A brilliant clinical psychologist once said two things contribute to trauma: 1. The survivor feels a sense of “I’m different/not the same” following the traumatic event. 2. The survivor did not receive empathy or compassion. #HealingTrauma
I will never forget the clinical psychologist shared an example of two vastly different potentially traumatic events to illustrate the devastating impact of stigma:
A ‘natural disaster’.
A natural disaster includes the possible threat to life, homes, belongings, injuries, loss of loved ones. A rape includes the possible threat to life, survival, violation, contamination of self, identity, unwanted STDs or pregnancy, physical damage, fear of repeated abuse.
The clinical psychologist noted there is no stigma associated with a natural disaster. So it is common for these survivors to recover from trauma. What normally happens is the community come together transparently, help each other and share empathy and compassion.
However, there is stigma associated with being raped. This survivor not only has potential trauma from being raped; they are stigmatised. Often this survivor does feel a sense of “I’m different/not the same” and no empathy or compassion is provided (e.g. if it’s a secret).
Some survivors of rape are kicked out of their group (i.e. their family, work environment, an entire community) if the group does not believe them or deliberately denies the truth; they face the original traumatic event, feeling “different/not the same”, and social death.
Therefore, the type of trauma can dictate what a survivor experiences and how they believe they are different from others. Trauma that generates shame from stigma will often lead to survivors feeling more alienated from others—believing that they are “damaged goods.”
Partners, family, friends, the media and the government can help break the “stigma” for trauma survivors by: believing them; listening and allowing them the opportunity to talk about the event in their own time and in their own way;
not judging them; spending time with them; allowing them some private time; reassuring them they are now safe (if they are); allowing them the opportunity to express their feelings;
not saying things such as ‘lucky it wasn’t worse’, or ‘she is a lying cow’ or the alleged perpetrator is an ‘innocent man’; not doing things like taking the alleged perpetrator’s sides or rejecting valid requests for an independent inquiry.
Unlike a natural disaster, a survivor of rape can face the trauma of being raped and it’s stigma in the form of silence, shame, rejection or social death. It is not hard then to understand how their trauma might endure and why some might even decide to take their life.
Anyone can break the stigma for a survivor of rape or any other trauma that is stigmatised. If you find yourself privileged enough to be trusted to hear a survivor’s story, then listen to them with empathy and compassion and gently remind them that they are always “whole”.
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
Dr Louise Hansen Psychologist PhD in Psychology Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #YouBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:
This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing.
While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time.
The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power:
“Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong
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