Monday, June 24, 2013

Normal Responses To Trauma:

The following excerpts in italics are taken from the book, Memory and Abuse, remembering and healing the affects of trauma, by Charles L. Whitfield M.D.  Health Communications Inc. 1993

I find this book extremely helpful in understanding my own, my family's, and my community's past and present denial.  The following excerpt from Memory and Abuse explains that it is NORMAL to repress and deny the trauma of sexual abuse, for the victim, for the perpetrator,  for the co-abuser, (my mother) as well as for siblings, who may or may not have been victims as well. 

Since a trauma induces and activates numerous components of our inner life as well as our biochemistry and physiology, what results is usually a painful experience.  If we are developmentally healthy and have a healthy and safe support system in which to work through the trauma we will be able to grieve and heal.  But if we are not developmentally healthy, usually due to having grown up in a dysfunctional family and society that block healthy development, and if we have no healthy, safe and supportive environment, then it is unlikely that we will be able to work through the trauma to completion.  Rather, all of the charged material-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-can be repressed and will remain stuck inside of us like an abscess, until it can be worked through and let go.  As countless people have observed, this charged energy is then stored somewhere inside of us.  That somewhere has been called the unconscious, the part of us about which we are unaware....

...When this trauma-associated charged energy is so stored, we are unaware that it is there.  No matter what term or concept we may attach to it we "forget."  We have lost the memory, the awareness of it, and are amnestic.   But how is this charged energy and information transferred to our unconscious?  Many clinicians who work long term with trauma survivors believe that traumatic forgetting comes about through mechanisms such as dissociation, repression and denial...

An example of this charged unconscious energy would be an unexplained fear of men in black hats and tzitzis.   

My primary method of dealing with the ongoing trauma of child sexual abuse, that I had no way to process at the time, was to dissociate it.
 Dissociation:  As a defense against emotional pain, dissociation is separation from and loss of awareness of our experience of the present moment, including our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, decisions, choices, wants, needs, memories, sensations, intuitions and other life experiences.  We may also separate from experiencing our inner life reactions to external events with full awareness.  Dissociation is a process of separation and unintegration that functions in parallel on a time continuum.  this means that while we may be in part aware of some of our inner life components, we keep them separated and they are thus not integrated into our experience, memory and life for now.   Dissociation may be acute or longer lasting and may be ordinary and benign, as in daydreaming, or extraordinary and used to defend against the pain of a traumatic event.  It's degree may be mild, moderate or extreme and, like repression and denial, it may be associated with the loss of conscious memory for part or all of our inner life components around the event, even though a sizable memory may remain in our unconscious mind and in our body.

My guess is that some of my family members have repressed their memories of what happened in our family, which would explain their insistence that nothing happened.

Repression: Similar and related to dissociation and denial, repression is an automatic psychological defense against unbearable emotional pain wherein we forget a painful experience and store it in our unconscious mind.  It is usually longer lasting and sometimes "deeper" ("vertical" in repression and "horizontal" in dissociation)

In my opinion, and in the opinion of those who work in the field,  the frum community is in denial about the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in our community.  This problem is RAMPANT as anyone in the field will tell you.  If this was a childhood cancer, the emergency tefillot, the meetings of rabbonim, the fundraising, the activism would be ongoing.  Because of the secrecy and denial around the issue of child sexual abuse, the community for the most part ignores allegations until they have no choice but to respond.  Even though we know that children very seldom make up such stories.  Even though intellectually normal thinking people realize that I would not give up a normal frum and loving family just to make up stories of abuse that happened many years ago.   Our community denial is very powerful, but it is changing. Slowly.

Denial:  A complex defense that involves not recognizing and thus avoiding our awareness of the reality of a traumatic experience.  While considered a "normal" defense at times because it may allow a graded acceptance of hurt, loss or trauma, denial is maladaptive if it interferes with rational or appropriate action to address or heal the hurt, loss or trauma... 

I wrote the following poem years ago:

Not just in Egypt is De-nial river

but in my family's living room,

and they are drowning me in it.


...A key to our healing is in increasing our awareness of the experience of our True Self from moment to moment and remembering what happened, experientially and cognitively, to and for us in the traumatic events.  to accomplish these we need a safe and supportive environment and plenty of time.  
But growing up in an unsafe and unsupportive environment, whether in a dysfunctional family of origin and/or society of origin, not only do we not get the opportunity to process and heal from the traumatic events in our lives, but we usually get the opposite, and are blocked from doing so and often re-traumatized.  In a dependent position like that of a child the only way to survive all of this painful experience is to separate cognitively and experientially from the trauma and the pain and pretend it is not happening and/or it did not happen.  

After observing this phenomenon in countless people we can call it traumatic forgetting, amnesia or any of a number of other terms such as: "selective inattention, "thought stopping, "cognitive avoidance.."not thinking of the unbearable idea," keeping something out of consciousness, ""splitting off," or "dissociation."  Whatever name we may give to traumatic forgetting, it can be helpful to understand it by these three descriptive clinical names that we have given to our innate human capacity to avoid overwhelming psychological and emotional pain:  repression, dissociation and denial. (pp99-103)

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