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***TRIGGER*** Was your *initial* experience of sexual abuse traumatic or simply confusing?


Mark
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All,

I'm curious as to what people's reactions are to this idea of Susan Clancy's (a psychologist) that most sexual abuse is not initially experienced as trauma.

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2010/01/18/trauma_myth_interview/index.html

While browsing tonight I came across this interview with Dr. Susan Clancy, who has written a new book "The Trauma Myth", and her premise appears to be as follows:

The title refers to the fact that although sexual abuse is usually portrayed by professionals and the media as a traumatic experience for the victims when it happens — meaning frightening, overwhelming, painful — it rarely is. Most victims do not understand they are being victimized, because they are too young to understand sex, the perpetrators are almost always people they know and trust, and violence or penetration rarely occurs. "Confusion" is the most frequently reported word when victims are asked to describe what the experience was like. Confusion is a far cry from trauma.
The vibe I get from the interview is that Dr. Clancy is a "provocateur" of sorts. Someone who says contraversial things as a way of making a career. But that doesn't make her wrong, necessarily.

I'm reminded of the Wise Counsel Interview we did with John Kihlstrom, Ph.D., a researcher who has studied dissociation. the main point of that interview for me was Dr. Kihlstrom's statement that there is little or no research-based relationship between the development of a dissociative disorder (like DID/MPD) and traumatic abuse. His point was that most of the time, people *remember* abuse that they suffer, and that repression-based amnesia is something that doesn't much happen.

Importantly, Dr. Clancy isn't saying that knowing you were sexually abused doesn't mess you up in a powerful way in later life. She is saying that *at the time of the abuse* it is not necessarily something that you experience as traumatic.

See also

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/health/26zuger.html

and the discussion at Metafilter

http://www.metafilter.com/88964/The-Trauma-Myth-by-Susan-Clancy

Mark

Edited by Mark
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***TRIGGER ALERT***

For me, the first few times were extremely confusing. I didn't know what was going on & I was a very, very young child so it's hard to discern. However, by the time I was about six, I was no longer confused. Each time after that, I knew I didn't feel good. I didn't really know that what was happening was wrong; I just knew that I didn't like it. It was scary, uncomfortable, demeaning, etc. I felt like a bad person. I felt like I had done something wrong. I never realized that the abusers were the ones in the wrong until I was about seventeen, which is about when the abuse stopped. I think that if you're aware enough with your body (no matter what age) to know that something hurts, something doesn't feel right, you don't like when people touch you there, etc ... then it is definitely traumatizing at that moment. One of my most vivid memories is immediately after being sexually abused (at about nine) I started crying. He never physically hurt me, but I hated the feeling that I had. I hated him immediately .. I hated myself ... I was terrified ... I didn't like how I felt. I just knew something was wrong. That is traumatic to someone ... whether you're four or seventeen.... or seventy. I don't think it matters.

Perhaps fear plays more of a factor than people realize. Fear of what will happen next. I think, in my case, it was fear of the unknown that petrified me more than anything. "If I tell, will he come back?" "Will the next person I meet do the same thing?" ... Yeah, I didn't like the feelings I got, but I think the feeling of not trusting anyone & fear for my life left more of a mark on me than the acts that people played out.

I think I got a little side-tracked, but I hope that helps. :)

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I wasn't sexually abuse but I have read a lot of material over the years and I think I would go along with the statement that not all sexually abused children experience trauma, just as not all physically abused children experience trauma. But they can go on to live a really shitty life, carrying around a lot of hatred, anger and guilt.

I'm the oldest of five siblings and we don't all remember the 'abuse' to the same extent. I seem to be the only one dealing with 'psychiatric worthy fallout'. I ask my psych doc about this and she answered simply that everyone deals with this kind of thing differently and in their own way.

Our beliefs and ability to understand come into it a lot. And my belief is that it's not so much what happened to us that causes the problems in our life, it's our reaction to what happened to us. And I feel our reaction depends on a lot of things; how sensitive we are, how religious we are, and how we are treated once we 'open up' and talk to someone about it.

I believe the trauma comes from our reaction to what happened and our understanding or misunderstanding of what happened. Trauma doesn't hit us like a punch in the face, it builds over many years and never really goes away. We can learn to cope with it and put it into some perspective with the help of a really well qualified psychologist or psychiatrist but it never goes away.

Someone bigger than us hurt us when we were very little, they took advantage of us, it is very difficult to forgive these people and just as difficult to forgive ourselves a lot of the time because some how we always feel that it was our fault; we weren't good enough, pretty enough, or clever enough...

Also when you are very young, it might not feel good and it might hurt but it isn't perceived as bad or wrong, it's just something that happens. In my case, it was only when I went to school and learned that other people didn't get treated like I did that I began to see that something wrong with it.

Visiting a classmates home, I was amazed that there was no screaming and shouting. I was amazed when my friend didn't get yelled at or smacked around the head when she banged a door shut. Her dad could look at the TV and say, "What a load of rubbish!" without throwing something through the TV!! When asked to fetch something, I was amazed when her mom said, "Get it yourself!" and didn't get beaten to the floor for saying it. I felt like I had awoke in a different world. Who were these strange people!

John Kihlstrom, Ph.D., a researcher who has studied dissociation.

Dr. Kihlstrom's statement that there is little or no research-based relationship between the development of a dissociative disorder (like DID/MPD) and traumatic abuse. His point was that most of the time, people *remember* abuse that they suffer, and that repression-based amnesia is something that doesn't much happen.

I go along with this. I believe my memory problem is down to losing time. But, like I said, I'm the oldest of five and thankfully we are very close, and they have filled me in over the years, through normal chatter, on most of the stuff I have struggled to remember. There are five of us and no two of us remember things in the same light. Realising this helped me to recognise that my memories of the 'abuse' may well be out of context and even exaggerated in my own mind.

I was given some advice from a psych doc - to view what happen not from a child's perspective but from where I am now, as in an adult perspective. Which I did. I came to realise that my mum was only 16 when she married my dad and 17 when she had me, he was a Glasgow gang member and spent his life in and out of prison for thieving and fighting until he committed suicide at the age of 41. They were only kids themselves who had been brought up in the squalor and poverty that was Glasgow back in the forties and fifties. Putting it into perspective like that allowed me to forgive them and heal myself in the process.

Sorry. It got a bit long. Hope some of it helps. Writing about it is certainly helping me.

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Well for me Mark, I was raped under age 10. Did I know what that was, no. So I guess I would have to agree that my sexual abuse was not initially experienced as trauma. Nor where a few other times a few years later. I don't think at that age without any other adults perspective did I understand I was being victimized.

But I do feel the trauma has manifested it's way into my personality especially from that time because it was such a young age at the time of occurance....

This "mental trauma" has changed it's disguises over the years. And, I now have an understanding of why I run away for a safe place, why I hate certain men because of their arrogant controlling attiutudes or personalities, why I have always had an odd sense of safety for my children when they go to someone elses house and a no sleep over ruleetc....

~I have a better understanding of why I am who I am based on that "mental

trauma".

~That was why I used to always beat the boys up as a child through high school.

~That is why I think I got so involved in sports because I was good and I could

"beat" them.

~I understand why I have always had conflicts with male teachers in school and

professors at college. I understand why I react to manipulation and control the way

I do

And, it wasn't until at the age of 47 and I'm 48 now did I have the memories and then realized what trauma it really did cause me throughout my life.

The effects of it with my physical realationship with my husband has appeared and although I am a very normal healthy women sexually it explains various past reactions I have had to him, I don't think I really ever processed it as a "sexual" event until now.

Hope this helps Mark.....

:)

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Mark,

I have to ask you, how valuable do you feel that question is to ask, here on a board full of people who are just now coming to grips with the trauma they've experienced? Does it really matter when the abuse is experienced as trauma, as far as the survivor is concerned?

Perhaps it matters in developing treatments, and I didn't take the time to hear what Dr. Clancy's positive recommendations might be, but it doesn't seem to me to be helpful to ask those who are actively dealing with the aftermath.

Just my thoughts,

Mark (malign)

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Well I think it is a discussion that might help someone if they are confused in thinking that they were even abused simply because they weren't traumatized at the time it happened. Then add the mystery behind repressed memories and there questionable reliance from people and professionals because they are a "memory" and I think there are a lot of confused victims in this world.

And what is trauma? Mental? Physical? And if one is absent does that non validate the traumatizing event?

Just some thoughts here because since I was too young to understand rape, sex it clearly put my life in turmoil anyway and the result is this later in life totally trying to understand "me"...

And what I was doing all my life to protect myself from me being vulnerable to something I wasn't aware of consiously really did happen to me. That is the most awful feeling and I feel like I was raped all over again...

Now since the memories came to me, one after the other, this has put my life into another tail spin of trauma....

No one should ever have to question whether they were sexaully victimized and if this helps get the mental health and non mental health professionals up and out of dark ages then that is great......

:)

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I personally found it helpful to read the responses, hard as they are to hear, it makes me angry that these innocent children were been put through that! Perhaps that's what you mean about the value of it :)

I meant it was helpful because I've never heard someone describe how they 'felt' when it happened to them, and it made me consider how it made me feel. I was not sexually abused, but I was the target of a mean and violent father for a number of years. I absolutely did not feel that he was wrong at the time, he was all knowing and powerful right, and he was telling me the whole time that I was responsible for his anger, his fists, his kicks. Nobody would ever love me, I was the scum of the earth. My mother and sisters seemed to agree with this since noone stood up for me, so I just believed it. I agree that the trauma only came with time, like being exposed to war for too long, being part of too many hard situations for a long time, and eventually your psyche just says enough! I left home as soon as I could, I was 17. His beating me down emotionally continued for probably 20 years after that...

What is difficult for me I think is that it became integrated into my own view of myself and now I can't detach it from the events or the fact that he was cruel to me ...

Edited by Symora
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I have to ask you, how valuable do you feel that question is to ask, here on a board full of people who are just now coming to grips with the trauma they've experienced?

I'm aware that this is a highly tender discussion to have, but I don't think that that is sufficient reason not to have it.

After abuse has stopped, one of the more difficult parts of coming to terms with it is learning how to put it into perspective; how to avoid it or not avoid it appropriately and how to become aware of how it has shaped you so that you can begin to deconstruct it and reconstruct yourself in a shape you like better. This can only be done thorough talking and sharing your impressions with others. And only done safely when people are able to do this voluntarily and retain control over what they share and do not share.

If we treat this sort of thing as matter of fact and not as something sacred that we cannot question then we have more control over it.

Abuse is something that happens, and its okay to talk about things that happen, particularly in an environment like this one which is hopefully thought of as being safe (even though public). Not everyone will want to talk about it which is completely and totally fine. Maybe they will want to read, however, and maybe they won't want to do that which is also fine.

That said, I will put a trigger warning on the thread, and should have realized to do so initially. My bad, and sorry if I've offended anyone.

Does it really matter when the abuse is experienced as trauma, as far as the survivor is concerned?

No - I don't think that it does matter what the nature of the timing is (for when abuse is recognized as a personal trauma). I just think the timing of when it became recognized as a real problem is one of those interesting questions which can help a person gain perspective on what has happened to them. The way I understand it, Dr. Clancy's experience is that many people do not report abuse because they don't recognize that they were abused. They think they were not abused because what they experienced didn't seem like a big deal at the time (which is the cultural expectation now - that it would be). They're only looking for an earth-shattering event when they look for abuse so they don't recognize what has happened to them as abuse. That doesn't mean that what has happened to them doesn't affect them. So - they are affected, but don't know how to label the problem or how to talk about it. That's not a good situation should that occur.

Mark

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OK this is real hard for me so if I get side tracked or go into one, I appologise in advance.

Hope this is helpful to someone out there in cyberspace, oh and Linda im with you all the way hun, your way of thinking is what helps make the pros see sence. (hopefully) Coz it sure is time they came out fromm the dark ages where sexual abuse is concerned.

Ok well I was around 8 years old the first time, my sis was just 10, I was confused almost certainly, scared oh heck yes but wasnt too sure why, didnt know it was "wrong" but there again it didnt feel "right" either. And it really hurt, like good and proper painful, I did not switch off that first time, I was scared shitless, and just wanted it to STOP !!!

You know the really sad thing, well me and sis thought this happened in every family. We didnt have a very good family and well we had no one to talk to these kinds of things about.

We didnt actually realise it was wrong till we were older, actually I think I was about 11. my sis found out through a sex education class that it was not normal. She never spoke up about it to her teachers though, we were to scared to.

We put up with this for nearly 8 years, and each and every time to me and sis was feared, painful, and bloody sick. Yes to a certain degree we learnt to switch off ~ sometimes. There was this big clock in out room and sis taught me to just stare at it till it was over, either when my sis was being raped or myself. always "be ok" eh sis ?

So Im sorry but yes IT WAS TRAUMATISING, we shared a bedroom me and sis, we couldnt protect each other or ourself against papa, moma knew, and didnt do a bloody thing to help us.

It only stopped when we ran away from home :mad:

Oh and I must say, thankgod Dr clancy's not saying it dosnt affect you in older life, or quite frankly I would quite happily show her a picture of my sis grave, she was 20 years old when she killed herself, coz of the traumas of what we experienced as little innocent girls.

And now I have well and truely managed to trigger myself and have to go freak out for a while I hope some of this makes sence. And Im sorry if I have offended anyone.

And i hope that it has answered a few of your questions Mark

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Let me make clear - No one is saying here that abuse doesn't mess you up. Clearly it does. Clearly it has.

The question has to do with whether abuse is something a person is able to recognize as abuse. The idea is that, as a culture, we're set up to think of sexual abuse as something that goes off like a bombshell immediately, at the time it happens. So, if this is not the case for everyone - if some people have a milder reaction to it initially, that makes it harder for them to recognize that abuse has occurred. And this difficulty recognizing what has happened as abuse may persist for years. The damage still occurs, but some people maybe don't realize why, or how to start healing it. The question has to do with whether this sort of thing happens more often than we (as a culture) are ready to accept.

In reading the responses so far, I'm feeling like I've overstepped my bounds and demonstrated a lack of sensitivity by asking this question to the group. Perhaps by asking I've made this place feel a little less safe. If that is the case, I apologize. The intent (however bumblingly executed) was not to retraumatize, but rather to increase perspective.

Would it be best to shut down this thread or simply delete it? There isn't any way to "un-ring" the bell, but we can hide it if it is too raw of a thing, and people could then bring it up themselves later or not. Let me know.

Mark

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mark,

I dont think anyone is saying or wants you to close this thread down, yes the questions are hard, and yes i triggered myself in answering them. But you see the thing is, I chose after careful consideration to answer this thread. if it helps anyone in anyway at all then surely in the long run it is worth it, dont you think ?

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This whole thread is making me feel very angry and is reinforcing the resentment I have for men this week... :( I read it because I want you to know that I am hearing you ladies, but I'm questionning now whether calling it a trauma or a confusion is of any worth at all...

I am so sorry about your sister sweet Sue, that must have been very traumatic for you... as if you had not lived enough :mad:

Edited by Symora
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I grew up very sheltered, and in a tight religious household. SO when I was pushed into a dressing closet in the high school drama rm , at age 15, by anther boy who covereved my mouth , it was dark , and terrifying. All i knew it to be was absolute fear and horror and disgust , and the lack of power to get away, being trapped, and violated.

It took 25yrs to know really what had occured , and put a name to it. Yes, I was scared beyond belief, however, did not fully understand what occured , and happened.

I was a sheltered teen, did not have the words to describe what he did . Just started High school back then too, and that happened.

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Well, I wish I had thought through better the consequences of posting this material. If I had it to do over again, I would not. :(

I think there is a lot of value to be gained from thinking about perceptions and cultural expectations and how they fit together to amplify the impact of abuse or add layers of shame on top of what was difficult enough in of itself. however, what has actually happened here is that the asking of this question has put people in a position of reliving memories that are still too raw. The way that memories get processed is to share them, so that part is not so bad, but it needs to be done in a way that feels safe to share despite the unsafety feeling associated with the memory, and I'm getting the impression that things don't feel safe in this thread.

I'm hearing a lot of emotion, anger, fear, etc. but the responses to my question should we just close this thread down have been basically not to do that, so for the moment, I will leave it open.

Everyone take a deep breath, okay? Including me.

Since the vote at the moment seems to be that we do keep this open, my new question is "How can we best use this thread to do something productive for each participant". I dont' know the answer to this question yet, but I trust in this group that an answer will emerge.

Mark

Edited by Mark
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Hi Mark,

Is it possible for you to personally reply to the ones up till now you feel might need some help and help make sure we are ok and are able to process this?

I agree about sharing. I know for my self I was hoping to help you with your question and yes everytime I talk it helps but not always. I think this was one of those times where sharing brought up some emotions that I haven't thought of in a while.

I think it's a great topic and maybe presented in a different way, could be a great thread to keep going....

and I would actually see more threads presented by you or Allan and keep the thread going by both of your daily responses.....:(

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in answer to your question Mark

"How best can we use this thread to do something productive for each participant"

Well I think that the answer is relatively simple really, and thats by supporting each other the best we can. A few of us here have been doing this in our pm's and also here on the boards. But this is just my oppinion.

This thread, is valuable, for many reasons, a few of which being anyone that reads this, might actually learn something, or gain some form of understanding. Also it may help someone who feels scared of whats happened to them into feeling a little less alone. Thats quite important, as then that person is more likely to come forward and seek help.

And ultimately, hopefully the DR C (sorry cant remember her name) might happen to come across this thread one day, it might help her with her studies. Which in the long run helps others.

IDK, I may be way off track, but one things for sure, never regret saying or doing something, when its done with a good heart.

Sorry if Im not making sense.

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I have tried to reply but I just can't. I had to delete what I wrote. I guess I am not very strong or brave. Thanks to those of you who did. I think the only thing I can say is even if you don't know it as traumatic, you know that it is very wrong when someone shoves something into you calls you a whore makes you suck him.

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This is a thread that people should consider carefully before responding to. There is no shame in not responding. Deciding to talk about abuse is (in some cases) deciding to call up very painful memories. It can be therapeutic to do so, but it can also be re-traumatizing, which is why Malign properly slapped me on the wrist earlier in the thread.

There is a concept from chemistry called "Titration". It means to get the balance of something just so. In talking about abuse it is important to titrate what you decide to talk about. You want to talk about it so that it becomes a beneficial experience to do so, but not so much that it is a retraumatizing experience. This means, choosing very carefully what you want to share.

There is no shame in deciding not to talk about abuse for this reason. Each person needs to decide what they are able to talk about and what they are not. It will be different for each person. If you can talk about it and feel it is beneficial to do so, then it's okay. If talking about it will make you feel awful, then it is not yet time and it would be better to not do so right now.

notmary: your decision to not post is not about a failure of courage. It is more likely a wise decision you are making that the memories are too hot for you to benefit from talking about just now.

Mark

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I would respectfully suggest that the problem is not with whether to reply or not. The reason that our members are considering replying at all is because the topic is so important to them, and so painful. Just being exposed to a viewpoint that they see as minimizing what they've been through, at the stage that they're in of trying to come to grips with it, is what's causing them pain. It's not important whether the viewpoint actually minimizes their experience; it's that they feel it does.

I'm seeing less and less therapeutic value to this as it goes along, and would suggest that it would be better off removed.

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