Sexual Assault Hotlines across the country have reported unprecedented upticks in calls and wait times since the Dr. Ford testimonies began and the Cosby trials ensued. The momentum for “breaking the silence,” which actually began climbing in 2016, has reached new heights this month. We are talking 147-150% increases at agencies like Safe Horizon, Alliance Against Sexual Assault, RAINN, and countless mental health facilities and private practices. Women (mostly but not exclusively), are more boldly coming forward about both recent sexual violations and past trauma held close to the vest for decades. Testimonials of never-talked-about abuse or assaults, and the lack of appropriate actions by parents, teachers and bosses, have run rampant on twitter, Facebook and other media outlets.
The human defensive system (reinforced by family and societal norms) gives us a strong and instinctive motivation to shove pain and trauma under the rug. Many possess what can be called an “Apparently Normal Part” who carries on with day to day life regardless of the trauma our “Emotional Parts” have endured. To cope, we often go to great (often destructive) lengths to avoid or dismiss these exiled emotions, especially with the prevalence of shaming cues and signs of futility if we come forward. Our unconscious survival mechanism, coupled with the myriad of legitimate repercussions for speaking the truth, can explain why so much unaddressed trauma has recently poured out.
I must say that as painful as this has been for so many who find their old trauma reactivated, I feel hopeful that it’s a good sign. This time has the potential to be one of deep healing for so many, which must include the much-needed change in helping both men and women find their personal power in balanced and respectful ways.
IF PAINFUL MEMORIES HAVE SURFACED
So let’s talk about what you can do if painful memories have come to the surface as a result of the Kavanaugh or Cosby hearings, or any other “me-too” news that rings true to home. First and foremost, BE KIND TO YOURSELF! Self compassion and acceptance form the foundation for success in whatever empowering steps you decide to take. Last week, The New York Times devoted an article to self kindness for anyone triggered by recent sexual assault events. Survivors of abuse and sexual assault tend to misplace shame and self doubt onto themselves, so the more emphasis placed on treating yourself with love and kindness—making yourself and your healing a priority—the more soothing you should find. Even better than that, self kindness becomes the gateway for overcoming your trauma.
SELF CARE AND HEALING TIPS
All in the spirit of self care and kindness, here are some practical and proactive ideas to consider:
LET OTHERS HELP YOU HEAL. “Everything alive is born with a healing energy” opened Lana Epstein, MSW, LICSW at a trauma healing training I attended this summer. I believe we limit our miraculous potential to heal when we “go it alone.” Some begin letting others in by opening up to a trusted friend; sharing their story, their secrets, their feelings. Taking it further, the healing profession has grown by leaps and bounds in helping people overcome trauma, whether from hurtful dynamics spanning childhood or from stand alone devastations that wreak havoc on our nervous system. Barriers to healing begin with the tendency for isolation after trauma and the belief that “I should be able to figure this out on my own.” Also common, “I feel such shame inside, how could I ever talk to anyone or be helped.” These corrupted belief systems are unfortunately normative and integral to the ego defense system trying to protect an even more vulnerable part inside.
I have a great deal of respect for the current trauma healing modalities, particularly that utilize the mind body connection. You can explore these and see how these seem to you: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family System, EMDR.
HONOR WHAT YOU NEED? Being kind to yourself means listening within, “What do I need right now?” “What will honor my essence and healing most?” “What can I do to take control back, to be the cause and not the effect?” What you hear might change day by day, minute by minute. Some feel clear they must post their truth on Facebook or twitter, getting their voice out there, maybe even joining a rally. Some decide to completely log off! The key is to listen within, trust what feels right for you, and give yourself permission to follow your truth.
ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS. We so often judge our own feelings or suppress them altogether. We don’t always benefit from acting upon our raw or activated feelings, but as my grandma used to say, “There’s more room outside than inside.” Feeling whatever it is that you feel, without second guessing or shaming yourself, has an empowering and healing affect of its own. Every feeling is a part of you that needs care and attention. Accepting our feelings allows us to receive the messages within them; feelings can provide a road map for our growth and healing.
TURN AROUND YOUR BELIEF SYSTEMS. When we experience trauma, we develop parts in order to cope. These parts come with belief systems that may have once protected us but now hold us back. Our belief systems are not to be judged because they were formed to protect us in some way. The goal is to identify our limited belief systems (with love) and transform them into more empowering and true ones. For example, someone sexually assaulted might believe, “What’s wrong with me. I can’t get over this.” A turn around could be, “My reactions are normal. I accept my reality with love and believe in my inherent capacity to heal.” Another example: “If I let people see my shame, this makes me weak.” Turn around: When I let myself be vulnerable, I connect to my strength and courage to heal.”
Transforming our thoughts and belief systems connect us to our personal power at the root, allowing us to be the cause of our reality. Spiritual teacher and author, Monica Berg, said in a recent seminar, “We live scripts, but we are the writers. We can rewrite our scripts at any time. The way we think about our life and our self is what we will manifest.”
CONNECT TO YOUR BODY. It’s always important to connect to one’s body; for survivors of sexual assault and abuse it’s essential. The betrayal and violation to the body triggers a disconnect, or even a disassociation, from one’s body. The more disconnected we feel from our body, the more restless, empty, and anxious we tend to feel. Research has shown that activities connecting us to our body increase psychological and physical well being, particularly for those recovering from sexual assault and abuse. Ways to connect to one’s body range from massage, exercise, dance, meditation, mindfulness. Because our traumatic experiences get stuck in the body and nervous system, I have found the somatic types of psychotherapy mentioned above to be most effective, without a doubt.
A new study tested the effectiveness of MAP (mental and physical training) with more than 100 women, many of whom had a sexual violence history. They found that a cocktail of 30 minutes of meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise “helped women recover from traumatic sexual experiences.” Their mental and physical training resulted in less traumatic memory invasions and an increase in self worth.
FEED YOUR SOUL. Investing in your healing journey IS food for the soul. And from my vantage, caring for your soul is the ultimate in being kind to yourself. With every proactive step we take to heal and grow, our essential self wakes up. With each trauma we release from our nervous system, our divine voice grows freer, stronger. With every negative belief we transform, our true self breaks through another shell. Overcoming trauma, like the plant that gets stronger where it’s cut, gives our soul a chance to fully shine— for ourselves and everyone we touch.