Escaping Trauma: recovering from trauma when you have been deliberately targeted.
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Any #trauma , including a natural disaster like an earthquake or a random accident can be really hard to move on from, but there is something particularly difficult I think, about being deliberately targeted by someone: in an assault, such as a #rape, #sexualassault or violent attack, the attacker makes a deliberate choice to attack the victim. The assault itself will be painful and terrifying. It may be over in minutes or seconds but the impact can last for years. The psychological scars and damage can last long after the physical injuries have healed and while they last, for some people, it is as if the attack is still going on. In this blogpost, I'm going to explore why this is and how therapy, especially #EMDR can help.
An article I had published recently (https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/opening-up-about-sexual-abuse-the-challenges-fears-and-how-to-heal) explains what happens to the brain during a traumatic incident, such as an assault: the brain's alarm system, the amygdala, receives information about a threat and sends out stress hormones to get the body ready to "fight or flee" to protect itself. Sometimes, so much data is received, that the brain can't process it and move it into its "library", the hippocampus, where memories are usually stored, so they stay in the Amygdala, which doesn't have a sense of time or place. If something happens to remind you of the original trauma, the brain will think that the attack is happening again and will start sending the stress hormones out again. You will feel the same physical and emotional sensations you felt during the attack (pain, fear, beating heart, sweating,) and may even see the same images. The amygdala is in the non-verbal part of the brain as well, which means you might find the incident and its impact on you, really hard to put into words. This effect can be even worse if you were unable to get away or to fight back during the attack. And this can happen for lots of reasons -the attacker may have been physically stronger than you, in a position of power over you or your amygdala may have decided to "freeze" rather than fight or flee, giving you no choice over how to respond. If this happened, the stress hormones will have been pumping round your body, with no outlet, increasing the psychological damage.
Abuse is about power. It happens where one or more people have some form of power over another person and use it to exploit or coerce them. Trauma makes it hard to fully escape the clutches of the abuser. Someone who has been abused may be able to make themselves physically safe, by leaving a an abusive relationship for instance, or reporting the abuser to the police but as long as reminders of the assault can trigger them to re-experience the abuse, not just remember it, then it can feel like you can never get away.
#EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing), by working directly with the brain and the traumatic experiences recorded in the body, can access memories of trauma which are stored in the non-verbal area of the brain and can help you find relief. The article above explains more about how #EMDR works and how it can help.
This is really important to me: there is so much abuse in our society, so many examples of powerful people causing pain and lasting damage to people without such power. And psychotherapists are often among the first people to hear about it, often many years later. We have the skills to help people put indescribable experiences and feelings into words, so the story can be told. This of course puts the therapist themselves in a very powerful position relative to the client. So it really matters how your therapist approaches you, how sensitive they are to the impact your experiences have had on you and how even the smallest things can remind you of what happened. And it also really matters that therapists are aware that they are not just trying to relieve your symptoms, but through doing so, maybe helping you finally escape the clutches of abuse.
A final thought: if you have been abused and are thinking about coming into therapy but are worried about the impact it may have on you, it is true that #psychotherapy can initially make you feel a bit worse as the process gets you in touch with feelings and memories you have repressed perhaps for years. This is though the first stage in working through the feelings and being able to free yourself from them and you will start to feel better. Imagine you have started physical exercise again after a long break: at first your muscles will ache after sessions as you start to use them in ways they have not been used for a long time. The more you use your muscles, the stronger they will become and the pain will pass. Its similar with emotions and therapy.
#EMDR begins with "Resourcing", providing you with tools and exercises to help you cope with any difficult or unpleasant feelings, emotions or memories which may come up during the therapy. The most important thing is to feel you can trust your therapist to accompany you through the dark places you will visit on your quest to rid yourself of the grip of trauma and lead a fuller, richer life, free from fear.