Working with trauma

Trauma occurs when horrendous events happen and victims of those atrocities are left with unspeakable memories that they can’t forget, yet can’t quite completely recall. A form of amnesia occurs where the details become blurred and fragmented. This is the mind and body’s attempt to deal with those horrific events. Memory is an unreliable ally when trauma is the outcome to experiencing such terrors. It can occur as a result of war, natural disasters, torture and physical and sexual abuse.

With sexual abuse, the perpetrator uses all their powers to promote forgetting in the victim. The perpetrator, to keep the victim silent, uses denial, distortion, threats and sometimes violence. The victim needs to be heard, but they are often numbed by all these experiences and struggle to remember exactly what did happen. They can be terrified for fear of retribution if they speak out. The victim has become traumatised and so has their remembering. Shame, guilt and confusion further add to the victim’s daily difficulties; silence is often the result. Breaking that silence can seem too much to bear.

Sometimes when the sexual abuse is frequent and prolonged, there can a splitting-off from reality and dissociation occurs. This is a form of coping strategy where the brain ceases to process the actual sensations experienced during the sexual abuse. Those sensations are frozen in a vividly raw remembering that doesn’t decrease over time. Dissociation can then further add to the difficulty in remembering, as it can seem like the victim wasn’t really there or they felt like it happened to someone else. As a result the abuse can seem unreal.

Working with traumatised survivors takes time to re-discover the victims’ silenced voice. Trust has to be re-established in a safe relationship and new words need to be attached to painful memories. This encourages new meanings to those experiences to be found, so healing can begin.  

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