go to your local emergency center.

“I was spanked and I’m fine!”

Positive Reframe...

I understand how anyone who has been physically punished would have to make sense of being hit in some way. You would need to believe that there must be some value in it… I mean why else would the person you love and trust the most hit you and make you suffer more…You must have deserved it. Right!?!

It is a step in healing when you take the time toreflect on your upbringing. The heartbreaking part for me is that the majority of people have been trained to dismiss their suffering and believe “they are fine” and that we are getting what we “need” to learn lessons and respect, then stop there as their conclusion. They don’t even know that they have other options to reconcile the conflicting messages. Stuck to rationalize it and pass on the suffering to the next generation.

From my experience, weare not fine.Seriously…

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The Halloween Dread Reframe

Positive Reframe...

(I wrote this blog in 2015)

Every Halloween, my son wants to make his own costume. The therapist and educator in me absolutely loves his initiative, determination, creativity, high standards and resourcefulness The mom in me gets triggered and dreads this. All I see are the barriers, the frustrations, hard work, messes, costs, and disappointment. It happened again this year where he feels my dread and it brings him down. I know it is not fair so as I practice what I preach, I chose to ask my son this morning as I was acknowledging how he was right about feeling my resistance, “How are we going to open this day with joy and curiosity?” I then reframed our day by stating, “I am very curious how we will get this all done and I look forward to the joy my son will feel when his costume is finished.”

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Lost cat and waves of grief

I was glad the words of the book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids (https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/trauma_proofing_your_kids) flowed into my mind after my daughter and I witnessed our beloved cat get hit by a car last Monday, then run away. I was able to put my feelings on the side and just be present for my daughter who was naturally extremely emotive and shocked. She likened the experience of seeing your child get hit.

Even though my wise mind knows to stay with her pain and let her process, I had noticed waves of moments of me wanting to distract her. She responded best when she told me that nothing could stop this pain so to stop trying. She continued to go on about all the sensations and feelings she was having. That’s when I remembered the book. I agreed with her then just hugged and comforted her how she needed me to. By the end of that night, she was feeling bad for the individual who hit our cat and wondered how they were coping. I was blown away by how well my daughter was handling her cat being lost and not knowing what condition she was in.

To actively process our grief, we posted signs, went to all the neighbors’ houses, we went on searches at all times of the day, left a trail of food as well as played board games, read stories, had friends over, ate our favorite foods, and did visualizations of our ideal outcome while accepting the reality of the worst-case. Our small island community was extremely responsive and kind. We got encouraging messages and tips. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending and our cat is home safe and sound after 5 long, emotionally draining days. On the day she was found by a neighbor, my daughter mentioned feeling surprised that she had no negative feelings or worries that day. That she just had this feeling all over that our cat would be home today. We learned a lot about grief and the value of family, friends, and community.
Here is a picture of Luna Belle, Queen of the Moon Tribe (as my daughter likes to say is her full name) resting comfortably.

Image from book When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief by Marge Eaton Heegaard
Words by Dr Jessica Zucker 
Artwork by Anne Robin Calligraphy http://
shop.drjessicazucker.com/
cards/grief-knows-no

“From Neurons to Neighborhoods”

Our mother’s well-being and safety whilst we are developing in utero along with our early life experiences strongly influence our brain development. Stressful events that occurred to our parents will naturally affect us as children. Sadly, our culture is full of violence and negativity yet also doesn’t support processing negative events or emotions. The presence of at least one safe, nurturing, and responsive adult to be there for us to process emotions and negative events, especially during stressful times, is vital for well-being and positive development.

Without a safe supportive person, and instead of processing, our automatic defense mechanisms get triggered. We tend to ignore or dismiss are stress signals and negative emotions, then use distraction or substances to cope. The really hard part is to process the negative events, you have to at least acknowledge them and open yourself up to the negative emotions. Also, very few people know NOT how to react negatively and to truly hold space for someone who is processing negative emotions.

What doesn’t get processed then gets stuck in the body and unconscious levels of the brain. I highly recommend learning about how Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to health issues. The more stress or toxins (emotional, chemical, environmental, or physical) you add, the more you tax your body and the mind/body/spirit become dysregulated. The more you stay in a dysregulated state, the more harmful, pervasive, and lasting the effects. Thus, unprocessed stress kills more than anything. Our minds and bodies will unconsciously express the stress. With no safe places or skills to process the stress, it will manifest in many problematic ways like physical ailments, disease, negative behaviors, habits, and conflict consequently destroying our well-being and relationships.

Here is an excerpt from From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development; Shonkoff JP, Phillips DA, editors.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.

“This account of early brain development emphasizes the ways in which the nervous system is designed to recruit and incorporate experience into its developing architecture and neurochemistry. Normal experience (e.g., good nutrition, patterned visual information) supports normal brain development, and abnormal experience (e.g., prenatal alcohol exposure, occluded vision) can cause abnormal neural and behavioral development (Black et al., 1998). Plasticity is a double-edged sword that leads to both adaptation and vulnerability. “…

“In this report, stress refers to the set of changes in the body and the brain that are set into motion when there are overwhelming threats to physical or psychological well-being (Selye, 1973, 1975). Stress can have dramatic effects on health and development (Johnson et al., 1992). This happens because the physiology of stress produces a shift in the body’s priorities. When threats begin to overwhelm one’s immediate resources to manage them, a cascade of neurochemical changes that begin in the brain temporarily puts on hold the processes in the body that can be thought of as future-oriented: finding, digesting, and storing food; fighting off colds and viruses; learning things that don’t matter right now but may be important sometime in the future; reproducing and rearing offspring. Many of these neurochemical changes take place in the very same brain structures (e.g., hypothalamus and brainstem) that function to regulate heart rate, respiration, food intake and digestion, reproduction, growth, and the building up versus breaking down of energy stores (Stratakis and Chrousos, 1995).”    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225562/

Children (& dogs) are mirrors…

“Children are mirrors; they will always show you exactly what is going on inside of you. Each phase of their growth is an opportunity to heal your own pain, to go deeper inside yourself and become more truly human.” ~Vimala McClure

This quote resonance deeply with me as there are countless times this has reflected in my life through my children. I even see this pattern with my dogs, who were my first kids. I am so grateful that I reached out for help, committed myself to healing, can empathize with my children’s feelings and consciously take responsibility for the energy I emit or my own feelings that I project.

One glaring reflection was feeling intense insecurity and fear in social situations. Both my children are blessed with a gregarious hearts and a wonderful group of friends. Every time they would ask me to have friends over, I’d look at my house and feel dread and panic. I was inundated with a daunting list of all the things I should do but don’t want to. I felt terrified thinking about what others would think of me and being judged.  My kids would end up, rightfully, pleading with me. I’d start spurting out a frantic list of things to do for me to feel comfortable to invite a friend over. This would naturally end up stressing them out, they’d give up and feel guilty for even asking.

The whole interchange triggers my feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability like I am failing as a person and parent. To further the insult, I was aware that I was role-modeling to my children that we should feel ashamed and give up. My fears were pushing away the level of connectedness I preach and desperately needed.

An amusing side to this scenario was that I was so overwhelmed with the negativity that consumed me about inviting people to our house that I started to use my dog as an excuse. My dog was so intuned with me that he sensed my fear and would behave more aggressively to protect me. His attentive behaviors than triggered more fears in me which only escalated his protectiveness because he could sense my heightened fear. Negativity begets negativity and it cycles on till it escalates enough that someone gets physically hurt (emotional pain is usually prominent and ongoing).

My dog was fulfilling my self-prophecy that I cannot handle it, that I should feel afraid, and need protection. F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. I knew I needed to face this when my son started introducing strangers to me and arranging play dates himself. I was at a pivotal point where healing my social fears and judgmental thoughts as well as choosing to give my children a new story of how to overcome fears. Thank goodness I have a thousand tools to do this and not afraid to see my reflection. I am grateful for the light my children shine on me. They inspire me to be a better person every day.

LOVE vs fear

Positive Reframe...

When I first saw this slide it was entitled “Love based parenting vs Fear-based parenting.” Fear induces the release of stress hormones which over time has many negative effects. Ocytocin is our loving, bonding hormone which promotes optimal development, positivity, and connection. This visual displays vividly the continuum I feel in my heart, the dichotomy that exists in our society, and the constant conflict I face when I show others love-based responses.

Sadly, much of traditional parenting is fear-based and punitive. I believe punishment is any fear-based reaction by caregiver that deprives child of a vital need, adds toxic levels of stress and the child has no safe place to process, express and have new understanding of the overwhelming emotions, behaviors and/or events. Most times when I witness parents interact with their children, they are operating from a fearful lens. Parents tend to view their children’s behavior as a report card that reflects how they…

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Easter and our opportunities to rise again…

I was reminded of how blessed we are that God* gives a beautiful new horizon to awake and go to sleep with every day. I thought about Easter approaching and how many are celebrating how Jesus rose from the dead. I told my son that holidays are symbols of the gifts God gives us every day. We have been given the gift to rise every day and try again to be more kind, helpful and align our beliefs with our actions.

Positive Reframe...

One day, my son was feeling badly about not living up to his potential. He expressed negative beliefs of “not being a good enough, being lazy, stupid, feeling guilty and shame about his choices and behaviors.” It hurts me tremendously to hear him share these deep negative core beliefs as they are the same ones I have battled through trans-generational trauma and sadly often triggers me into a negative reaction. Thus, no matter how much my partner and I told him how much we loved him and highlighted all the good things he does, he could not hear us and resisted. As a therapist, I know too well that our reactions and attempts to minimize his emotional pain were invalidating and actually making him feel worse. That one must first truly listen, accept, validate the speaker’s feelings and expressions so they may be able to process their pain and move on. Yet being…

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