Abuse and Trauma
So you can take my life
You can keep this heart
But you never can take my soul
Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain... To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.
Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, writing in his book, Man's Search for Meaning , wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
And when we are abused, in any way, we must remind ourselves that no matter what “they” do to us they cannot take away our inner world, our spirit, our soul, and our ability to make choices, the choice to be the victim or the victor.
Abuse and Trauma
The words “abuse” and “trauma” mean different things to different people
and how professionals use it. In medicine, trauma seems to mean “serious
physical injury” whereas in mental health, the term refers to a serious
psychological, mental / emotional injury.
The interesting thing is, that since mind and body are undeniably
connected, a psychological injury can cause real physical problems, and a
physical injury can cause real mental issues. But from my experience of the
NHS, when I was going through a major crisis involving both mental and
physical as well as spiritual trauma, every doctor, consultant, and most nurses
I saw seemed incapable of appreciating the interconnections. Of course
general practitioners are given little training in the mental field let alone
If you’ve experienced an extremely stressful or disturbing event, or still experiencing on-going events, and you are left feeling helpless and emotionally out of control, you may have been traumatised. If the event or events are still current in your life, you may be in danger and therefore should consider seeking help from the police, your doctor, your minister, or one of the many voluntary agencies that may deal with your type of situation. If unsure, phone the Samaritans. You may find it difficult and the first step, reaching out for support, can be the most difficult of all. Perhaps you have a friend you can trust who can help?
Psychological trauma can leave you struggling in many ways with all sorts of upsetting emotions, memories, and anxieties that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling dead, numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. When bad things happen, it can take a while to get over the pain and feel safe again. In my own case, although I got on with life, it took several years before I felt back on track, albeit a new one.
But with support from agencies and some self-help strategies, you can aid your recovery.
Whether the trauma happened today, yesterday, or many years ago, you can make healing changes and move on with your life in a healthier way.
None of what follows is to underestimate the sheer power of any form of abuse and the ensuring trauma that is felt; I have been there myself, sometimes physical abuse, sometimes mental, emotional, but each day that followed arrived as if to say to me, ”And so what today – what will you do with this day?” Sometimes part of me just wanted to die and for the world to go away, but as I kept on breathing and living, albeit at a very down and low level, I always remembered I had choices – to end life or live, to live as a victim, at the hands of the oppressor, or choose to be a winner and aspire to better and greater things.
You too have choices.
Some definitions - Abuse and Trauma
Psychological Abuse (Cause) - ways and means through which one person behaves in a violent, demeaning or invasive manner towards another person; nature’s wrath and natural phenomenon, harmful and damaging acts of combat
Psychological Trauma (Effects) – feeling like an object, the victim of someone else's rage, fury, or madness, of nature's indifference , or of one's own physical and psychological limitations, the pain, disabilities, and fear associated with rape, combat trauma, or natural disasters; feelings of helplessness, and realising that one's own will and wishes are irrelevant to the course of events, leaving the person feeling damaged, contaminated . humiliated, in pain, and fear that the event imposed
Traumatic Stress - extreme stress that overwhelms a person's ability to cope caused by
accidents, e.g. motor vehicle accidents
natural disasters, e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes
interpersonal violence, e.g. robbery, rape and murder
surgery and serious physical illness
chronic or repetitive experiences e.g. child abuse and neglect
war or living in a war zone, military combat, concentration camps, enduring deprivation
Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by:
One-time events, such as an accident, injury, or violent attack, especially if it was unexpected or happened in childhood.
Ongoing, relentless stress, such as living in a crime-ridden neighbourhood, battling a life-threatening illness or traumatic events that occur repeatedly, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood abuse and neglect.
Commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant personal relationship or the breakup of parents, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel. But such events may to others seem small and insignificant but it is the meaning you gave the events that is important to you.
I can remember in secondary school, in my first year, when it came to prize giving day I received no prizes. In my second year I came first in music, French, and art, and was eagerly looking forward to being called on stage three times to get my prizes. Yet on the day, when each of those prizes was announced, so too did the headmaster announce that they had no books to give out as prizes. I was distraught. How could they not recognise me not only once but three times. The very least they could have done was gift wrapped a notebook and put a message inside to the effect that the prize would be forthcoming. At least then I would have had the distinction of doing as my fellow students had done, walked in stage with parents present to receive my award. Now that was a tiny incident to most, but it was huge to me and over the years was just yet another example of being ignored, singled out, of not being recognised.
Manmade disasters - Coping with the trauma of a natural or manmade disaster can affect each of us differently and for some, the grief or suffering is so collective that there is national or universal outpouring of feeling - even if you weren’t directly involved in the event be it mass shooting, plane crash, the death of a national or international “hero”. We’re all regularly bombarded by horrific images on social media and news sources – when a horrific incident occurs British TV news channels can all cut their usual schedules and for a day or more give us 24/7 grief, negativity, and sadness. Viewing these images and hearing the stories over and over can overwhelm our nervous system and create traumatic stress.
Symptoms of psychological trauma
We all react in different ways to trauma, experiencing a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel, or respond, so don’t judge your own reactions or compare to those of other people. Your responses are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.
Healing from trauma
In general, trauma symptoms usually last from but a few days to a few months, though in certain cases for some people can last longer. I remember in my childhood, a farmer's wife grieved for over ten years for her son who died in an accident. So gradually as you process the unsettling event, seeking help if necessary, or with the passage of time, symptoms fade . But even when you think you’re feeling better, painful memories, emotions, or associations can resurface —especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or something, even a word or phrase someone else uses, that reminds you of the trauma.
But sometimes your nervous system gets “stuck” and you remain in psychological shock, known as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and you feel unable to make sense of what happened or process your emotions.That is when you may need to consider external help from a therapist.
Treatment for trauma
In order to heal from any type of trauma, you’re likely to need to resolve the unpleasant feelings and memories you've been avoiding exploring, learn to deal with strong emotions, and rebuild your ability to trust other people. A trauma specialist may use a variety of different therapy approaches in your treatment…
Somatic psychotherapy is one of the best ways to help patients suffering from psychological traumas cope, recover and live a normal life. According to somatic psychologists, our bodies hold on to past traumas which are reflected in our body language, posture and also expressions. Past traumas may manifest physical symptoms like pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction and immune system dysfunction, medical issues, depression, anxiety and addiction. The therapy focuses on bodily sensations, rather than thoughts and memories about the traumatic event. By concentrating on what’s happening in your body, you can release pent-up trauma-related energy through shaking, crying, and other forms of physical release. Energetically, the emotions of the trauma experiences get stuck in our body hence why we use the body to release.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you process and evaluate your thoughts and feelings
about a trauma. It combines cognitive therapy (examining the things you think) and behaviour
therapy (examining the things you do). It is a talking therapy that can help you manage your
problems by changing the way you think and behave. See video Making sense of CBT
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) The process of Eye Movement
Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) can alter the way the traumatic memories are stored within
the brain - making them easier to manage. Today, the therapy is recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Be Body ready
Having a healthy body, physically, mentally, and spiritually, always at the ready, always increases your ability to cope with the stress of trauma. But be body ready not just in case a trauma occurs, be body read just because it always makes sense.
Avoid alcohol and drugs…they can worsen your trauma symptoms and increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. They also worsen how you think about an event.
Eat well and wisely. Eat regular, small, well-balanced meals throughout the day to keep your energy up and minimise mood swings. Eat plenty salmon, walnuts, soybeans, blueberries, and flaxseeds—to give your mood a boost. Avoid sugary and fried foods. Minimise, or at best, avoid processed foods.
Manage stress. Reduce the stressors in your life. If you get stressed, try meditation, mindfulness, Qi Gong, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Schedule time for activities that bring you joy such as favourite pastimes – music, reading, gardening, a favourite hobby.
Relax and treat yourself. Bubble baths and down time, whatever it takes to relax.
Sleep well. A traumatic event can create worry or fear , feed a troubled mind, and disturb your sleep patterns. A lack of sufficient quality sleep can exacerbate your trauma symptoms and make it harder to maintain your emotional balance. Aim to go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Calm your nervous system
No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, you can calm yourself and so make more considered decisions. You will also relieve the anxiety associated with trauma, and create a greater sense of well-being and control.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it. Don’t immediately try to repress or suppress the feeling; it is there to say something to you. Acknowledge your feelings about the trauma as they arise and accept them. But do not dwell on them. Just notice them. Let them come and go.
Breathe. If you are feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, a quick way to calm yourself is through mindful breathing. If you have some free time, consider some form of Qi Gong. If time is scarce, just focus on each in and out breath for about a minute or two. As you breathe, stick the tip of your tongue on the palate behind the top two front teeth.
Centre and Ground yourself. It is important to feel centred within yourself and rooted to the present moment, to feel in the present and more grounded so sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Find an object to focus on. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.
Quickly relieve stress . This involves using your senses – sight, sounds touch, taste, and smell. You may have a specific sight, smell or taste which quickly make you feel calm/ I used to fine stroking my pet after we’d been for a long walk would work for me followed by playing some calming music. Experiment with quick stress relief techniques to find what works best for you.
Trauma disrupts your body’s natural balancing and health restoring systems, your normal ways of coping, so keeping you stuck in a state of hyperarousal and fear. This affects cortisol levels and so your health. Exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system.
Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more on most days or three 10-minute spurts of exercise per day are just as good.
Aim for rhythmic exercise which engages both your arms and legs—eg dancing, running, swimming, and walking work best.
Aim too for a mindfulness element. Instead of ruminating on your thoughts of the event or distracting yourself while you exercise, notice the rhythm of your breathing, focus on your body and how it feels as you move, be aware of the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example or the feeling of wind on your face.
Following a trauma, you may naturally want to withdraw from others, but this only makes things worse. Social isolation is to be avoided. Connecting to others face to face helps you heal, so, as far as you can, make an effort to maintain your relationships, or even just talk to attendants in stores. Above all, avoid spending too much time alone.
Ask for support. It is important you have someone to share your feelings with face to face, someone who will listen attentively without judging you. Turn to a trusted family member, friend, counsellor, or minister / priest. You don’t have to talk about the trauma itself.
Avoid playing the victim. The minute you play the victim, the poor me, the pity party, the other has effectively won. It's what they set out to make happen. By all means process the events and your feelings, bring your heart to shed light on what has happened to you but avoid making yourself a victim or plaing the martyr.
Divert your topic of focus. Connecting with others doesn’t have to mean talking about the trauma. That can just make things worse. Find other things to talk about.
Join a support group. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and hearing how others cope can help in your own recovery. Of course, always talking about the same thing can keep you stuck. Do internet searches and if you are not IT savvy, trust someone to do it for you.
Make new friends. If you live alone or far from family and friends, it’s important to make local contacts and reach out to make new friends. Take a class or join a group to meet people with similar interests, or reach out to neighbours or work colleagues, or if elderly find out if the University of the Third Age (U3A) has anything to offer. Explore the internet especially www.meetup.com
Participate in social activities. You may not feel like being sociable or laughing or enjoying yourself but as far as you can, get out and socialise, even if you don’t feel like it. Do your usual things with other people, things that have nothing to do with the traumatic experience. If necessary, find new groups to go to and new interests to explore.
Reconnect with old friends. If you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect. Reach out to old friends, explain what has happened, apologise if you must for your disconnection, and invite them back into your life.
Volunteer. In time, as well as helping others, volunteering can be a great way to challenge the sense of helplessness that often accompanies trauma. Remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power by helping others. This may come in time and not be something you would rush into.
When to seek professional therapy
Recovering from trauma takes time, and everyone heals at their own pace. But if months have passed and there’s no sense of betterment or improvement, you may need professional help from an expert, especially one experienced in trauma although they may be hard to find. Be persistent. Invite Spirit to put you in touch with just the right person.
Seek help if you're:
Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
Experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
Finding it difficult to focus and make decisions
Having trouble functioning - at home or at work
Suffering from disabling fear, anxiety, or depression
Unable to form or maintain close, satisfying relationships
Using alcohol, drugs, or food to feel better
Seeking the right therapist
It’s very important that the therapist you choose has experience of treating trauma. So too is the quality of the relationship with your therapist important. Choose a specialist with whom you feel comfortable. If you don't feel heard, safe, respected, or understood, find another therapist.
Do you feel comfortable discussing your problems with the therapist?
Do you feel heard by your therapist?
Does the therapist understand what you are talking about? How do you know?
Are your concerns taken seriously or are they minimised, trivialised, or dismissed?
Are you treated with compassion and respect?
Do you believe that you can grow to trust the therapist?
Read our page on finding the right therapist.
Helping someone else deal with trauma
Your support to someone else can be a crucial factor in their recovery. It can be scary but trust, perhaps trust in your Higher Power that will be guiding you.
Always focus on the person, accept their situation their thoughts and feelings. At all costs avoid minimising or trivialising their experience.
Avoid interrupting and switching the agenda to your story; it’s easy to do a “me too” where you turn the spotlight on to you and your similar experiences. But what is needed is for you to listen. 90% you listening, 10% you talking if at all!
Be detached and don’t take the trauma symptoms personally. The other may become angry, downhearted, emotionally distant, irritable, or withdrawn. But that is as a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship.
Be patient and understanding. Healing from trauma takes time. Be patient with the other’s pace.
Be practical. Offer practical support. That may mean helping the other get back into a normal routine or even doing practical things like collecting groceries or housework, or simply being available to talk or listen.
Compare not. Don’t judge the other’s progress against how you are anyone else would recover.
Don’t pressure the other into talking – just make sure they know you will be there if they want to talk. Some trauma survivors can find it difficult for quite some time to talk about what happened.
Get creative together. Be good at finding out what they like and together dream up things for them to do.
Help the other to connect, socialise and relax. Encourage them to keep up with or make new friends, to get out for exercise, into the fresh air, or pursue hobbies and other activities that bring them pleasure and take their minds off the traumatic events.
Emotional & psychological symptoms:
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Anxiety and fear
Confusion, difficulty concentrating
Disconnected or numb
Guilt, shame, self-blame
Sad or hopeless
Shock, denial, or disbelief
Withdrawing from others
Aches and pains (severe)
Edginess, irritability, and agitation
Insomnia or nightmares
Time to change?
And so you decide a change is needed.
All journeys of positive change begin with a goal supported by the determination needed to achieve it. But when you become too determined, or too obsessed, with a goal, you risk nurturing a belief, that right now you are not good enough.
So, the starting point has to be this: you have to accept yourself as you are, not as a victim, someone who was bullied and abused, accept things as they are and then commit to personal growth. Constantly criticising and berating yourself is just as counterproductive as dwelling victimhood or doing nothing. You will never build new positive changes into your life when you’re obsessively focused on your flaws, weaknesses, and misfortunes. What you focus on grows!
You have to constantly remind yourself that you already are good enough; you just need more practice in reminding yourself. Change your mantra from, “I have to do / be better,” to, “I choose to do / be my absolute best today.” Then hand over to the Divine will.
Saying you “have to “ or “must” or “ought to” do or be something is a form of self-abuse especially if it is because you feel you have to due to someone else’s say so or view of you, or because you compare yourself to others.
If you feel like you've been doing too much of the latter lately—inadvertently self-abusing—accept that this is due to the battle going on in your mind. But your mind, your thoughts, are under your control.
Heal yourself, by refusing to abuse and belittle yourself.
Choose to honour your thoughts, feelings and emotions respectfully. Make self-care and personal growth your top priorities, not because I say so, but because it makes sense to you.
Whatever you experienced in the past, choose to think well of yourself from now onward, so you can always face life well, in spite of any future challenges you may face.
And YES, I know that's sometimes much easier said than done.
Thinking more wisely, and making positive changes takes guidance and practice and often in proportion to how long you have been harbouring thoughts of low self-esteem and memories of abuse.
But what genuine good comes from hanging on to the past really doing?
What good do you intend by self-berating and self-criticism?
Is it time for another choice – to let go and find ways to move forward?
NSPCC - Child Protection in Scotland