If you look at the impact of trauma, what research tells us about impact is that trauma shatters the view that a person has that their world is a safe place to be. It creates guilt and shame. People oftentimes take responsibility for actions that were not their actions and oftentimes blame themselves for the actions that others took. Why do they do this? At times, they do it to help maintain their view that the world is still a safe place. Why don’t people seek help? Because some of the ways in which people are physically abused, they are done quite cleverly to show no external features, but can create quite damaging impacts on their insight.
In terms of the emotional impact that gender-based violence has, people find it difficult to function in their everyday lives. They doubt themselves, oftentimes, are quite emotionally liable, come to tears quite readily or sometimes become quite impassive and don’t react in the way that may have been expected of them. In terms of social impacts, sometimes people find themselves self-isolating. They refuse invitations, partly because they might not want the physical signs of their abuse to be seen, so it would appear that they are rejecting invitations.
Sometimes the circumstances are created where the person actually, despite earning a reasonable salary, money that is theirs, by virtue of the fact that they have earned it, sometimes that access is limited because of the ways in which a partner might, for example, undermine that person’s ability to be confident in their own use of money. So different impact, different times, and different spaeces of your life. Some of the responses that people might exhibit in relation to trauma sometimes divided into active and passive defences, so in terms of active defences, we may expect someone to fight back if they’re in a violent situation or at the very least to run away.
There are, however, the opposite kinds of responses and sometimes what happens is that people just freeze in the light of a traumatic situation. And some of the materials that you’ll look over the course of this week will help you to understand why sometimes freeze is the response rather than to run away or to seek help. And sometimes people just flop. They just are unable to exert any kind of physical control over the situation. In terms of active defences, we think about some of the reasons why people might not be able to take an active defensive position because what we do know is that these kinds of defences are not often used by women and children.
Most women don’t usually win in fights with predators. They oftentimes come off worse.
It might be controversial to say that women can usually outrun predators. There will be women who are very adept at running, an athlete would disprove that, but these are the exceptions. In most circumstances, whether it be from fear or from being restricted in some other ways, most women don’t and can’t outrun their predators. For most of us, when we are feeling under attack or under pressure or under stress, our flight would normally be to a source of secure attachment, a place we can run to that we know that we’ll be held, we’ll be kept safe, and that’s a very significant thing for small children.
So we need to think about these different responses to traumatic events, whether we fight back against them, whether we flee from them, or whether we freeze in the face of them. Thinking about those kinds of responses to attack, I then want to go and talk a little bit about trauma and about different types of trauma. And there are typologies of trauma. One of these offers two different types of trauma. Type I trauma being a single, unanticipated traumatic event. For example, a car accident, a single assault, a natural disaster. Type II trauma emerges when people are repeatedly exposed to extreme external events.
These may include things like domestic abuse in a long-term relationship, child sexual abuse, for example, over a long period of time, and often neglect over a long period of time. For people who had experience a type II trauma, it can feel as if the trauma is never ending. victims Sometimes, to take themselves psychologically by a range of different means– by denial, by repression, sometimes by disassociating from what’s happening, insulating oneself from what’s happening. And sometimes people will– there’s a concept that some of you may be familiar with called the Stockholm syndrome when people actually bond with their attacker.
Sometimes people’s responses to the trauma that they’re experiencing is to, perhaps, adopt an aggressive response, sometimes against themselves in terms of self-harming and/or aggression against others. So that drives other people away, people who may have been safe sources of support are driven away by the aggressive response of someone who’s experiencing trauma. A lot of the literature talks about domestic abuse, creating the conditions for the development of trauma and in particular, type II trauma. The impact of living with domestic abuse is traumatic, not only for those who experience the abuse directly, but also those who may witness the abuse.
That abuse may be witnessed visually, being in the same room as a person who’s being attacked or more likely in the case of children being in a different room, perhaps being upstairs, but still hearing noises. And many women consider that their children are immune or protected from the effects of the violence that has been visited on them because they’re not actually present, but research from women’s aid has indicated to us that children actually knew very clearly what’s going on and have huge feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, frustration because they’re unable to help that parent. It’s important for us to think about different stages of trauma and to think about the potential for recovery from trauma.
Judith Herman writes about trauma and recovery in a very helpful way that looks at a staged model and thinking about how we can respond to survivors of trauma. And the first prerequisite for recovery is safety. A person needs to feel safe in order to recover. They need to be able to reflect upon, to remember, and to mourn what they had before the experience of trauma in order to come to terms with that and to be able to move through it and enter a new place. And stage 3 of Herman’s model is reconnection.
A person is able to reconnect with the person that they were prior to the trauma and to reconnect with the things that are important in their own lives. Herman would argue that there are what she describes as three bottom lines for recovery and for therapists, social workers, police officers, whoever is helping a person recover from the traumatic experience and that is that the survivor is kept to the centre of the process. That the survivor’s safety is paramount. People are not able to recover from trauma if they don’t feel safe. And we have to recognise that not everybody moves through recovery processes in the same way. It’s not a linear process.
Some people will go back and forward, back and forward, and we know from what research tells us about how many instances of domestic abuse, for example, people suffer before they actually leave a violent situation or if they ever feel able to leave a violent situation. So that issue about safety and how people feel safe is a variable. It’s a constant. The last slide in this presentation really is just an illustration, a pictorial illustration of that process of recovery.
So safety being paramount, having a safe place and a safe space when a person can begin to think rationally about the things that have happened to them, and then being able to reconnect with their community, perhaps with their family, and rebuild their lives. So trauma is a horrendous experience for people to go through. I suppose the important thing for us to recognise is that recovery is possible. Recovery is likely. Recovery is something to be celebrated at the end of a traumatic experience.