Healing CSA: Why can’t I look away?
There is a lot going on in the news right now about the abuse of women. With The #MeToo movement and the sentencing of Larry Nassar it can seem like it’s everywhere. People with their own trauma histories can find themselves horrified and freaked out and… unable to look away. I want to use this week’s blog post to discuss this confusing reaction.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to avoid information about children being abused, neglected and hurt. It has become a favorite plot line for movies and television too. It is normal for adults with their own abuse histories to be drawn to this topic. It is also very normal to find this information both upsetting and intriguing. But it can be confusing. Even as part of them is trying desperately to bury their own past, they find themselves watching every show and seeking out every news story on the topic. This is very normal.
So, Why do People do This?
I find it helpful to see this conflicted reaction as a disagreement between parts of themselves. One part of a person is desperate to deny their own past, and thus doesn’t want any reminders. Another part feels a deep need to share what happened to them, thus that part is constantly seeking out reminders to try to start a conversation. Still another part is just relieved to see that others have gone through something similar – to know that they are not alone in their pain. There may even be more parts with different desires and needs trying to get achieve their own goals. This can result in a confusing and frustrating response. Although technically having these conflicting desires or feelings is the very definition of ambivalence; I find the word fails to encompass the intensity of what is happening inside an individual who can’t tear their eyes away from and never wants to see another reminder of childhood abuse, neglect and harm. It can feel like an irresistible force meeting an unmovable object colliding inside of this person. It can be torture.
So, What Can They Do About it?
- Accept: Stop trying to insist that you must have just one response. It is okay to be conflicted about such a difficult topic. Beating yourself up to try to force yourself into the one “right” response will not make things better. At best it will create a short-term break, but the conflict will still exist inside.
- Acknowledge: I know this sounds very similar to accept but it’s a slight (and giant) step further. When I imagine accepting I imagine waving my hand at a crowd and saying “yep they’re all here”; but acknowledging is stepping down into that crowd and introducing yourself to each member of the crowd. It’s looking at your rage and saying “Yes, I see that I am very angry”. It’s looking at your pain and saying “I am also hurting a great deal” …
- Ask: If you have a trauma history that is creating conflict inside, I strongly recommend you enlist help. At the very least, lean on your friends and family (if they are supportive). It can be helpful to give them some guidance on what you need from them (here’s a related post on how to help a friend with PTSD). I also recommend getting a therapist or counselor that is trained to work with trauma.
Healing your past trauma is the best way to resolve these conflicted feelings. It is very normal for a person with an unresolved trauma history to be drawn to and at the same time repulsed by stories similar to their own experiences. But this does not have to remain the way it is. The past can be healed. The past can be resolved, and it can become a past pain not a current one.
One Last Note
I just want to take a moment and focus on accomplishment. So many women are coming forward and speaking out. I want to applaud their strength. They survived. They got through the aftermath. They are healing. They are also doing other things with their lives. Some are even Olympic Gold Medal Winners! Having a childhood history of abuse, neglect or harm does not mean you can’t achieve great things with your life. Take your life back! To paraphrase Pooh: You are stronger, wiser, and more capable then you know!