Archive for Child Sexual Abuse

Guest Post: Somatic Sensations, Symbolic Imagery & Somatic Releases

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When we’ve been traumatized by child abuse, we generally feel we’re the only person in the whole world to experience strange emotions and physical symptoms. I’m grateful to guest blogger, Cathy, for sharing her own somatic results of trauma.

Over the course of my 17 year journey in recovering from childhood trauma, I have come to understand that past trauma can manifest as physical sensations in the body (‘somatics’). Throughout my healing journey, I have regularly experienced physical sensations in my body and symbolic imagery in my mind’s eye. I now believe that these symbolic images are ‘messages’ from my subconscious mind (‘my depths’) to my conscious mind (‘my surface’) which help me to understand, comprehend, process and ultimately, to work through an aspect of my original trauma or a particular stage of my healing. My understanding is that these symbolic images in my mind’s eye are a bit similar to what happens during Focusing (www.focusing.org), where we’re able to get in touch with our own ‘felt sense’ or our innate, inner wisdom within our bodies.

Below is a summary of the somatic sensations and symbolic imagery that go with my own sense of the emotional pain and tension that I’ve experienced within my body over the years:

  • A strong sense that there is a fist-sized boil in my heart area that needs to be lanced.
  • Fantasising about using a large diameter drill to drill into the fist-sized boil in my heart area, releasing a huge spurt of pus that flies across the room, immediately releasing and freeing up the massive build-up of pressure, discomfort and pain in my heart area.
  • Fantasising about lying on a table in an operating theatre in a hospital and having a surgeon cut open the area around my heart to surgically remove my emotional pain. My EMDR/trauma therapist told me that some of her clients had actually had body parts surgically removed due to a “persistent pain” in this area only to find that their “persistent [emotional] pain” returned to another area of their body post-surgery.
  • Fantasising about a zip running down the centre of my chest that I can unzip to release a flock of doves out of my chest, allowing them to fly away freely off into the sky.
  • Feeling as though I have a volcano inside my torso that is about to erupt.
  • Seeing another adult me sitting within me, in the pit of my stomach, naked, in the snow, shivering, defenceless, cold, alone, isolated and desperately wanting to get out.
  • Watching another me bending down to look into the shards of a broken mirror shattered all over the floor and seeing my fractured self reflected back at me from the many, many shards and fragments of broken mirror spread across the floor.
  • Experiencing my own sense of internal fragmentation as: can you imagine that you’re staying at my house, you have a bag of belongings with you and your belongings are spread out all over my house, with at least one of your belongings in each room of my home? Then I say to you, “we have to leave in 30 seconds” and in response you experience a sense of panic as you attempt to collect all of your belongings from their sprawled out places all over my house in an instant. This is how I often feel, I need to ‘collect’ all of the different parts of myself to literally ‘bring or pull myself together’ before I get out of bed, begin a task or step out of my front door.

Over the course of my 17 years of therapy, particularly over the last 5 years as I’ve discovered and increasingly explored different body-centred healing modalities, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), FasterEFT, reiki, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Network Chiropractics (www.reorganizational.org), I’ve progressively experienced more and more somatic releases (ie. expressing, ‘surfacing’ and releasing of my inner pain from within, out through my body). Here is a summary of the full range of somatic releases that I’ve experienced over the last five years of the emotional pain, terror and tension resulting from my childhood trauma that I have carried within my body/being/organism since the original trauma occurred:

  • Burping – burps that come from deep within me, they almost have an old, musty book smell or quality to them, suggesting to me that they come from my past (not the present moment), sometimes my ‘trauma release burps’ demand my full attention, I have to drop everything, brace and prepare myself in order to allow them to surface.
  • Sneezing – excessively loud and powerful sneezing, often demanding that my whole body gets involved in my sneeze. Did you know that our current tradition of saying “bless you” after someone sneezes originated from an ancient idea that we are releasing bad spirits when we sneeze? This makes perfect sense to me!
  • Coughing – excessive, lung wrenching coughing for sustained periods occasionally during Network Chiropractic sessions, like a chain smoker, even though I’m not a smoker
  • Stiffness in my jaw and aching and soreness in my face, particularly around my temples and behind my eyebrows
  • Excessive stomach grumbling, gurgling and tingling
  • Spontaneous full body shaking, jerking and tremouring (as per Traumatic Release Exercises, TRE, bercelifoundation.org)
  • Contractions or tightening in one area of my body such as my heart area, almost like labour contractions, suggesting to me that something substantial wants to be ‘birthed’, or released from deep within
  • Giggling and laughing
  • Crying and sobbing
  • Screaming
  • Yawning and sighing
  • Farting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • More frequent urination.

My Network Chiropractor informed me that the body’s capacity to suddenly and rapidly expel substances from our bodies is a primal fright or flight instinct, designed to ‘free up’ the body, to literally ‘lighten our body’s load’ in response to a life threatening event (or even an event that is ‘only’ perceived to be life threatening, consider a vulnerable, defenceless small child’s take on this!!), to allow our mind/body to focus it’s attention and energy exclusively on preparing for freeze or flight, similar to a pilot in a hot air balloon who decides to throw heavy objects overboard in the event of an unexpected descent.

Our mind-body system is endlessly fascinating to me. Through my somatic experiences, symbolic imagery and somatic releases, I’ve come to understand and know that our mind and body are intricately and completely linked.

Peter Levine has developed a healing technique called Somatic Experiencing (www.somaticexperiencing.com), he is also the author of a book called Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, a fascinating book about the phenomena of somatic experience.

Nothing Changes Unless Change Happens in the Body

The Sword of Despair Two

Recently I got an email from a woman who’d been in talk therapy for 14 years, trying to deal with her traumatic childhood. Only recently, she began to make real progress in her healing. Why? Because she found a body worker skilled in releasing the trauma stored in the body. She wondered what I thought.

Here’s what I told her:

  • I learned from Dr. Eugene Gendlin (originator of Focusing) that nothing changes unless change happens in the body.
  • Talk therapy involves the left brain and will take you only so far.
  • Trauma lives in the right brain and requires therapy that changes the brain (which, after all, is part of the body.)
  • There are many different, effective treatments for trauma. It’s a matter of which one is available to you and which appeals to you.

Personally, I recommend that everyone learn to Focus and integrate Focusing with whatever other modality he/she prefers.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about my views of what makes a good therapeutic match.

Forgiveness: It’s a Process

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You read a lot about forgiveness these days. Some experts advise us to let go of anger and hurt. I understand forgiveness differently. In my opinion, you can’t will yourself to forgive. Forgiveness is a process.

Two Roman Catholic priests who teach Focusing, Peter Campbell and Ed MacMohan, call this premature attempt to forgive process skipping. You can’t grunt up a change in how your body carries a situation, they say.

That’s certainly my own experience with forgiving my parents. I knew enough to listen to and be compassionate with my rage for my mother, the non-offending parent who failed to protect me. My only regret is that I hadn’t reached a place of forgiveness before she died. In recent years, I feel only love and caring for her. That happened on its own. I didn’t have the power to make it happen.

Gradually, I just noticed I was feeling differently about the adults who betrayed my childhood innocence.

These days I tend to remember the good acts of my father and his father, my grandfather. They weren’t just perpetrators. They were both much more. My father is still the man who patiently taught me to drive a car, and so much else. My grandfather is still the old man who waited for me to walk with him to the public library each week. Those are good memories.

Forgiveness, then, is something that just happens as long as we allow all our feelings the space they need. Suppressed feelings spring up somewhere else in our lives, harming our bodies and interfering with our relationships.

What’s your experience?

I welcome your comments. Please share your thoughts.

Sorry to Upset You, But…

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We need everyone to face the fact that one in four females and one in six males is sexually abused in childhood. Otherwise caring, responsible people often say to me, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about that. It upsets me.” Well, I’m sorry, but child victims in your neighbourhood need you to be aware of this national epidemic.

If you don’t want to be involved in preventing child sexual abuse, you are on the side of the perpetrator. Yes, that’s true. All the perpetrator asks of you is that you look the other way.

Child victims need you to notice and get involved. They need you to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse. They need you to be courageous enough to phone your local child protection services.

  • Prepare yourself. Have the number of your child protection services handy.
  • Educate yourself about this crime against our children.
  • Believe the statistics. They’re conservative estimates.
  • Don’t let your denial put more children in danger.

Jennifer Freyd – A Hero for our Times

In a therapist’s office in the 1990’s, a young woman client was asked if she’d been sexually abused as a child. The client, a psychologist and newly appointed Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, was startled by the question. No one had ever asked her this before. She said, ‘no’, but returned home and shook for the next two days.

Her name is Jennifer Freyd. Her parents, Peter and Pamela Freyd reacted by joining Dr. Ralph Underwager, founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Peter and Pamela become the organization’s executive directors.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation claimed that the helping professions were planting memories of child sexual abuse in the minds of patients and clients. Thousands of affluent parents with grown children looked to the Foundation to safeguard their retirement savings from lawsuits being brought forward by their grown children who claimed to have been sexually abused by them when they were vulnerable children. These people, now adults, were no longer powerless.

The Foundation suffered some setbacks.  In 1993, Underwager embarrassed the organization by publicly stating that it is “God’s will” that adults use children for sex. Members of the Foundation’s board of directors were physicians previously employed by the CIA in mind control experiments. Their names include Dr. Martin Orne and Dr. Harold Lief.

1993 witnessed heated arguments over the question of recovered memories. At a mental health conference in Michigan, Jennifer outed her parents.  Her parents countered by explaining that their daughter was suffering from a brain injury!  This is the young professor who was a productive researcher into memory and who wrote her respected book, Betrayal Trauma. Her book puts forth the theory that it is the huge betrayal that forces children to forget abuse by the adults to whom the child’s safety was entrusted. She doesn’t sound like someone with a brain injury!

In the 90’s many therapists were afraid of helping clients who presented as victims of child sexual abuse, fearing being attacked by the Foundation for planting “memories.” Thankfully, science saved the day when brain imaging revealed the physical changes to a traumatized brain. No helping professional could cause these invisible wounds.